We’re Off to See the Wiggles… A review of the Wiggles US Tour 2013

We’re Off to See the Wiggles…
A review of the Wiggles US Tour 2013
                September 18, 2013 my wife, daughter and I saw the Wiggles in concert at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis, Missouri.
                I retired from concert-going in 1992. My hearing was shot even then and with a screeching baby the tinnitus has not gotten better. Going to concerts would rip apart what was left of my hearing, as well as rip apart what was left of my bank account. Five hundred bucks to see the Eagles?  I can hear them for free every time I turn on the radio. Every. Time.  Not even if they performed in my front room.  I came out of retirement three times – once to see Ringo Starr do a free concert under the St. Louis Arch on July 4thin the late nineties (a Beatle for free? Yes, I will come out of retirement to see a Beatle for free…), once last year to see Rik Emmett ($10.00, yes, I will come out of retirement to hear Triumph’s Greatest Hits live for $10.00), and now to take my daughter to see the Wiggles.
                This was the tour supporting their DVD “Taking Off” and was the first “solo” tour of the new Wiggles. Founders Jeff, Murray and Greg retired. Anthony continued with three new Wiggles – although all of them were with the franchise either playing secondary characters or back-up singers and dancers.
                The new members were Simon, Lachy and Emma. It was quite a controversy when the new Wiggles took over, but most of their world-wide fans wished them the best when the shock wore off.
                My daughter discovered the Wiggles early in 2013. To her mind, Emma is as much a Wiggle as Greg. Or Sam for that matter. She adores Emma. She is her favorite. So of course she wanted to dress like Emma for the show. Easy enough – she already has a black skirt, black leggings and a yellow shirt.
                She looks good in yellow, with her dark skin. My wife has always been happy about that.
                I was afraid I would be the only adult male at the show. I wasn’t. I was afraid I would be the oldest father there. Surprisingly, I wasn’t. In fact, most of the fathers I saw there were about my age. Some of them had children younger than mine (this concert was her fourth birthday present).
                I’m not sure what to make of that. I am afraid of generalizing by saying younger fathers wouldn’t bother going to such a thing … but I have no facts to support my theory.  Would an older father tolerate these things easier than a younger one? “See the Wiggles!?  And miss Kill Division playing across town!?”
                The stage cast consisted of Anthony, Emma, Lachy, Simon and Paul Paddick as Captain Feathersword along with three back-up dancers and singers. They would take turns as the costumed characters of the franchise: Dorothy the Dinosaur, Wags the Dog and Henry the Octopus.
                They did an excellent job of keeping the pace going so that you never noticed who was missing from the stage when the costumed characters were on.  Paddick does the voice for Henry the Octopus. I didn’t notice if he was on-stage or off-stage while Henry was “singing” his song. He may have been IN the costume for all I know.
                The set was sparse considering the concert videos you can purchase or watch on You Tube. This isn’t Madison Square Garden or a packed amphitheater in Australia. This was the last few weeks of a two-month North American tour playing smaller venues. The following night they were in Nashville, then Detroit, then Chicago for two shows on Saturday. The following week they played two matinees in New York. Remember this was the same franchise that sold out twelve shows in a row at Madison Square Garden
                So there were no elaborate sets depicting Wiggle Town or the Wiggle House, no 12-foot blow-up Wiggles, no working Big Red Car. The backdrop was a replica of the cover of their new DVD that set behind a drum kit and keyboards and guitars. The only props were a cardboard castle set in front of a tall stand as well as a camel and airplane costume – each worn by Captain Feathersword.
                Sparse settings made sense, though. Who knows how successful this tour would be? Who wants to spend millions on setting up, tearing down and moving elaborate sets for half-filled stadiums?
                They needn’t have worried. They went for smaller venues and all of them are sold out. I checked the tour venues online and there were only forty or so seats remaining in each venue for the rest of the tour. All but forty seats available for a 3,500-seat venue (at least for Peabody)? I’d say that’s pretty good.
                I checked and checked online for a set list for this tour with little luck. The only review I found was on a blog of a Detroit mother. I thought I would do a set list and review the show. By the time this post gets to most of my readers the tour will be over, of course. But perhaps if they tour next year (or more likely the year after) this will give parents who know nothing of Wiggle concerts a taste of what to expect.
                I spent most of my time talking photos, writing down names of songs and smiling at a squealing and giggling three-year-old. Near the end of the show, my daughter and two others were on the far left aisle dancing. I had to warn my daughter not to flail around too much for fear of hurting the other children.
                The mother of one of the little girls asked her to stay near. She kept her arm around her daughter at first. She didn’t want her daughter dancing with other girls while some tall, fat, bald man took their pictures. But she soon relented.
                During the last song my daughter finally took that tumble I warned her about. She cried and I picked her up. It was by now 7:50 and she was very tired. As the Wiggles waved goodbye I told her they were leaving and to say goodbye. She stopped crying immediately – as children of that age do – and shouted goodbye to everyone on stage.
                Before and after the concert we took pics of the stage. An usher very kindly took a picture of the three of us in front of the stage when the show was done. Although sold-out, by 7:30 quite a few of the ticket-holders left with their sleepy charges. We ended up with only a few people in our Orchestra Left section.
                This allowed me to stand and take plenty of photos of the performers. Earlier I was afraid to stand too long for fear of blocking the people behind me. One of the few younger fathers sat two rows ahead of me. He wore his hair in high spikes, which blocked most of my camera’s flash. Near the end, as there was no one behind me; I could stand and hold the camera as high as I wished – his light-absorbing head no longer a problem.
                We had great seats. Well, Peabody Opera House (I still think of it as Keil Opera House – I saw Clapton there in the 1980s) does not have a bad seat; but we had particularly good ones. We were seventh row to the far left. The front rows taper outward. This means there were three rows between us and the far stage left. 
                 Lachey spent some time on our side of the audience. He gave my daughter a high-five!
                 When Anthony stood on the end of the stage he was ten feet in front of us. He waved back at Abby and me. Yes, I was waving at Anthony – I am one of the few surviving Cockroaches fans in the States…
                The Wiggles and their troupe sang and played their instruments live.  In most of the concert footage they look like they are lip-synching. With all their dancing and activity that isn’t surprising. And this is the Wiggles, not Milli Vanilli – who cares?
                But we were close enough to tell. They sang live. And their instruments were live, too. Good for them.
                This despite the fact that there was LOTS of dancing going on. Every song had its own moves. The children (and most adults) followed along faithfully. Captain Feathersword played bass, Anthony played acoustic and electric guitar and drums, Emma played drums, Lachy played keyboards and the glockenspiel. And even the dancers played percussion, drums and guitar as needed.
                Speaking of the dancers… They were introduced at the end, but by then I was dancing with and photographing my daughter.  Looking online doesn’t help identify the three dancers.  The beautiful Catarina Mete has a bit of a following and hers is the only name I can find. The other lady is Lauren –  I hope the spelling is correct.  She was named in a concert segment on the Wiggles’ new TV show.  The male dancer, Nick, looks a lot like Lachy; so much so my daughter thought it WAS Lachy when he came on stage.  
                He was the first one on stage. He gave us a safety lecture much like the stewardi on a plane – find your exits, watch your children, that sort of thing.  He also told us to tweet what we think about the show and they will later read their favorites during the concert.
                So spend the concert staring at your phone? Um, no. I disagree – My tweet would read, “I would love to watch the show but I haven’t seen a minute of it because I am trying to tweet.”  Don’t text and wiggle.  
                Like I’m one to talk. I spent the concert taking photos and jotting down the playlist.
                Speaking of which:
Rock a Bye Your Bear
Can You Point Your Finger and Do the Twist
Quack Quack
(My Sharona – spoof)
Monkey Dance
Here Comes a Bear
Romp Pomp a Chomp
(The Rose – spoof)
Joannie Works With One Hammer
Numbers Rhumba
Shakey Shakey
Fruit Salad
Peanut Butter
Toot Toot Chugga Chugga
(If I Could Turn Back Time – spoof)
Captain’s Magic Buttons
Five Little Joeys
Emma (With a Bow in Her Hair)
We’re Dancing With Wags the Dog
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Henry’s Dance
Simon Says
There Was a Princess Long Ago
I’ve Got My Glasses On
Shimmy Shake
Hot Potato
Do the Propeller
                Oh, and I tried keeping a “Gee C’mon” tab, but I lost track among the other things going on. I know Anthony said it two or three times.
                Emma left the stage for a time to say hello to the fans. Doing my best stage-mother imitation, I grabbed my daughter and walked with her to the center aisle and plopped her in front of Emma. 
                “You’re wearing a yellow skivvie and a black skirt just like mine!” Emma said. My daughter was giddy! She met Emma! Her favorite! I was so happy for her!
                I knew my daughter was getting tired when she kept asking, “Is it over?” after ever song during the second half.  But not in a whiney way, just like asking if a TV show is over. She had a ball. She squealed with delight and laughed and giggled when she recognized a song. By the end, though, she was happy just to dance along with the songs in the side aisles. It made both of us so tremendously happy to see her so happy.
                There were enough nods to the adults to keep us smiling, too. Captain Feathersword did a funny Cher imitation.  Anthony made a Lady Gaga reference. He said, “We used to say Miley Cyrus but we changed that a few weeks ago.” It was funny but I’ll bet he was also very serious. There were comical homages to the songs “The Rose” and “My Sharona”.
                We might get one last Wiggles concert out of our daughter before she gets too old for that sort of thing and starts dragging us to the boy band dujour.  But I’ll cherish the look on her face and the sound of her laugh. Thanks Wiggles!
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry


Three Scrooges, Part 11: Personal Best (my favorite versions)

Three Scrooges, Part 11: Personal Best (my favorite versions)
               Thought of the blog: How much do you think Scrooge donated to the solicitors that Christmas morning? In George C. Scott’s Carol movie, it is obvious they are mouthing “a thousand pounds” that would more than likely have been just over $150,000 US. Back payments indeed!
               “A Christmas Carol” starring George C. Scott as Scrooge was a made-for-television film shown on CBS in 1984. It was the first serious attempt at a Carol movie in thirty-three years. All previous adaptations were animated features, musicals or a spoof/homage from current television programs.  As such it was the first serious adaptation to be filmed in color.
               This is without question my favorite version. The acting and characters are superb. The scenery is beautiful. Its flaws are small and insignificant compared to the majesty of the film.
               Uniqueness: it’s loyalty to the original story makes for very few scenes that are not in the book, but they exist. Changes were had because of Scott’s tinkering with the character to reflect his “motivation”. They make sense: borrowing from 1951’s “Scrooge”, he was the younger child, Fen the older (Scrooge’s mother died in childbirth and his father holds him a-grudge).  We get to see Scrooge’s father for the only time in any other adaptation (Scott standing defiantly behind his younger self sends a shiver down the spine – staring down at the man who made him what he was.
               Missing: not much. No trip to the miners/lighthouse/ship is the only part I can recall missing other than Dickens’ asides. The debate between Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present about closing the bakeries on the Sabbath is missing (only “Disney’s …” includes it to date). Too bad, it would have given the Ghost played by Edward Woodward another reason to snarl at Scrooge.
               There is so much to love about the movie – not just the beauty of the settings. The Ghost of Christmas Present’s verbal bitch-slapping of Scrooge to mind his tongue when discussing the poor and destitute was the dramatic highlight. Rather than cringe, Scrooge smirked and nodded, conceding the point.
               Scrooge meeting Fred’s wife for the first time says, “I was in love once, can you imagine that?” “Yes, yes I can,” she says quietly. Scrooge then addresses his nephew, “You will forgive me but I see the shadow of my sister in my face.  … God forgive me for the time I’ve wasted.” A moving scene.
                Cratchet, mourning Tiny Tim, holds his youngest daughter and cries, “my child; my little, little child”. If that does not bring a tear to your eye, you have no soul.
               Scenes of poor families living under a bridge and cooking scraps found on the street is not from the novel, but aptly placed.
               His descent into coldness was realistic; his conversion was realistic. That was Scott’s point in tinkering with the “motivation” of Scrooge – these were not caricatures or archetypes, these are (or at least should be) real people.
               The book says Scrooge was not a man of humor, but Scott imbues Scrooge with a sharp intelligence and humor, wicked though it may be. “You’re devilishly hard to have a conversation with,” he tells Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
               The cast is perfect – although Bob Cratchet could have looked a bit less robust. Tiny Tim looked, well, tiny. And cute as a button.
               The film is a joy to watch. A joy.
                The television show “WKRP in Cincinnati” aired for three years on CBS. It was a documentary about the inner workings of a radio station disguised as a sit-com.  IMHO it was the best thing ever to air on TV.
               They did two Christmas shows – one was a Carol spoof. Mr. Carlson played the Scrooge character refusing to give out Christmas bonuses. He is visited by cast members Jennifer (Loni Anderson never looked more beautiful than in this episode), Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid having contagious fun) and Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman’s genuinely creepy Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come).
               The humor was, as always, character-driven, well-written and funny.
               Ironically I find the third visit the most melancholy. Fever shows Carlson the future of the radio station. There was Herb Tarlek sitting at a desk while the automated computer behind him broadcasting generic music (Christmas music) with presumably generic DJs.
               If you’ve listened to the radio lately, you’ll know that despite Carlson’s conversion, the dark future happened anyway. Most radio stations nowadays are composed of the sales staff and a computer tech.  It was the only Christmas Carol in which Scrooge did NOT change the future…
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
               “A Christmas Carol” – an Australian 1982 animated feature. I have not yet seen the movie, but it received glowing reviews. It is called the most complete and accurate depiction of the novel done to date. Wow! I’ve got to YouTube THIS…
Next: Leftovers (a potpourri of Carols that didn’t quite fit…)
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 10 (of 12): The Big Guns

Three Scrooges, Part 10 (of 12): The Big Guns
               What would Scrooge’s reaction had been if it were August and Fred invited him to church instead of a Christmas party? Would he have still called it a “humbug”? Would he consider church an excuse for picking a man’s pocket every week?  He attended a church service on Christmas morning after his conversion, but would he have been so vitriolic to Fred’s invitation?
               “Scrooge” was released in 1951 by a British company named Renown Pictures. The milestone. The one all Carol adaptations before and after are compared. It was so influential and successful it was 33 years before another serious movie was made of the novel – others being cartoons, spoofs and TV episodes adapting the plot.
               How I disliked this film for many years. Overly dramatic; Scrooge mumbled his lines so quickly as to be inaudible. Over the years I have warmed up to the film and, although not my favorite, it’s not so bad.
               It includes most of the standard Carol scenes. Scrooge states that swallowing a toothpick would haunt him with goblins for the rest of his days. When showing the toothpick, Scrooge says “you are not looking at it”. Marley says, “but I see it nonetheless.”  Those lines have not appeared in any other version of the tale I have seen.  The miners are shown during the Ghost of Christmas Present’s visit, but not the lighthouse keepers or the ship at sea.
               What makes this movie unique is what it adds: a long and very interesting segment showing Scrooge (and Marley’s) financial rise; the death of Scrooge’s sister giving birth to Fred; Scrooge’s fiancé Alice (Belle in the novel) working at a home for poor children; Scrooge at Marley’s deathbed; and a comic scene during Scrooge’s redemption with the charwoman Mrs. Dilber (in the novel Dilber was the laundress).
               The effects are standard – lots of double exposures to make for see-through ghosts.
               Despite my warming to the movie, I still laugh at an obviously health Tiny Tim. I can’t help but think of the great quote for “Black Adder’s Christmas Carol”: “Tiny Tim is 15 stone and built like a brick privy.”
               A nice bit is Scrooge’s genuine scream of terror on meeting the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  It is a little harsher than the MGM 1938 film, but still a good movie to watch with plenty of popcorn and family.
               Note that I do not go on too much about this (and the 1938 version) if only because by the time you read this you will likely have seen it already this season – or will find it and watch it yourself.  I enjoy discussing some of the more obscure adaptations and encourage you to find them online or (rarely) on cable.
               Actor Fredrick March has appeared in two TV versions of Carol.  One was under the umbrella of his own show “Tales from Dickens” from 1958 and the other a musical version in 1954.
               1958 version stars Basil Rathbone as Scrooge with March narrating. Rathbone’s profile under his long white wig makes him look like an elderly Geddy Lee.
               Despite its running time of twenty-five minutes, it packs in scenes usually excluded from other short productions. It does omit the solicitors and the married-with-children Belle discussing Scrooge with her husband.
               The special effects are nearly non-existent with the exception of Marley’s double-exposure-produced etherealness.  Otherwise the only other effect was dry-ice mist on the floor of most scenes. It does not lessen the production.
               I was tickled to see they added the line about (I paraphrase) Scrooge expecting anything from a baby to a rhinoceros for his second ghostly visit. I have never seen or heard that in any other version.
               The 1954 version starred Frederick March as Scrooge and Basil Rathbone, this time, as Marley.  Fred was played by Ray Middleton, who played Col. McKean in “1776”, a Cardinal on MASH and Ted Knight’s father in the sitcom “Too Close for Comfort”. He doubled as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
               Although called a musical, the “music” was mainly choirs singing between scenes. Belle and the young Scrooge do sing, as does the Ghost of Christmas Past & Present. Tiny Tim sings. Tiny Tim always sings. But it does not deter from the plot (ie – “oh another song, time to get some more Fritos…”)
               This was produced for the anthology series Shower of Stars. March received an Emmy nomination and the show was filmed in color, although only the black and white version are known to still exist.
               Coming in at under 60 minutes it includes all of the standard scenes except for Fred’s party (the ghostly visit and the actual visit).
               The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is never shown, and they imply he is played by a crow barking over Scrooge’s grave. That’s never been done before. Nice touch. One other VERY commendable casting was making the other ghosts people from Scrooge past and present. The same actor plays Fred and the Ghost of Christmas Present.
               The same actress plays the Ghost of Christmas Past and Belle. Scrooge comments on it to the Ghost when they meet – “You look so like …” She was played by the fall-on-my-knees beautiful Sally Fraser. I looked her up on IMBD, but did not recognize her other roles than a bit part on “North by Northwest”. I think if I ever did a version of Carol, I would make Belle the Ghost of Christmas Past, too. I would have added much more pathos to the encounter than they did here.  Another nice touch!
               The effects were good for its time – double exposed see-through ghosts. Rathbone makes a better Marley than Scrooge; his final lament of “Oh God, oh God, there is so little help for me…” as he leaves the scene was spooky…
               Scrooge was missing a front tooth – upper left side just before the canine. Yet another nice touch – one of many for this version of the novel. This has become one of my favorites.
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
               “A Diva’s Christmas”, “A Carol Christmas”, “It’s Christmas, Carol” and “It Happened One Christmas” – I have never seen either of these movies – the twist being the Scrooge character was played by a female lead (Vanessa Williams, Tori Spelling, Marlo Thomas, etc.). I saw about ten minutes of “A Carol Christmas” and may have seen “Happened” when it first came out, but I have no memory of that movie. I wasn’t too impressed with “A Carol Christmas”. Are the others any good?
NEXT: Personal Best
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 8 (of 12): Silly

Three Scrooges, Part 8 (of 12):  Silly
                Thought of the blog: At Fred’s party, they played a guessing game called “Yes and No”. Fred thought of a thing and they had to guess with yes-or-no questions what that thing was: it was a savage animal that growled and grunted and lived in London. Someone asked if it were a horse.  Were the streets of Victorian London stalked by savage, growling horses?
                “A Muppet Christmas Carol” was a theatrical release in 1992 starring Michael Caine as well as Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzy and the gang. It was the first Muppet production after the death of Jim Henson –  to me it added a sad air to the film. Hearing Kermit’s new voice was jarring. Richard Hunt had also died of aids earlier that year. He and Henson did the voices of the crotchety critics Statler and Waldorf. Hearing their new voices was also somewhat sad.
                The movie was peppered with musical numbers, most of which are forgettable except for “It Must Be Christmas”.
                Critics were underwhelmed. They had the same complaint as they did for “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” – a canny effort adding nothing to either the Muppet or Carol mythos.
                True, but without Henson at the helm you would hardly expect a home run. And it does have its charms: Old Fozzy-wig; Rizzo the rat became a top-level muppet with this movie; Sam the Eagle as the schoolmaster (“It is the American way! Hmm? Oh, yes, it is the British way!”); Robin as Tiny Tim warms the heart; Scrooge’s clerks (all rats) breaking into a calypso, etc.
                The best bits? Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker as the solicitors (any scene with Beaker is first class) and Statler and Waldorf substituting for Marley (ditto).
                The story followed closely to standard adaptations seen before and since and without many bits added on. My favorite though is Scrooge’s reaction to seeing his younger self, “Good Lord, it’s ME!”  That kind of reaction has never been done.
                And Michael Caine is as brilliant as ever. He played it straight despite emoting to cloth-covered costars with ping pong balls for eyes.
                Could it have been better? Oh yes – they could have taken a page from Mr. Magoo and made this an extended version of “The Muppet Show” with Michael Caine as the guest doing a version of Carol. Caine could have been particularly grumpy and the ghosts showed him the errors of his ways all while the production of Carol on the stage continued. This is the basic plot of Bill Murray’s “Scrooged”  a few years before. Perhaps they didn’t want to risk the comparison.
                I adore the Muppets, so I probably have a bias in this movie’s favor it does not deserve; but I like the movie. It’s sweet, accessible to a younger audience and (knowing its back story) sad. The puppeteers (including Frank Oz) have said they still miss Jim Henson. If they heard him say, “Mmm, lovely,” after a take they knew it was the perfect one.
                I’m sure he said that very thing when he saw “The Muppets Christmas Carol”.
                “Black Adder’s Christmas Carol” from 1988. I love the “Black Adder” television program! My love for Rowan Atkinson as Black Adder even surpasses my dislike of Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean.  Here is the Victorian Blackadder, the nicest man in the old town. The Ghost of Christmas (played by a post-Cracker but pre-Hagrid Robbie Coltrane – someday I will write about the post-Python comedy troupe that included him, Atkinson, Emma Thompson and the cast of “The Young Ones”) shows him what rotten people his ancestors were. Miranda Richardson, Tony Robinson, Stephen Frye and Hugh Laurie all reprise their various roles. Blackadder sees the error of his goodly ways and converts to become a complete bastard – finally enjoying a Happy Christmas! You probably need to be a fan of the series to enjoy it, so become one. All that laughter will only do you good!
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
                I vaguely remember an episode of “Family Matters” doing a Carol spoof. Alex – the teenage Reagan Republican raised by ex-hippie parents, played Scrooge. I suppose the rest of the family played the Ghosts, etc. The show was on before “Cheers” which is why I only saw the last two minutes of each program. Perhaps some fan of the show can fill in the blanks.
NEXT:  Strange Scrooges…
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 7: Animated Carols

Three Scrooges, Part 7: Animated Carols
Thought of the blog: So what exactly was wrong with Tiny Tim?  Here’s a great site with a logical explanation:   http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22359312/ns/health-health_care/t/what-was-ailing-tiny-tim/#.UMjDxdsYpwQ
Another break of format…
                “A Christmas Carol” is a 25-minute animated short from 1971. It is the only version of the tale to win an Academy Award. It was produced by Chuck Jones (best known for his Warner Brothers work – Bugs Bunny, Daffy and the like) and featured the voice of Alistair Sim as Scrooge and narrated by Michael Redgrave.
                It deserved the Oscar – although its length was so short it left out many vital scenes and dialogue, what it did present was excellent. It’s hard to believe this came from Chuck Jones – you can see hints of his style throughout but it was otherwise very realistically drawn.
                Marley was horrifying. The Ghost of Christmas past shifted quickly between a young girl and an old woman. Her figure shifted constantly – at some points it looked as if she had three eyes.
                But it was too short. Some of the final scenes went by in a flash. Scrooge spoke to the young lad outside his house; fade; Scrooge buys the prize turkey; fade; Scrooge is greeted by his nephew at the party; fade; Scrooge offers Cratchet a raise; etc. It’s almost as if the producers said “We only have four minutes left! Hurry!”
                The lack of score adds to the rapidity – when the ghosts whisks Scrooge away to the past, present or future it nearly gives you vertigo!
                But it did include parts of the story that are rarely seen – the trip to the miners-lighthouse-ship and mention of the religious significance of the holiday – other than Cratchet speaking of Tiny Tim in church hoping others will see a cripple and etc.  (Here as in the book Marley stated his eyes were “never raise(d) … to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode”.).
                I put this under the “Rare” category as I have not seen in broadcast and only occasionally see a DVD for sale. I found it in YouTube. It is worth the search.
                “A Christmas Carol” animated TV special from 1969 was my first exposure to the novel, so I remember it more fondly than it may deserve. It proved so popular that the company producing it created several more literary adaptations under the umbrella “Famous Classic Tales” that would air throughout the year. For example, I remember seeing “Last of the Mohicans” on a Thanksgiving afternoon.
                It’s a good cartoon and a nice jumping off point for children or anyone interested in first seeing the story. Marley was the most frightening of any adaptations – he was a phantom with no resemblance to his former self.
                Scrooge argued with the ghosts – the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past did nothing to change his mind. “Hard work made me what I am!” “Lonely?” “Successful!”
                The break-up with Belle is usually a “bell”-weather (ouch) for his conversion.  Here though he said, “had she married me she would have been a rich woman now.” It is not until he sees his silhouette on the slab that he finally realizes what his lifestyle has wrought.
                The artwork isn’t Disney and nor is it on part with Chuck Jones’ Academy Award-winning short two years later; but it’s not BAD. One trouble I had with it (being a one-time cartoonist) is sometimes the proportions are way out of whack.  Look at the gravedigger during Marley’s funeral – his hands and arms are HUGE compared to his head. This happens a lot in the cartoon.
                Oddly, when Fred invites Scrooge to dinner they break into song. There is no other musical interlude in the show – almost as if they had changed their mind about making it a musical but hated to waste the one song they recorded.
                You can find this on YouTube either divided into chapters. I typed in the word “complete” in my search to find it uninterrupted.
                “The Stingiest Man in Town”. Rankin/Bass (of Rudolph and Frosty fame) produced this cartoon in 1978. Walter Matthau (a good choice – he chews the scenery and you can tell he enjoys the taste) provided the voice of Scrooge. As is the case in Rankin/Bass holiday specials a famous star plays a narrator having little to do with the story (Jimmy Durante for Frosty, Burl Ives for Rudolph). Here we have Tom Bosley as B.A.H. Humbug. … Yeah, I think so too…
                This cartoon came between Rankin/Bass’ “Hobbit” (1977) and “Return of the King” (1980) – every character has a pudgy hobbit-look to them, almost as if to keep in practice. Scrooge looked vaguely like Matthau, though. As with the Tolkien adaptations produced before and after, musical interlude abound in this movie. As with the Tolkien adaptations produced before and after, they are mostly forgettable.
                And the songs are constant. Dialogue for a few minutes, then a song. I found it tedious and overlong after only 15 minutes of viewing; so I count this as a “never-viewed” Scrooge…
NEXT: Silly Scrooges
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 6: Santa Mouse

Three Scrooges, Part 6: Santa Mouse
               Thought of the blog: as a boy Scrooge attended an isolated boarding school in which characters in books come to life and illustrations move about independently. My god in heaven, he went to Hogwarts!
               A bit of change in format here as I discuss more than one version of “A Christmas Carol”…
               “Mickey’s A Christmas Carol”. The animated Disney movie from 1983. I have never seen it. “WHAT!?” you say. It was and remains hugely successful and airs annually, but …  Not because I do not wish to; just that it has never passed under my radar for all these years.
               Uncle Scrooge McDuck plays Scrooge, his nephew Donald plays his nephew Fred, Mickey and Minnie the Cratchets, etc. Canny and predictable? Yes. That was one of the critiques at the time – it is a straightforward telling of the story. This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but this is Disney – we expect more.  Considering how high the bar had been raised by previous animated versions, Disney played it safe.
               However, since my daughter is into all things Minnie, this will be a perfect way to introduce “Carol” to her.  My viewing of the movie is only a few Christmases away…
UNSEEN SCROOGES … until I finally saw it:
               “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” from 2009 – I can only take Jim Carrey in small doses. And this was done in the same format as “Polar Express” and “Beowulf”. It got good reviews and Carrey, if kept on a short leash, would probably make a good Scrooge.
               Since preparing this blog I have seen an hour or so of “Disney’s…” and was impressed. It was very close to the novel and even included the debate between Scrooge and Ghost of Christmas Present about closing bakeries on the Sabbath. NO version of Carol I’ve ever seem has this. Not one. Bravo.
               Jim Carry does several voices and I am again impressed – he could be a very good voice actor. The inerrant Gary Oldman plays Cratchet (what a Scrooge he would make) and Colin Firth as Fred.
               The special effects were fantastic, perhaps too much so. It detracted from the story at times. The characters looked like a cross between a marionette and claymation. Though there were times (with Belle) that they looked real.
               The Ghosts were the most impressive (I use that word a lot here…) – Past looked like a living candle, Present traveled by moving Scrooge’s house. The long chase scene with Yet-To-Come and a mouse-sized Scrooge was unnecessary and boring. Despite that niggling, it was well done! Give me a few years and it MIGHT be on a favorites list.
               Combining franchises is always a good way to boost sales. Who wouldn’t want to play Lord of the Rings Risk or Simpson’s Game of Life. There are more versions of Monopoly than there are people on earth who play it. What would “A Christmas Carol” Monopoly look like?
               I have mentioned a few TV shows that did “Christmas Carol” variations, but there have been stand-alone shows and characters that have done it too.
               Perhaps the most famous franchise to tackle the tale was “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”.
               The Flintstones (I vaguely remember this – perhaps the idea of it intrigued me, but I do not remember watching it …), Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, All Dogs Go To Heaven, Beavis & Butthead (the mind reels…), Maxine, Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, Alvin & the Chipmunks and Barbie. Yes, Barbie.
               I have not seen a one. Are they any good? Aside from the Barbie one of course, that one being lousy is a given.
NEXT: Animated Carols
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 3: Song and Dance Men

Three Scrooges, Part 3: Song and Dance Men
Thought of the Blog: Dickens says that Bob Cratchet had only met Scrooge’s nephew once (this was in Stave Four in the future: “Mr. Scrooge’s nephew, whon he had scarcely seen but once” – an odd way of putting it if they had met more often than once). This was when Fred visited Scrooge at his counting house and invited him to Christmas dinner.
                This implies one of two things – either this is the first time Fred had come to Scrooge’s counting house for any reason, let along to invite him to his party (Stave Three says he WILL go by year after year but not necessarily HAS in the past); or, if Fred HAS been inviting Scrooge year after year, Cratchet has only been working for Scrooge over the past 364 days at MOST. When Scrooge says, “You’ll want all day tomorrow…” was this the FIRST time he asked this to Cratchet, or was this an annual conversation. It seems to imply this has happened before – getting all day off – perhaps Scrooge comes to expect this from his clerks.
                If Cratchet has only been at his job less than a year – what of the other clerks?  How many has Scrooge had over the years? Can you imagine the job interview? Where had Cratchet worked before? Was he that bad of a clerk this was the only position available? I would think not many people would recommend Scrooge and Marley as an ideal work environment…
                In the late 1960s the Hollywood Musical* as a genre was on its last great gasp. In the 1970s they were as rare as a Jennifer Aniston blockbuster – for every “Cabaret” there were ten “Mame”s.  The theaters were dominated by big-budget wide-screen epics including “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Oliver!”  A Dickens tale as a musical? Sure, and if it worked once…
                *Note that “Scrooge” was filmed and produced in Englandand therefore not, literally, a Hollywood Musical, but it snuggled nicely into the genre.
                “Scrooge” was released in 1970 and starred Albert Finney in the title role. It received four Oscar nominations and Finney won a Golden Globe. It was well received critically.
                Several things differentiate this version of the tale – not least of which is the music. Most “Christmas Carols” contain music – usually brass band versions of old Christmas songs, a small choir singing carols, Tiny Tim’s Peter-Brady-like-cringe-worthy renditions of various tunes; and the occasional song during Fezziwig’s and Fred’s parties. But this was a Musical with a capital “M” – the songs had little to do with the holiday and more to do with reflecting the mood and emotion of the moment: teasing children belt out “Father Christmas”.  “December the 25th”is a fun tune at Fezziwig’s party but not the kind that would become a Christmas classic. There is the genuinely sad “You … you” during which we see the exact moment when the adult Scrooge shut himself off from the world and when his older self realized what he had become. Most people remember the unbelievably catchy “Thank You Very Much” sung twice during the movie. You’ll be humming it all day now.
               Its unique moments are what stand out – seeing the face of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come and the scenes set in hell – no other version of the tale has this (“Disney’s Christmas Carol shows a vague face and a coffin deep in the glowing earth, so it is close). In fact, it’s not in the novel at all. But I don’t mind that – if I want a faithful rendition of the novel I would hardly expect it from a musical.
                And it is always fun to see Alec Guinness try to sing. Being of my generation, I did not realize Alec Guinness was Marley until after I had seen him in that OTHER movie he was in. Therefore, I will always associate him with that OTHER movie first. Put another way, every time I see “Scrooge” and the ghost of Marley enters I expect him to say, “Go to Dagobah, Ebenezer, and learn from Yoda…”
                Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962). WHAT!? This classic is put in the “rare” category!? Yes, in the 1970s it was on TV quite a bit, but it went decades without rebroadcasting. Maybe where you live some local station aired it, but not in my market. Not even the cable channels. It has come back to television recently though – TiVo has helped me find it. This cartoon is usually at the top of most favorites list, so I suspect the show has aired elsewhere annually or I just missed it. For twenty years. … Hmm, I stand by its rarity.
                Now this Magoo isn’t the doddering racist from the weekly cartoon; this is the Magoo from the 1950s UPA shorts – still blind as a bat but painting, hunting, camping as if nothing is remiss. Unfortunately most of those shorts are long gone.
                It presents itself as a musical – hence its inclusion here. The titles bring the tunes to mind – which is a good indication of their longevity – Lord’s Bright Blessing, Ringle Ringle, etc.  The songs were written by the same team that wrote the tunes to “Funny Girl” – which explains why the songs rank so high in retention.
                Jim Backus does the definitive voice of Magoo, the immortal Paul Frees also provides voices. So does Morey Amsterdam – immortal in his own way as Buddy Sorrell (remember him stealing the show on the Christmas episode of Dick Van Dyke? Or for that matter … of every episode of Dick Van Dyke?).
             Its unique moments:
1.       It begins and ends with Magoo and the other characters preparing to perform Carol on stage. In between acts the curtain closes to begin the commercial break. We are watching a cartoon pretending to be a stage production of “A Christmas Carol”.
2.       Gerald McBoingboing speaks!?
3.       This was the first holiday cartoon produced specifically for television. It paved the way for Charlie Brown, Rudolph and all the other animated “Christmas Carols”.
4.       The ghosts were out of order! The Ghost of Christmas Present was first! I have always remembered that: this was one of my first (not THE first – that was the 1969 cartoon) exposure to “Christmas Carol” and I always wondered why “later” versions had the ghosts appear out of order.
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
                Near the end of NBC’s reign as the #1 broadcast network, it collected some of its stars to be in a musical version of “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” in 2004. It was based on an earlier stage musical.
                Kelsey Grammer took a break from Frazier to play Scrooge. Other NBC stars such as Law & Order’s Jesse L. Martin and Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander was Marley.
                I tried watching it, I really did. But I lost interest quickly and turned the channel. The musical numbers were not that catchy and I found it kind of boring.  To me it added nothing unique to the tale.
                It was fun watching Martin and Alexander sing and dance. Seinfeld fans are usually shocked to know Alexander is quite different from his shlub-counterpart George Costanza. Likewise Martin – given his and L&O partner Jerry Orbach’s legendary musical theater background it is too bad the two of them never did anything else together.
                I watched it when it was broadcast. I tried watching it again the next year during a repeat with the same feeling of ennui. I’ve yet to see it all the way through. Maybe it picks up at the end. I doubt it…
NEXT: The Sounds of Silence
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 2: Where No Scrooge Has Gone Before

Three Scrooges, Part 2: Where No Scrooge Has Gone Before
                “A Christmas Carol” ran on the TNT network in 1999 to mixed reviews. I refer to it as the Patrick Stewart Christmas Carol for its star who plays Scrooge. Its reception was only fair, probably due to the high expectations (see my Rare Scrooges entry).  I wish I could say I enjoyed it as much as I anticipated I would, but I walked away from it disappointed. Since its release I count it as a wonderful movie – its flaws have faded over time.
                It is a very cold movie – the scenery, the acting, almost everything about it. It is the antithesis of the George C. Scott version with its beautiful and bright sets. That is one aspect of it that I did not like at first but love now.  It’s almost as if the camera lenses were covered in a blue film. Everyone and everything is dark and drab.
                And Scrooge is frozen emotionally. He does not have mean or harsh feelings towards either – he has no feelings. You’d think he was the actor who played Data, not Picard (Star Trek references are inevitable, so I got this one out of the way quickly).
                There are so many things I like about this movie, so many little moments that make it stand out:
                1.                “Games, Spirit, games…” – Scrooge begs the Ghost of Christmas Present to stay at his nephews party. You can barely hear the pleading seep through the ice. In the novel, Dickens says Scrooge asked to stay in an-almost childlike way. Stewart’s way was much more to his character. Seeing him laugh and play along (“he can see” during blind man’s buff – yes it is buff, not bluff) showed the ice thawing.
                2.            The Cratchets are probably best portrayed here than in any other movie. Malnourished, poor teeth, sunken cheeks – they hired a Tiny Tim that actually looked like he may be seeing his last Christmas.
                3.            The Ghost of Christmas Present ages noticeably through his Stave.
                4.           Scenes with Welsh miners, sailors and sea and lighthouse keepers all celebrating Christmas were shown – rare scenes in “Carol” adaptations.
                5.            “I’ll give you a shilling,” if the boy running past his window would return with the prize turkey. Stewart said the line hunched low in the window – as if afraid someone would hear. I laughed out loud at this. I enjoy the few times Scrooge has had difficulty with his conversion.
                6.            When Scrooge told Cratchet Merry Christmas during “The End of It”, Cratchet backs off and grabs a fireplace poker and wields it in defense from what must be, to him, a Scrooge who has finally cracked.  Scrooge realized what he must seem like and backed off.  I laughed out loud.
                Some things I did not like about the movie still gnaw at me: Scrooge’s toe taping during Fezziwig’s dance while still being stone faced.  Wouldn’t it have been better for Scrooge to not only tap his toes but also to try to smile, cracking the facade slowly?  Scrooge’s convulsion that turned into laughter: true it was meant to show the ice finally breaking, but seemed tooforced, too obvious.
                This movie contains two things of note that are not in other versions: the discussion at the very beginning about what is so dead about a doorknob.  Also, Caroline and her husband are shown – they are happy that Scrooge is dead and thus payment of their debt to him will be delayed long enough for them to save it up! In the musical “Scrooge” the character (unique to that movie) Tom Jenkins takes their place leading to the rousing “Thank You Very Much” musical number. No other version I have seen includes Caroline.
                Then there was Topper, the friend of nephew Fred’s who flirted with his sister-in-law. Played by Crispin Letts in an oily, stalking manner that makes Eric Roberts character in “Star 80” look like Sebastian Cabot in “Family Affair”. Kudos! This is the ONLY version of “A Christmas Carol” that has a character more unlikable than Scrooge!
                I had a cassette tape set of Patrick Stewart’s one-man stage production of “A Christmas Carol” long since worn out and trashed. I expect it is still available on CD or download. If so, get it. It was this program that made me (and presumably the disappointed critics) so look forward to Stewart’s movie. The only thing better would have been seeing it live.
                Stewart used Dickens’ stage notes when the author would perform the work.  Talk about a faithful adaptation…  While not a word-for-word reading of the novel, it comes pretty darn close. It makes any road trip worth the journey.
UNSEEN SCROOGES (version I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
                “A Jetson Christmas Carol” from 1985. Since I am critiquing Patrick Stewart’s versions of the tale I thought I’d keep with a faux-sci fi theme. In this version the Jetsons are the Cratchets and Mr. Spacely, his boss, is Scrooge (although they are never called that). I expect it is filled with silly future gadgets and does not stray from the basic story. It has good reviews on IMDB, so I expect it not to be a complete waste of time.
                I would imagine the best part would be listening to all the original voice actors playing their roles for one of the last times. It was always fun hearing Daws Butler’s octogenarian growl trying to sound like a young child. And by now Mel Blanc’s voice was so low it vibrated the windows.
                Astro as the sickly Tiny Tim?
NEXT: Scrooge, a Song and Dance Man…
                                                                                                               Copyright 2012 Michael G Curry

Three Scrooges, Part 1: Famous First Editions

Three Scrooges, Part 1: Famous First Editions
                Question of the blog: Note how Belle, when asked by her husband to guess who he saw, immediately says “Ebenezer Scrooge”?  How often does she think of him? How many times does her husband walk past his office? Does she still have strong feelings for him? Is her husband stalking Scrooge? Does he bring up his wretched state often as a way of showing her she made the correct choice? What kind of control freak did she marry?
                “A Christmas Carol” has been filmed as long as there has been film. But “Scrooge” from 1935 is the first talkie of the novel. It stars Seymour Hicks in the title role. Look very quickly to see Maurice (Dr. Zaius) Evans in a bit part. It is on the public domain so it has often been run on TV and released many times on video cassette tape and DVD. I wish someone would take the time and resources to restore it.
                While not the best of the films, it is not the worst either. Seymour Hicks’ Scrooge looks ghastly. Wild hair, pasty and craggy face – he exudes the bitter hatred Scrooge seems to feel toward humanity. He doesn’t seem the caricature that is typical in Carol adaptations – he seems a genuinely grumpy old man.  Hicks also plays the younger Scrooge during the scenes with Belle – he is either made up to look very much older or younger than he was. An excellent job either way!
                It is a canny effort with the usual expected scenes. Some scenes included here and rarely elsewhere is Scrooge dining in a pub before going home. There is also an extended scene that no other version shows…
                The Lord Mayor’s Ball was mentioned only briefly in the novel and then forgotten. In this film we see the Lord Mayor’s banquet and contains the funniest line from any Carol adaptations. “My Lord, will you make your speech now or will you let the ladies and gentlemen continue to enjoy themselves?”  Genuine humor in Carol adaptations is rare indeed.  I think it was included in order to air “God Save the Queen” during the dinner – a patriotic touch in a depression-era Englandbeginning to hear the early thunder of war…
                Uniqueness: Marley is never seen! Scrooge emotes to an empty chair, beating Clint Eastwood by 77 years! Certainly saves on the film’s budget.  Ghost of Christmas past is a bright light shaped like a tall man’s shoulder and head; Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is a black shadow against a wall (only the Ghost of Christmas Present is cast – and is played as a gluttonous blob). They air the lighthouse keepers and the sailors, but not the coal miners.
                It is a product of its time – filled with melodrama and enough overacting to embarrass even the child actors on “Barney & Friends”.  But it IS fun to watch. The first talking version of the novel and a very fair version.
                “Christmas Carol” was a silent film version released in 1913. It was re-released in the USunder the title “Old Scrooge” in 1926.
                This movie is 100 years old this year. Wow. It has long thought lost, but the version I have on DVD is in incredible shape – it must have been meticulously restored.
                Like most silent versions of Carol, this was based on a stage play rather than an original adaptation.
                Here is Seymour Hicks again, 24 years earlier, still with craggy face, white hair almost comically askew and dressed in an even more threadbare suit.
                Uniqueness: the movie opens with a bit of the history of the story – telling us of Dickens’s past and childhood. It opens with Dickens at his desk writing the opening line. We are told Scrooge is an ogre with a frozen heart and body. Scrooge lives where he works – remember this was based on a stage play – which is pretty common in silent films to save the cost of different sets.  Strangest of all, I think, is that a creepy Marley (draped in white sheets), not the three spirits, shows Scrooge his past, present and future. And yet they DO change scenes to show Scrooge visiting Cratchet and giving the children coins. This was a “dream segment” – he later plays the usual trick the next day pretending to be the same old covetous miser before revealing to Bob his changed nature.
                Was this the first film version of Carol? No, but it is the first time Seymour Hicks played Scrooge on film; and his second film was the first talking version.
UNSEEN SCROOGES (versions I have not seen but will review anyway, oh like that’s never been done by professional critics…)
                My friend Clyde Hall (whose blog is http://playmst3kforme.blogspot.com) posted on Facebook about a version of Carol I have never seen. The cartoon “The Real Ghostbusters” did a Carol episode in which the ‘Busters caught the three Christmas Ghost and thus Scrooge never redeemed himself. The ‘Busters try to reverse what they did. Note “The Real Ghostbusters” is a cartoon based on the movie, not the cartoon based on the Saturday morning cartoon from the 1970s.  That should have been called “The Actual Ghostbusters”. Spencer, Tracy and Kong came first…

Next: Where No Scrooge Has Gone Before…

Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry

Thankful for Television

Thankful for Television

“Thirty days of being thankful” is this month’s flavor on Facebook. Some of my friends participate, I do not. My friend Clyde has posted every day so far this month. One post caught my attention and I thought I would share it with you. It is his thoughts and he would own any copyright on it and it is reprinted here with his permission:

TV may seem a strange thing to be thankful for. It can be a huge, vapid wasteland of tawdry reality shows, mismatched programming (I still don’t see how WWE belongs on the Syfy Channel) and tepid melodramas. But the other side of TV is a blessing we take for granted. It’s the medium that let us experience as a nation and as the entire human race, in real time, the historic landing of a man on the moon. And it gave us a united strength as we shared the tragedy of Challenger, of assassination attempts, of that dark September day in 2001. When TV is bad, it is very bad…but the good found in it shines all the more for it. The Tonight Show and Mr. Carson crossed generations, gave them common ground at a time when that was the rarest thing in the world. It has made our childhood Saturday mornings a balm for the weekly growing pains of school. It has given us role models in kindly Neighborhoods of Make Believe and in marsupial Captains of the Treasure House. It has given us 5 Year Missions of futuristic space exploration that lifted our spirits after little mundane, difficult days we thought would never end. It has given us Lucys and Barts and Cosbys and MST3Ks and Big Bang Theorists who brought needed laughter into our homes on days when life gave us nothing to be amused at. If you think TV cannot be artistic as well, watch the Dr. Who episode ‘Blink’…a Hugo Award winner and the kind of taut writing I watch TV in the hopes of experiencing once a decade or less. TV is human and flawed and at times detestable; a lesser medium derived as a tertiary offshoot of theater and motion pictures. But God uses all venues to reach His children, and He has made it a hallmark to utilize the least to do the most. That is how I will always recall The Man in the Water. January 13, 1982. Air Florida Flight 90, insufficiently de-iced by ground crews during a cold snap in Washington DC, strikes a busy commuter bridge and crashes into the deadly frigid waters of the Potomac River. Six injured survivors come to the surface, clinging to wreckage and hoping for a miracle. TV showed dramatic footage of the aftermath, and I have never forgotten the day I saw it or the impact it had. Still photos showed one of the six passing the lowered lifeline from the first helicopter on the scene to his fellow survivors first. One is badly hurt and still cannot hold on, and a watching man on the shore dives in, risking the hypothermia threat of the water to finish bringing her ashore. When the helicopter went back for the 6th man, the one who had given up the lifeline for others, he was gone. Arland D. Williams, Jr. chose that moment of chaos and death to live these words, the whole television-linked world as witness: Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. That is the blessing of TV.

Although I would disagree with him on a small point – TV’s coverage of 9-11 was disgraceful. True it brought us together, but only akin to how a school of fish is brought together by sharks preparing to feed.  There is an entire book in what Clyde has written, i think. Perhaps I should write it! Thank you, Clyde, for this wonderfully thought-out mini-essay on television.