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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Christmas Carol is a family-friendly take on the Dickens' classic about Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen), a miserly man who after being visited by ghosts changes his ways. While the presence of ghosts might be unnerving to some children -- particularly Marley's Ghost (Leo G. Carroll) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come (D'Arcy Corrigan) -- they are largely unthreatening and the spookiness is balanced with moments of humor. The desperate plight of the Cratchit family is played down, and even Scrooge's meanness feels short-lived. Set in Victorian London, the few female characters that appear on screen are restricted to supporting roles with little impact on the overall story. There is occasional but enthusiastic drinking of alcohol. In two separate scenes, a family (including the children) all drink some homemade punch. Though the story is fundamentally about greed and redemption, this adaptation has a strong sense of optimism throughout and an ending that exudes unbridled festive joy.
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What's the story?
A CHRISTMAS CAROL tells the story of mean and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen), an old man with no friends or family who only seems to care about money. He is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his old partner who urges him to change his ways. Three more spirits follow, each taking him on a journey through Christmas Past, Present, and Yet To Come, to show him how his actions have affected those around him -- and how they have stifled his happiness. When the sun comes up on Christmas Day morning, will Ebenezer be a new man, ready to make amends and bring joy to his friends and family?
Is it any good?
This 1938 version of A Christmas Carol is a charming early adaptation of Charles Dickens' novella. It opens with a jolly Victorian Christmas scene and the promise of a warm and gentle journey through what is, at least in part, a dark and harrowing tale of redemption. Somehow the overall tone tends toward cheer and optimism, even as mean and miserly Scrooge is being shown the error of his selfish and judgmental ways.
The short runtime means the story is rather whizzed through, but it doesn't lose the essence of this cautionary tale, nor does it undermine the cast of classic characters. And while Dickens aficionados might feel short-changed, many viewers -- especially younger ones -- will find this a reasonably accessible and certainly entertaining retelling. Though made in 1938, this black and white production has a timeless feel to it. Indeed, the very fact that it was made so long ago probably makes it all the more atmospheric to a 21st century audience. And nobody, of any age, can fail to be uplifted by its ultimate festive message of goodwill to all.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what the underlying message of A Christmas Carol is. What do you think the movie is trying to say is the true meaning of Christmas?
Talk about positive role models in the movie. Which characters do you feel exhibit positive character traits like compassion, courage, or humility? Why are these important character strengths to have? Can you think of a time when you've had to demonstrate these traits?
Talk about other adaptations of A Christmas Carol, including some creative takes on the story like Scrooged or The Muppet Christmas Carol. How do you think the traditional versions compare to the more modern retellings?
- In theaters: December 16, 1938
- On DVD or streaming: November 8, 2005
- Cast: Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart
- Director: Edwin L. Marin
- Studios: MGM, Warner Home Video
- Genre: Classic
- Topics: Book Characters, Holidays, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage, Humility
- Run time: 69 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: December 4, 2020
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