A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this horror-comedy takeoff on Charles Dickens has strong language, violence (bloodless, even with loads of ammunition spent), some sex talk (but nothing really shown), and drinking. Some disturbing imagery for the very young includes a dusty ghost of the decayed-zombie variety and a tall, creepy, skeletal Ghost of Christmas Future. Jokes about the Kama Sutra and its positions will almost certainly lead to embarrassing questions from young children. Kids will likely need a lot of explanation for the dated cultural references (Spago restaurant, Mary Lou Retton, the Six Million Dollar Man, etc.).
What's the story?
It's Christmas in New York City, and Frank Cross (Bill Murray), selfish, workaholic, hard-drinking, miserly, and manic president of a mythical American TV network, is overseeing, among other outlandish broadcast projects, a live Christmas Eve performance of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (the tale is called "Scrooge,' throughout, rather than its original title). Thinking only of money and ratings, Frank vulgarizes the classic plot with showgirls and mice (based on a theory that cats are developing TV-watching habits), shrugging off a Christmas-dinner invite from his brother and firing the one programming executive who questions him. Then, in the evenings leading up to the big show, Frank is himself visited by real-life Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future, who try to show him the error of his ways before it's too late.
Is it any good?
SCROOGED is a head-on crash of two family faves, A Christmas Carol and Ghostbusters, neither one quite winning out. Some early SNL folk worked on it -- Bill Murray most obviously, but also writer Michael O'Donahue, whose style of humor was often brutally dark. It's a strange, mood-swingy blend of mistletoe and graveyard mold that doesn't hang together gracefully. A good comedy-fantasy with some heart for the holidays may repose here, but the movie is heavily-tinseled by expensive production values, epic gags, and special effects that tend to go against Dickens' poignancy. The script eagerly does literal yuppie-bashing, as Frank Cross is physically pummeled and tortured; even with isolated genius moments (Christmas Past is a Yellow Cabbie in a time-travel taxi), you feel this property is exactly the sort of gaudy and violent entertainment Frank Cross would air at Christmas. Murray himself, at his best underplaying, mugs hysterically. Kids might like that, but when he unintelligibly impersonates Welsh actor Richard Burton or quotes the plant from Little Shop of Horrors, it's funny stand-up but don't fit the character well.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about all the different variations on A Christmas Carol ever since Dickens wrote it. Tell kids that while Dickens was alive he HATED copies and stage versions (there being no movies in his Victorian era). What would Dickens have thought of this one?
Ask kids what their favorite renditions of the Scrooge story are, and why.
Much of the humor here focuses on the shallowness, greed, and sensation of commercial television -- yet this was before "reality TV" and prime-time game shows, which brought new levels of exploitation (couples taking lie-detector tests over infidelity; celebrities fighting drug addiction; women trying to marry for money; etc.). Is TV today worse than when Scrooged was released?
- In theaters: November 23, 1988
- On DVD or streaming: November 9, 1999
- Cast: Alfre Woodard, Bill Murray, Bobcat Goldthwaite, Carol Kane, John Forsythe, Karen Allen, Lee Majors, Michael J. Pollard
- Director: Richard Donner
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: Parental Guidance
For kids who love comedy
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.