The single best version of A Christmas Carol

Published November 11, 2011

Of all the motion-picture versions of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, one stands head and shoulders above the rest — by a mile. And that’s the 1971 animated film by Richard Williams.

It’s so good, it won an Oscar — the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for 1972. Why was it so good? Besides sticking to the story, the 1971 A Christmas Carol was true to its roots: It was a ghost story.

In fact, it was so scary that ABC (which created it) stopped airing it after a few years because children were frightened. In fact, no one wanted to air it, and today it’s only available as a used VHS.

How scary was it? Trust me — scary.

Take Marley’s ghost. Most people expect to see him like this:


Or maybe this:


But that’s not how Dickens described him. Quoth the text:

But how much greater was his horror, when the phantom taking off the bandage round its head, as if it were too warm to wear indoors, its lower jaw dropped down upon its breast!

And that’s what Williams’s 1971 version delivers:


The Ghost of Christmas Past — you may picture her (it?) as looking like a kind of woodland nymph.


But she ain’t. She’s a ghost, and for Williams, that meant a creepy, ethereal thing:


But those don’t compare to what might be the single scariest moment of the movie — when the fat, jolly, Ghost of Christmas Present opens his robe to reveal “The boy is Ignorance, the girl is Want.”

Perhaps you were expecting something like this:


or this:


Silly you. Meet Ignorance and Want, Richard Williams style:

Ignorance and Want

Here’s a closeup of the boy:



That says “ignorance” a lot better than a generic Dirty Kid in Rags, huh?

You can see the full version of the 1971 A Christmas Carol online in quite a few places, and copies (again, used and VHS) are available on Amazon, but it’s a shame that the single best adaptation — at all of 27 minutes! — isn’t available on DVD.

  1. Ed Jones says:

    I completely agree. And it’s a shame that this version is not yet on DVD! I never saw it as a child in the 70’s but my first version was the 1969 animated version and I love all of the many other versions but admit, the 1971 animated is the most faithful to the book. Dickens himself might pick that version as his favorite too.

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