I don’t watch Christmas specials anymore, not even A Charlie Brown Christmas, whose annual telecasts are now so disfigured by commercials and cuts that I can no longer bear to see that exquisite little show in its present state. But I’m going to make an exception for Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, which was originally broadcast by NBC on December 18, 1962 and will air once again on that network on Saturday night at eight p.m. EST in commemoration of the show’s fiftieth anniversary.
Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol was the first animated Christmas special produced specifically for television. Not only is Barbara Chain’s script unexpectedly faithful to Charles Dickens’ book, but the score, which was written by the high-powered duo of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, is well-crafted and charming. The show was a hit and promptly became a holiday staple, so much so that the writers of Hill Street Blues paid tribute to it in “Santa Claustrophobia,” a 1982 Christmas episode in which the famously irascible Belker hurried home alone after his shift was over to watch it in his shabby apartment.
Alas, Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, like the nearsighted Mr. Magoo himself, vanished from the airwaves a quarter-century ago. In 2009 Darrell Van Citters, himself an animation director, wrote an excellent book that chronicles its making. (He also hosts a blog devoted to the program.) Even so, you have to have a long memory to know what a powerful impression it made on those who, like me, first saw Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol when it was brand new.
My family watched Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol every December–it was one of our compulsory holiday rituals–and I plan to watch it on Saturday with Mrs. T, who is exactly my age but has, much to my surprise, never seen it. While I expect it will be shortened–that’s in the nature of things–I’m prepared to overlook my reflexive purism this time around. I only wish that my mother could be around to watch it with us, but she won’t be far from our thoughts.