It occurred that we can't let the holiday go by with something from the wonderful, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. I believe that this was the first animated Christmas TV special, originally aired in 1962. It ran nationally on NBC each year until 1969. Unfortunately, it was felt that the animation was outdated or no longer up to broadcast standards and the show was dropped from the network, though it ran on local stations for decades. (Mind you, the black-and-white It's a Wonderful Life uses film technique that's outdated, though that hasn't stopped NBC from finding a audience every year.) Happily, NBC brought the classic back last year for its 50th anniversary. Unfortunately, its 52-minutes were woefully edited to make room for more commercial time that is standard today compared to 1962.
It's actually a very respectable adaptation of Dickens' story. But it's the musical score that has always leaped out, arguably one of the best original scores written for a TV special, let alone an animated one. It helps that it was written by Broadway composer Jule Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill, who had just completed the score for Funny Girl. Separately, Jule Styne wrote such shows as Gypsy, Bells are Ringing, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and half the score of Peter Pan. Not to mention 10 Oscar nomination, and one win -- as well as the appropriate song for the season, "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow." On his own, Bob Merrill wrote the music and lyrics to such shows, Carnival! and Take Me Along.
So, Mr. Maggo's Christmas Carol had an impressive pedigree.
I remember several years back I was visiting my cousin's house, and he and his wife had rented the recording of the show to watch with their little son. They didn't know it, and when I was over one night and was enthusing about they asked if I wanted to stay to watch. That was a no-brainer. After I'd explained how wonderful the musical score was, they both said they hoped so because after having watched SO many animated children's TV specials their heads were ready to explode from the boring, unmemorable blandness. "Trust me," was all I added.
The video came on, and they enjoyed the opening "bookend" song, which sets up that Magoo is doing A Christmas Carol as a musical. They enjoyed it, but I said that that was really not much more than a throwaway number, that the "real" score starts when the show-within-the-show does. Fine, okay, they waited.
And then the first, "official" song began, "Ringle, Ringle." And I swear, five seconds into the song, they both turned to me, their eyes wide open and both saying, "Oh, my God." All I could say was, "There's more to come."
This is that first song, and more than just the first five seconds.
And as long as we've officially hit the holiday itself, I figured that before it passes I might as well include a song from the show that's a bit more appropriate for the season. It's as lush and glorious a production number as would fit most any Broadway musical.
Yes, it has a real name, "The Lord's Bright Blessing," but I suspect most people know it as the "Razzleberry Dressing Song."
It would be nice if NBC put the show on every year again, and without editing it down. Or have one of the major cable channels do so. I'm not holding my breath on that. Two years ago, I brought the DVD over to a couple of friend's who have a little daughter, then four-years-old. We watched it together, and a few days later they called to say how much she utterly loved the show and was still singing songs from it. So much for being outdated for broadcast standards. But thank goodness for video...
Animated TV musical scores don't get much better than this.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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