Pleasant-enough holiday diversion, but nothing even close to classic.

James Plath's picture

Anyone who watched "The Flintstones"--a prime-time animated sitcom set in the Stone Age that drew inspiration from "The Honeymooners"--knows that the vocabulary for their neighbors' super-strong son, Bamm-Bamm, was limited to the phrase that inspired his name.

Well, the tiny tyke has graduated from that Neanderthal expression to a single, full sentence: "God bless us everyone."

It's his only line in a Bedrock Community Players production of "A Christmas Carol," which finds the irascible and easily self-inflated Fred Flintstone starring as Eboneezer Scrooge. Yes, "Flintstones" fans, there are plenty of clever ways in which rocks and such are incorporated into recognizable names (like Bloomingshales instead of Bloomingdales). There are also a number of prehistoric "inventions" using live creatures, which was one of the show's pure delights--not as many as on the classic TV show episodes, but enough to enliven this Charles Dickens adaptation.

Of course, this isn't the first--or only--animated version of the now-classic story of miserly Scrooge, his poor clerk Bob Cratchit, and Cratchit's crippled son, Tiny Tim, who walks with the assistance of a crude crutch and recites the most famous line from Dickens' 1843 holiday story. A number of character features have been produced, including "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" (1962), "Mickey's Christmas Carol" (1983), and "The Muppet Christmas Carol" ( 1992). "A Flintstones Christmas Carol" was broadcast on TV in 1994.

Dickens wrote for the masses, and so you'd have to guess he'd think all of these back-door tributes an amusing way to reach out to an even wider audience than the live-actor productions. What distinguishes this one from the rest (including a 1997 animated tale voiced by Tim Curry and Whoopi Goldberg) is that it approaches "A Christmas Carol" with the same double-vision as "Scrooged," the humorous 1988 version starring Bill Murray. Just as Murray's character was enmeshed in producing a TV live adaptation of the Dickens' tale and finds himself being visited by ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, so does Freddie Flintstone.

Being the star has gone to Fred's head, and he's not only neglected his family and put off others with his self-centered arrogance, but he's also forgotten to shop for Christmas presents and even failed to pick up their tiny toddler daughter, Pebbles, from Cave Care Center day-care. All of that has made Fred a real Scrooge in the eyes of wife Wilma and neighbors Barney and Betty Rubble, but with the help of those visitations Fred finally (and predictably) comes around. An extra twist here is that the players are succumbing one-by-one to the Bedrock bug, a flu that forces Wilma not only to work on costumes and behind-the-scenes managerial tasks, but to play a multitude of on-stage roles as well.

Doing "A Christmas Carol" comes with all the potential pitfalls of playing Shakespeare. It's SO familiar that it really has to be done well for an audience to respond. And I'm not so sure that this version distinguishes itself. It's a pleasant-enough adaptation, but there just doesn't seem to be the raw energy and cleverness that drove the old TV-show episodes. Part of the problem is that this Hanna-Barbera show has been so popular that it's outlived the original stars and artistic talent. Though Jean Vander Pyl still gives voice to Wilma, Mel Blanc still handles the voice of Barney, and Don Messick still does Bamm-Bamm's one-liners, there's been enough turnover to where fans will notice the difference. Some of the artwork makes the characters look fatter and more rounded, especially in the face. But the biggest adjustment is getting used to Henry Corden as Fred. For many fans, Alan Reed was perfect as the full-of-life and dripping-with-sarcasm cave man. Corden took over the role when "The Flintstones Comedy Hour" revived the series in 1972, but there's an edge missing that makes the character seem more tame, even bland. Time didn't help him, either. At first, it was as if Corden tried to ape Reed's voice perfectly, but there are moments in this production when the voice sounds so NOT like Fred Flintstone that if you had your eyes closed, you wouldn't suspect he was the same character that badgered Barney all those years. How FAR this Fred feels from the blustery and unpredictable, full-of-life Ralph Cramden who inspired the character.

The video quality is decent, though, presented (no surprise) in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Colors are bright, and there's only the slightest grain throughout.

The audio is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo or Portuguese 1.0 Mono, with subtitles also in both languages. The sound is no great shakes--functional, rather than something you notice as being either deficient or superior.

The nice surprise here is that in addition to three trailers (which I hardly consider bonus features) there's a 1964 episode from the old TV series, "Christmas Flintstone," that will really have fans waxing nostalgic for the OLD Freddie Flintstone and the cleverness of the old show. Compare this episode alongside the main feature, and you'll see the difference. In it, Fred needs to take another job to raise money to buy Christmas presents, and ultimately ends up playing Santa Claus for Mr. Macyrock. Fred finds his calling, and is so good that he's tabbed by a couple of elves to help the real Mr. Claus. My guess is that many viewers will prefer this to "A Flintstone Christmas Carol."

Bottom Line:
"A Flintstones Christmas Carol" feels as if it could have had more energy, more inventiveness, and more wit. When Bamm-Bamm comes back from rehearsal and tosses his crutch for his dinosaur pet to fetch, when he uses it to prop up the arm of a snowman he's building, or when dodo birds shake off feathers to create fake snow for the play, you realize that there just aren't enough of those delightful surprise moments. It's a pleasant-enough holiday diversion, but nothing even close to classic.


Film Value