The 'Christmas Carol' That Won an Oscar Turns 40

On Dec. 21, 1971, ABC premiered a half-hour animated adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol that went on to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film—the only time that a version of tale ever received an Oscar.

The special, helmed by animator Richard Williams and narrated by Michael Regrave, isn't shown often anymore. But it is available online. And it definitely holds up today:

A 2006 article from Jim Hill explains the back story behind the special, and points out that the 1971 Christmas Carol may be the scariest version ever made:

Given that this version of "A Christmas Carol" is only 26 minutes long, Williams doesn't waste a second. Starting with this animated special's masterful opening shot (Where -- in one continous pan -- the camera completes three full inversions over a scratchy pen-and-ink drawing of 1840s London before finally arriving outside of Scrooge & Marley's counting house), we're quickly introduced to Ebenezer, Bob Crachit, Scrooge's nephew Fred as well as those two gentlemen who are seeking contributions to the poor.

With Michael Redgrave handling the voice-over narration and Alistair Sim reprising his brilliant performance from the 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol," you're immediately sucked into Williams' confident retelling of this holiday tale. Your eye is completely captured by the various animation techniques that are used in the making of this TV special. Which literally brings Leech's illustrations to life.

But then Scrooge heads for home. And -- after spying Jacob's face on his door knocker -- Ebenezer goes inside the house. And that's when Richard really starts piling on the frights.

Apparently some in the animation community weren't happy that a TV special ended up with an Oscar, and the Academy has since changed its rules. The full story is here.

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Spencer Kornhaber is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers pop culture and music. He was previously an editor at Patch.com and a staff writer at OC Weekly. He has written for Spin, The AV Club, and RollingStone.com.

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