NBC Brings Back the First Animated Holiday Program Made for TV NY Times

Fifty years after it premiered on NBC, one of the oldest holiday programs around will return to the network’s prime-time lineup. The New York Times reports that "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol" will make its first network appearance in decades on Saturday, Dec. 21.

The program, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” is generally considered to be the first animated holiday show made specifically for TV -- even though the marionette special “The Spirit of Christmas” predates it by 12 years. “Magoo’s” was the forerunner of more familiar holiday fare such as “Frosty the Snowman,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and the stop-motion “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

The “Mister Magoo” special, in which Jim Backus provides the voice of the title character, was a holiday staple like the others for years, but was bumped from the lineup decades ago. Its return to prime time is NBC’s way of marking the production’s 50-year anniversary. The network first aired it on Dec. 18, 1962.

Thomas Vinciguerra writes in The Times piece: “Considering that ‘Magoo’ is the first version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ that some children see, it offers quite grown-up themes. There is no soft-pedaling here of Tiny Tim’s death, or of the chained souls of the damned floating outside Scrooge’s window. Chunks of Dickensian dialogue, like ‘decrease the surplus population’ and ‘who made lame beggars walk and blind men see,’ remain largely intact.”

Vinciguerra also notes: “’Magoo’ also offers a curious framing device whereby the whole story is treated as a Broadway production, with Magoo as an actor portraying Scrooge. The producer, Lee Orgel, feared that audiences wouldn’t accept Magoo being plucked out of his cartoon context and plopped into the 19th century without explanation.”