I don’t like how Fred looks exactly like Colin Firth in Disney’s Christmas Carol, but I don’t find much else to dislike about this version of the character. He bursts in merrily and seems genuinely excited to visit Scrooge, which is how I like Fred to act. I get tired of the Freds who see their visits as a chore, and I admire the ones who are relentless in their optimism that maybe this will be the year that Scrooge comes to dinner. Firth’s is one of those Freds.
He tries to keep his spirits up, but Scrooge takes a lot out of him and ends up getting his goat a couple of times. He’s horrified by the “stake of holly” comment and his big speech is impassioned and just a little bit angry. He keeps trying to smile though and I respect the hell out of him.
Cratchit comes out of his room for the speech and claps at the end, but there’s nothing new to that bit. It’s not particularly funny when Scrooge yells at Cratchit and threatens his job. Cratchit looks like a scolded puppy as he makes his way back to his desk.He’s not really frightened for his position, but he’s embarrassed and humbled.
Surprisingly, Disney’s is one of the few adaptations that goes for Scrooge’s full “I’ll see you in hell first” as a response to Fred’s dinner invitation. He gets in Fred’s face as he says it too, and it kicks off a nice bit of acting by both Carrey and Firth as they discuss Fred’s marriage.
Scrooge pauses before he asks why Fred got married. Some of the other versions have him whip out “why did you get married” as if it’s been on his mind the entire scene. In this one, he has to think about it for a second. Or maybe he’s reluctant to bring it up for some reason. I tend to think it’s the latter explanation. As I’ll discuss in a minute, this is a sore subject for Scrooge and not one he should be overly eager to get into.
Fred also pauses before “Because I fell in love” as if he genuinely doesn’t understand the question. He’s not condescending in his answer, but very sincere. He realizes that he and Scrooge are on completely different pages and he wants to use the opportunity to hopefully help his uncle see the light.
Scrooge’s response is complicated and layered. Like I said last year, I have several problems with this version, but Carrey’s performance isn’t one of them. He sneers a little at Fred’s answer, but his tone’s not mocking as he repeats his nephew’s words. He looks genuinely disbelieving. Not so much that Fred fell in love, but that he would actually try to use that as an excuse to Scrooge. In Scrooge’s mind, love has nothing to do with anything.
I don’t know if I’ve said this out loud before (I think I was going to save the observation for a later scene), but since this is the last film adaptation we’ll look at this year, it’s a good time to mention that Scrooge’s disagreement about Fred’s marriage comes from a very personal place. We’ve seen that hinted at in a couple of adaptations and this one does it too. The relationship between love and marriage isn’t just an intellectual exercise for Scrooge, it’s something that he made a definite decision about as a young man, and that decision affected the rest of his life.
In the better versions of this scene, there’s all kinds of foreshadowing about why Scrooge reacts the way he does to Fred’s marriage. At a crucial moment, Scrooge chose to follow traditional, Victorian mores about making one’s fortune before getting married. Fred has made the opposite choice and adaptations like this one (and George C. Scott’s and Patrick Stewart’s and Alastair Sim’s) emphasize how much it pains Scrooge to see his nephew so happy in his penniless marriage. It’s a painful reminder that Scrooge made a horrible, horrible mistake once upon a time.