This is a short review. The beak on Appellate Judge James A. Stewart's pterodactyl rockwriter was getting awfully sore. The pterodactyl was getting even more so.
"Christmas? Bah, humbug!…You're going to knock 'em dead tonight, Fred."—Fred Flintstone, as he rehearses for the role of Ebonezer Scrooge
Fred Flintstone has the acting bug as he prepares for his role as Scrooge in Bedrock's community production. Others in the cast have the Bedrock Bug—a new flu virus—but Fred's bug is worse. "Ever since you got this part, all you've thought about is yourself," wife Wilma chides. Fred couldn't remember to do his holiday shopping or pick up Pebbles at Cave Care. He's even colliding with co-workers—literally—as he studies his script while starting a shift at the quarry.
A Flintstones Christmas Carol, made for TV in 1994, brings back the characters—Fred and Wilma Flintstone, and neighbors Barney and Betty Rubble—made popular in the 1960-66 animated comedy that was a staple of after-school reruns for generations.
The Flintstones, on the off chance you haven't seen it at some point, used its simple setup—two blue-collar quarry workers (think an animated version of Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton) and their wives going about their sitcom business in Bedrock, a prehistoric town of cavemen and dinosaurs—for a Mad-style barrage of sight gags and observations on modern life. It also had a lot of bad puns, a tradition the new version maintains (Fred goes to Bloomingshale's for his Christmas shopping, for example).
It provides a reasonable retelling of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," mixed with backstage farce and Flintstones antics. It's funny, but if you've seen The Flintstones at all, you've seen the trademark gags (such as Fred and Barney sliding down their dinosaurs when the whistle blows or Fred speeding in his foot-powered car). Even so, the writers do slip in a few fresh bits of whimsy, such as Betty's quick makeup job on Mr. Slate as Marbly (dropping a sack of flour on his head so it bursts) or, for that matter, Slate's holiday transformation into a generous boss, apparently fueled by his failure to be enough of a Scrooge when they were casting. It looks like the writers of A Flintstones Christmas Carol were trying to stay out of the way of the Dickens fable, and they succeed for the most part.
It seemed like the Rubbles got short shrift here—the story was shy on gags about Bamm-Bamm's outsized strength and destructiveness, wisecracks from Barney, and commiseration between Betty and Wilma.
Of the original voice actors, only Jean Vander Pyl (Wilma) was still around in 1994 (she died in 1999). Alan Reed, Mel Blanc, and Bea Benaderet had already passed away. The replacement voices aren't bad, but you'll notice the difference.
The animation is about what you'd expect for TV, and the sound quality doesn't present any problems.
Now we get to the really good stuff. The bonus, the 1964 Christmas episode from The Flintstones, turns out to be better than the main feature. Macyrock's Department Store needs a last-minute Santa, and Fred fills the bill; he's soon greeted by two elves who need a Santa fill-in at the last minute. Like the main feature, it's meant to be warm and fuzzy rather than sharply funny, but the gags—my favorites are Fred's struggle to gift-wrap an umbrella and a running gag about Fred trying to be jolly, despite a lot of provocation from Barney—came faster in 1964. There's also a sleigh ride scene that's just plain fun to see—full of twinkling stars and falling toys—as Fred delivers the world's Christmas presents. The picture is in good shape, too.
A Flintstones Christmas Carol plays a lot on nostalgia value and familiarity with the characters, so it might fare better with older kids (the ones who saw it the first or second or third time around) than a new generation. The riffs on marital discord and an outdated character inspired by Marilyn Monroe are harmless, but they still seem aimed at an older audience. Still, there are enough smiles in this Carol that nobody will be throwing stones if you can't resist picking up a copy for your kids or grandkids.
I can't find A Flintstones Christmas Carol guilty, even if it pales next to the 1964 holiday show. Case dismissed.
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