Who among us couldn’t use a little good cheer right now? The Man Who Invented Christmas supplies just that, in a fictionalized story about how Charles Dickens devised A Christmas Carol at a low point in his career. Dan Stevens is extremely likable as the animated author.

The year is 1843. Oliver Twist has made him a worldwide celebrity and led to a wildly successful lecture tour of the United States. But Dickens’ subsequent books are flops and he is living beyond his means in an elegant London townhouse. He has a contentious relationship with his ne’er-do-well father (Jonathan Pryce) and his relationship with his wife is strained because of the pressure he feels to deliver another popular novel…going so far as to publish it himself, at great expense.

Dickens collected odd and unusual names, marking them in a notebook (not unlike his latter-day admirer W.C. Fields). What’s more, the movie tells us, he didn’t devise his characters from thin air. They came to him, often fully formed, in a series of encounters that some might call hallucinations. That’s the case with Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer), who haunts the writer’s existence for the weeks he is consumed by his Christmas tale. Dickens can’t find anything redeeming about the old bird and this becomes his ultimate challenge: to find an appropriate ending for his holiday fable that isn’t bleak but offers readers hope and uplift.

Based on Les Standiford’s book, Susan Coyne’s screenplay also posits that Dickens helped popularize the holiday of Christmas itself, along with many of its now-familiar traditions. However fanciful some of these details may be, the crux of the story is true.

Few pieces of fiction have proved to be as enduring as A Christmas Carol. Its story of a haunted humbug and his redemption is ageless. Director Bhalat Nalluri steers a talented cast through this lively period piece, handsomely filmed in Dublin and Toronto. Even minor roles are filled by skilled actors who bring conviction to their characters, both real and imagined. With a PG rating, The Man Who Invented Christmas is heartwarming family fare for this holiday season: not a mindless piece of fluff but an intriguing story about a man whose work continues to resonate with readers (and filmgoers) around the world.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024