IMDB lists 70 entries for the character Ebenezer Scrooge. Everyone from Jack Palance to Vanessa Williams (her character was called Ebony Scrooge) have “bah humbugged” their way through the role.

This weekend Jim Carrey joins that list in a big budget Disney motion capture version of A Christmas Carol. But why have the character and the story of the man who hated Christmas stayed popular since Charles Dickens penned it 166 years ago?

The first reason may have appealed to old Scrooge’s frugal nature. The story is in public domain, meaning there are no pesky payments to the Dickens family for using the character, but to be made (the first film came in 1901) remade (21 times on film and dozens more made for TV) then turned on its head and remade again and again, there must be something else about the story’s humbuggery that resonates with viewers. The Life and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge author Paul Davis says the story is one of those rarities that is so familiar it’s almost part of our collective DNA.

“My acquaintance with Scrooge seems preliterate,” he wrote, “different from my sense of ... Dr. Doolittle or Robinson Crusoe. I remember when I first met the Hardy Boys, but I feel as though I’ve always known Scrooge and Tiny Tim.”

Some scholars think the story’s ability to seem current, no matter when it is restaged, is a major selling point.

“What it all boils down to is that A Christmas Carol is that rare and precious thing, a story for the ages,” said the Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley, “like other such stories — the Bible ... the plays of Shakespeare — becomes a distinct and different entity in each age.”

Perhaps these days of economic uncertainty have given the story a timely slant as Scrooge’s penny-pinching ways could be seen as something to be emulated. The bottom line, however, may be the simplest explanation of all; A Christmas Carol is a tale of redemption that confirms the fundamental spiritual nature of Christmas itself. In other words, it makes us feel good.

Carey’s carol

Playing Ebenezer Scrooge in the new 3-D animation version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was a different acting experience for Jim Carey. That’s because the movie uses motion-capture technology. The face the digital artists came up with for Scrooge was disconcerting, Carrey admits. “When I saw the movie, one of the first things I said was, ‘My family is going to have a heart attack. That is my father.’” For inspiration, Carrey looked to the famous Scrooges of the past, particularly Alastair Sim, from 1951’s Scrooge.

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