1987: Ghost Stories from The Pickwick Papers

How in the HELL did I never hear of this? I'm a big Dickens fan - I have a whole blog called Drink Like the Dickens in which I make drinks out of Dickens books (smoking bishop, wassail, negus, etc). And yet, somehow it escaped me that there was actually a made-for-video cartoon that functions as a Charles Dickens Halloween Special.

Dickens's first novel, The Pickwick Papers, made him a star. Something like 80% of all people who could read bought a copy, and its hardcore fans rivaled Harry Potter fans for obsessiveness (I would have loved to see what they did on Tumblr). The book, a rambling narrative in which Mr. Pickwick and his friends wander around from adventure to adventure, presented a sort of "Englishness" that everyone recognized, but which had never been captured before. I like to compare it to Clerks, which presented a sort of suburban lifestyle that much of my generation recognized at once, but had never really seen on film before.

The book hasn't held up particularly well. For a good century, it was the go-to book to mention when people were talking about the funniest book of all time, but today it's funny in an "I guess you had to be there" way. Most of the adventures seem like Laurel and Hardy shorts. But that isn't to say it's bad, by any means.

At various points in the book, presumably whenever Dickens was short on ideas, some character or another will tell a totally unrelated short story, the best known of which is probably The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton, which was sort of an early version of A Christmas Carol.  Many of the stories had ghostly themes, and, in Ghost Stories From The Pickwick Papers, we get animated versions of four of the stories, strung together by a framing device in which the Pickwick Club is telling ghost stories to kill time.

Emerald City animation was making a lot of Dickens movies in those days, as well as adaptations of classics like The Phantom of the Opera. From what I can see from the previews, they all look similar to this one: gorgeously painted, but still obviously low budget work by skeleton crews.

The animation is of that Filmation style, and a lot of corners are clearly being cut. The script could stand to be a bit punchier, as it drags in places. But the visuals are so fantastic that none of this really matters. The characters themselves look a bit simple, but the backgrounds have some of the best foggy Victorian streets, tumble-down mansions, moldy graveyards, and gnarled branches in the business. The producers were not afraid to be scary, and the result is a great "Halloweenish" vibe throughout.  If only the budget had been bigger, you get the impression that this could have made a really dynamite feature film.


All quibbles aside, though, there are some really good parts here. My favorite story, both in the book and the cartoon, concerns a guy who meets a ghost in an old inn (there are a LOT of inns in this book), and asks the ghosts why ghosts are always haunting gloomy places. Why not go someplace nice? The ghost is astounded. "I never thought of that!" he says. And off he goes.

Here's it is; thanks to John Bolles for the tip.



3 comments:

Autumn May Dale said...

Cool! I also love reading some ghost stories specially when we are in a group of my cousins. We read ghost stories at night to make it more creepy. hahaha Thanks for sharing.






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Modern Grace said...

Have you seen the Rabbit Ears version of Sleepy Hollow? It was narrated by Glen Close and amazing. It's also on Youtube.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for finding this and posting about it. I've been searching for this cartoon for over 10 years (mostly passively), only clinging to the slivers of story that I could remember. The biggest aspects I could recall were the ghostly horses and the haunted armoire, so I was pretty pumped when I stumbled upon this, watched some of it on youtube and realized I had FINALLY found what I have been looking for. This brings back great memories.

Cheers

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