This Flintstones holiday special from 1994 puts a stone age spin on the familiar A Christmas Carol story that's been rehashed time and time again. Setting the story in prehistoric times gives the material a slightly more original context than other takes on the story we've seen but there's still nothing here we haven't really seen before even if it is fun to revisit some of those classic characters that we know and love.
Fred is all set to star in the Bedrock Community Players' production of A Christmas Carol as Eboneezer Scrooge and it's a role that he cannot wait to tear into. Fred's head starts to swell and, in typical Fred Flintstone fashion, he starts to shirk on his duties at home meaning that as he throws himself into his acting, he realizes that he's forgotten to go Christmas shopping. On top of that, he's also forgotten to pick up Pebbles from the day care center. Wilma is none too pleased with this recent turn of events, neither are Betty and Barney. Later that night, Fred gets a trio of ghostly visitors who take him around town and show him the error of his ways in hopes that he'll make up for past transgressions before it's too late. While all of this is going on, many of the behind the scenes crewmembers and a few of the bit part actors working on the play with Fred begin to get sick, meaning that Wilma will have to come in at the last minute and pull double duty working as a seamstress and stage manager in addition to filling in for a few of the ailing would be thespians who have fallen ill.
The first thing that long time fans of The Flintstones are going to notice with this more recent offering is Alan Reed does not provide the voice of Fred Flintstone (he passed away in 1977. His replacement, Henry Corden, doesn't do a bad job (he's voiced Fred from the seventies through 2000 before passing away in 2005) but it's obviously a different voice and it's hard not to notice it if you're at all familiar with the original series. We also find Mel Blanc (who passed away before this special was done) replaced by Frank Welker. Don Messick and Jean Vander Pyl are still on board so most of the main characters sound the same but with Fred's voice having changed, it all seems a little off. Add to that the fact that animation has changed a fair bit since The Flintstones originally aired, so the characters look slightly different here than they did in the regular series. These two obvious alterations give this special a very different and almost unfamiliar feeling that doesn't do it any favors.
That said, much of what made the series so much fun is still here. Lots of clever name changes (Eb-BONE-ezer Scrooge for example) remind us that, yes, we're still very definitely in the stone age here and there are a few clever gags scattered throughout. Seeing Bamm Bamm talk (he has one key line) is a surprise but it does fit in with the context of the story being told. There are plenty of random dinosaurs and prehistoric critters used as every day items and lots of nifty innovations in terms of how the caveman life is intertwined with the modern day. This is still very much The Flintstones from start to finish, it's just a slightly different version than the one that most of us will know. As far as the special's effectiveness as Christmas entertainment, it works fairly well. The mythology of the series blends in with Dickens' familiar tale pretty effectively and even if we've seen countless other pop culture variations on this well-worn theme it is a classic story through and through. This isn't vintage Flintstones but the characters are still fun, the writing is still clever and the jokes are still funny which makes this worth a look for fans even if it isn't essential viewing.
The 1.33.1 fullframe transfer (the menus are 16x9!) looks quite good on this DVD though it hasn't been flagged for progressive scan. Color reproduction is strong and bright and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts. A bit of grain shows up now and again but aside from that there are no print damage issues. Some light edge enhancement can be spotted now and gain but it's a minor complaint. Overall A Flintstones Christmas Carol looks just fine here.
Audio options are provided in English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo as well as in Portuguese Dolby Digital Mono with optional subtitles available in English and Portuguese. There are no problems with the audio here even if it's unremarkable. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. There isn't much in the way of channel separation to cover but the levels are properly balanced and everything sounds okay.
The main extra feature on this disc is the Christmas Flintstone episode of the series from 1964. Fred doesn't have the cash he needs to get the Christmas presents he wants this year and so he takes a second job as a department store Santa at Macyrocks. When Fred turns out to be a natural, a few of the real Santa Claus' elves recruit him to help Santa and in turn save Christmas. Those of us who prefer our Flintstones episodes to be the original will likely get more enjoyment out of this bonus feature than the main attraction itself as the writing is a little more clever and the original voice actors a little more familiar sounding.
Rounding out the supplements are a trio of trailers for other, unrelated DVD releases, menus and chapter selection.
Enthusiasts and completists of the series will certainly want to add this to their collections as the presentation isn't half bad, but for the casual fan there are definitely better Flintstones releases out there and unless you've got a serious hankering for some festive stone age high jinks, consider A Flintstones Christmas Carol a fine holiday rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.