Depending on the interpretation, Scrooge’s nephew Fred can either be the most admirable character in the story or an even more despicable character than Scrooge. Find out how on this, the eighth day of the 12 Days of Muppet Christmas.
One small but significant difference right off the bat between Muppet Christmas Carol and the 1999 TV movie starring Patrick Stewart is that Christmas Carol ’99 includes Fred’s backstory: he’s the son of Scrooge’s deceased sister (called Fran in Christmas Carol ’99, although the original story has her name as “Fan”). In MCC, Fred is also Scrooge’s nephew, but no mention is made of his parents one way or the other. This is similar to the approach taken in “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” (the first “Christmas Carol” adaptation I ever saw and the one by which I judge all others, for better or worse), and perhaps that’s not surprising because nephewism is prominent in both franchises. (Which is fine, by the way; if our choices are nephewism and “cross-promoting,” I’ll take nephewism any day.)
On the surface of it, Fred seems like a much kinder and more pleasant person than Scrooge, making a point of coming over to Scrooge’s counting house to invite him over for Christmas dinner even knowing that he is likely to refuse. In Christmas Carol ’99, Fred laughingly describes Uncle Scrooge’s behavior to his dinner guests but then defends him, refusing to either say or hear a word against him, and when Scrooge does show up for dinner, he welcomes him with open arms, even though his wife initially remains dubious. In MCC, incidentally, the reverse is true; it’s Fred’s wife (here called Clara) who’s delighted to see Uncle Scrooge drop by with presents while Fred appears completely dumbfounded.
The differences go deeper. In Christmas Carol ’99, during the vision of the future Cratchits, Bob mentions that Fred asked him what was the matter upon meeting him in the street and seeing that he was down. Upon learning of Tiny Tim’s death, Fred offers condolences and gives Bob his card, instructing him to stop by if there’s anything he can do. Though appearing in the book, that scene does not appear in MCC, but MCC does include another scene from the book in which Fred starts up a game of 20 Questions (they don’t call it that, but that’s what it is) with his party guests during the vision of Christmas Present in which the solution is “Ebenezer Scrooge” and the questions include things like, “Is it an unwanted creature?” to which Fred replies, “Often.” To be fair, in the book when the solution is revealed, Scrooge thinks it’s a good joke. In MCC, on the other hand, it hurts his feelings to hear his nephew talking about him like that behind his back, which I find to be a much more realistic reaction.*
Given how Scrooge’s nephew makes jokes at his expense when he’s not around, is he sincere in inviting Scrooge over for Christmas dinner at the beginning of MCC? Or is he just purposely provoking Scrooge for his own amusement, confident that he’ll never accept? That would explain his puzzled reaction at the end when Scrooge calls his bluff.
And if that’s the case, for all that Fred appears to be the more admirable character, he’s arguably even more despicable than Scrooge is. Scrooge may be cruel and ruthless, (at least at the beginning of the story), but one thing you can say in his favor is that he’s no hypocrite; he doesn’t pretend to be a sweet and caring person on the surface, the way Fred arguably does.
Nephew Fred in Christmas Carol ’99 seems to be a much more sincere person, so he wins the laurels for his production today.
Advantage: Christmas Carol ’99