In 1843, Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter and miserly old moneylender at a London counting house holds everything that embodies the joys and spirit of Christmas in contempt. He refuses to visit his cheerful nephew, Fred, at his Christmas dinner party with his family, and he forces his underpaid employee Bob Cratchit to beg to take the day off for his own family. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley, who had died seven years prior and is now forced to spend his afterlife carrying heavy chains forged from his own greedy ways. Marley warns Scrooge that he will suffer an even worse fate if he does not repent. He then tells Scrooge he will be visited by three more spirits that will help guide him.
The first spirit is the Ghost of Christmas Past, which shows Scrooge visions of his own past that takes him to when he was a child. This takes place around the Christmas season, reminding Scrooge of how he ended up the avaricious man he is now. In the visions, Scrooge spends much of his childhood neglected by his father over the holidays at a boarding school until he’s finally brought home by his loving sister, Fan, who dies after giving birth to her son, Fred. Scrooge later begins a successful career in business and money lending, and he becomes engaged to a woman named Belle, though she later breaks off the engagement when his obsession with wealth drives her away. The elderly Scrooge is unable to bear witnessing these events again and extinguishes the spirit with its candle snuffer cap. This causes Scrooge to be rocketed thousands of feet into the air while clinging onto the snuffer, only to have it disappear, resulting in Scrooge falling down to earth, back into his bedroom for the next visitation.
The second spirit is the Ghost of Christmas Present, which shows Scrooge the happiness of his fellow men on Christmas Day. Among them are Fred, who playfully makes jokes with his family at Scrooge’s expense, and the Cratchit family, who are barely able to make do with what little pay Scrooge gives them. Scrooge is touched by the Cratchits’ sickly young son Tiny Tim and his commitment to the spirit of Christmas, and he is dismayed to learn from the spirit that Tim may not have much longer to live. Before dying, the spirit warns Scrooge about the evils of “Ignorance” and “Want”, Big Ben begins tolling the hour, as “Ignorance” and “Want” manifest themselves before Scrooge as two wretched children who grow into violent, insane individuals, leaving the spirit dying and wither into dust as Big Ben finishes its hour toll, in front of Scrooge.
The third spirit Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge scenes related to the death of a “wretched man”. A group of businessmen snicker about how it’s likely to be a cheap funeral and one man doesn’t mind going if lunch is provided; his possessions are stolen and sold by his maid saying if the man hadn’t frightened everyone away while he was alive she wouldn’t have his things to sell, and a young couple who owed the man money are relieved he is dead, as they have more time to pay off their debt. The spirit takes Scrooge to Cratchit’s house where he learns Tiny Tim had died and he sees Bob and his family grieving. Scrooge watches Bob climb the stairs and he is able to see Bob’s face, grief stricken and heartbroken. Scrooge senses the time with the spirit is almost over, so he asks who was the man who died. The spirit takes Scrooge to the cemetery and points to a tombstone but the name is covered in snow. Scrooge asks the spirit if the future events he witness can be changed if the course they are on changes. The spirit reveals the name on tombstone as Scrooge’s name, he weeps, wonders if there is no hope for him. To little response, the spirit reveals Scrooge’s own grave, showing his own date of death as December 25 of a forthcoming year (or perhaps the very next morning, as the year is never shown), and forces Scrooge to fall into his empty coffin sitting in a deep grave atop the fires of Hell.
Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning with joy and love in his heart: happy and surprised that the spirits’ did their work in one night. He anonymously sends a prize turkey to the Cratchit home and attends Fred’s Christmas dinner. The following day, he gives Cratchit a raise and becomes like “a second father” to Tiny Tim. A changed man, Scrooge now treats everyone with kindness, generosity, and compassion; he now embodies the spirit of Christmas. The movie ends with Scrooge carrying Tiny Tim on his shoulder; Tim saying “God bless us, everyone!”