There is no other story at Christmas time more dominant than that of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Cinema has told this story countless times with at least one variation of the story releasing every year, so going through them all and picking a favourite is a difficult task. I look back at my Christmas’ with fond memories so I knew that if I was to pick a favourite adaptation of A Christmas Carol, it would have to be the one that I fondly remember, and I don’t think there is a fonder Christmas Carol film than the one primarily in felt and foam.
The Muppet Christmas Carol, directed by Brian Henson (the son of Jim Henson) in 1992 stars all of your favourite Muppets as Dickens’ iconic characters, with Michael Caine in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge as well as being narrated by The Great Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat. I would go over the story but honestly, is there any need.
What I quickly grew to adore is how this film knows when to lighten the mood with the Muppets zaniness, but it also knows when to continue on with the story’s more darker moments. I suppose an example of this would be the sequences involving the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come or the Marley doorknob scene. Any young children would jump behind the sofa during these scenes, but like any good film intended for families, It knows that if you have dark or emotional scenes not to dumb it down too much. It’s pretty unique to see The Muppets take on a story with such seriousness.
The Muppet characters are The Muppets so the personalities aren’t lost here, however I am more than proud to say that Michael Caine is the best Scrooge ever. Apparently when he took the role of Scrooge, he told Brian Henson that he would play the character like he would with real actors and not puppets. I’m so glad he was allowed to do this because he perfectly nails Ebenezer’s coldness to others as well as his elation when he takes the spirit of Christmas to his heart.
This version of A Christmas Carol also features some of the most memorable renditions of minor characters such as the three spirits of Christmas and the cutest Tiny Tim ever put to screen. But even more memorable are the original songs. I still have to do Michael Caine’s little dance whenever “It feels like Christmas” starts playing, and although he’s not a great singer, Caine does show a lot of passion during his singing number. The songs are some of the most memorable I’ve seen in a Christmas film full stop.
The spirits who visit Scrooge are a little different from their appearances in the novel, but they do follow a pretty basic description, however it’s their personalities that will be most remembered. The Ghost of Christmas Past has possibly the biggest design change, she reminds me of one of those old children’s dolls and she has a good ethereal look. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is obviously the scariest of the ghosts, but his appearance makes sense because we’ve all been scared of out own futures. However, it is the Ghost of Christmas Present who is the favourite among many. He’s funny and though it isn’t in the novel, he is very forgetful which once again makes sense as he always lives in the present. We will all “know him better, man” for years to come. What shows here is that the filmmakers aren’t worried to implement their own ideas into seemingly untouchable characters, but for the entertainment factor, they work.
Of course, some changes are made to accommodate certain roles of The Muppets, for instance, the singular Jacob Marley now has a brother Robert played by experienced hecklers Statler and Waldorf who, of course bring their humour to the roles. Gonzo and Rizzo make an interesting pair as duo narrators, although I think you can say that Rizzo is mostly along for the ride. Every now and again, these two will have their own little escapades away from the narrative that functions like a little mini break away from the main story. They work for a quick laugh and you can tell the filmmakers worked really hard on making this quick-witted paring.
With this film there is something else you get besides Christmas cheer, legacy. This Muppets film was the first Muppet project after the untimely loss of its creator Jim Henson at the age of 53. The weight of this project after Jim’s death must have felt like a tonne of bricks, especially for his son Brian as the director. I’m so glad that this film turned out the way it did because who knows what would have happened to The Muppets if this has bombed with fans and critics. This film is very special for a number of reasons, but I like the fact that it gets you in the mood for Christmas so quickly and at the end of the day, that’s what a Christmas film should do.