Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the big deal?
The Muppet Christmas Carol is a festive family film released in 1992 and is based on Charles Dickens' 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. The film was directed by the late Jim Henson's son Brian in his directorial debut and sees Michael Caine play Ebenezer Scrooge alongside a familiar roll call of Muppets - Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Rizzo the Rat and others. The film was only a modest success at the box office with domestic earnings in the US of $27.3 million, although the film was in competition with Disney's animated version of Aladdin as well as the much anticipated sequel to Home Alone. However, the film received a mostly positive response from critics with Caine's performance in particular receiving a warm reception. The film would be followed in 1996 by a Muppet version of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson titled, appropriately enough, Muppet Treasure Island.
What's it about?
The film is set in Victorian London on Christmas Eve and the great Charles Dickens himself (played by the Great Gonzo), acting as narrator, introduces us to Ebenezer Scrooge - the most mean-spirited miser in the land. Scrooge is a bitter old man who despises Christmas time and is thoroughly unpleasant to his co-worker Bob Cratchit (played by Kermit the Frog) and the rest of his staff at Scrooge's money-lending business. Reluctantly giving Cratchit and the rest Christmas Day off, Scrooge retires for the evening to bed where he is visited by the spirits of his former partners Jacob & Robert Marley (played by Statler & Waldorf).
The Marley brothers warn Scrooge that he will be visited by three more ghosts before the night is through - the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come. Sure enough, Scrooge's night is interrupted by these three spirits who each try to show Scrooge the error of his ways as well as the true spirit of Christmas. But Scrooge's icy heart will take some thawing out...
Dave Goelz (a)
The Great Gonzo, Waldorf, Dr Bunsen Honeydew
Charles Dickens/Narrator, Robert Marley, charity collector
Steve Whitmire (a)
Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker
Bob Cratchit, Co-narrator, charity collector
Jerry Nelson (a)
Robin the Frog, Lew Zealand, Statler, Ma Bear
Tiny Tim Cratchitt, Mayor, Jacob Marley, Ma Fozziwig
Frank Oz (a)
Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Sam Eagle, Animal
Emily Cratchit, Fozziwig, school master, Fozziwig's party entertainer
Don Austen (b)
Ghost Of Christmas Present, Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come
Fred, Scrooge's nephew
Release Date (UK)
18th December, 1992
Comedy, Drama, Festive, Musical
What's to like?
Nearly everyone will have seen a Muppet movie at some point in their lives (indeed, many people still recall the TV show) but for me, this is the one that always springs to mind. It's easy to forget that nearly the entire cast are puppets, especially as the human cast treat them the same as they would human co-stars. This is the genius in Caine's performance as Scrooge - he is completely dead-pan throughout and it helps establish the puppets as genuine entities in their own right. But consider the scenes on the streets of Victorian London or the madness of a musical number with multiple Muppets on screen simultaneously. I can't begin to imagine the technical difficulties in pulling off moments like that but it appears so natural in the film that you simply accept it.
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The film sticks surprisingly close to Dickens' original tale and the film contains some genuinely spooky moments such as the unseen figure of Christmas Yet To Come who resembles the Grim Reaper beneath a shadowy hood obscuring his face. Luckily, the film has plenty of warmth to it - the redemption of Scrooge is always a heart-warming moment while the Ghost of Christmas Present is a delightfully jolly and Santa-ish presence full of festive cheer. But the true stars will always be Henson's various creations and the Muppets deliver plenty of childish slapstick and kiddie-friendly humour to amuse younger viewers.
- Being the first Muppet production after Jim Henson's death in 1990, the role of Kermit the Frog (traditionally played by Henson himself) was passed on to Steve Whitmire - who was incredibly nervous about taking on the role. The night before recording some of Kermit's songs, Whitmire had a dream where he met Henson in a hotel lobby and told him how unsure he was about playing such an iconic part. Henson reassured him that the feeling would pass and Whitmire woke up, feeling much more confident.
- If you pay close attention during the film's closing musical number, you'll see a store in the background called Micklewhite. Caine's original name was Maurice Joseph Micklewhite.
- Originally, the three ghosts that were going to visit Scrooge were Miss Piggy, Scooter and Gonzo. While Miss Piggy and Gonzo were recast as Emily Cratchit and Charles Dickens respectively, Scooter is nowhere to be seen in the movie.
- This is not only the only film version of the story with Dickens as a character but also the only one where Fezziwig (or Fozziwig in this film) is seen alive at the end.
What's not to like?
The film is understandably a bit more wordy than perhaps young viewers might appreciate but The Muppet Christmas Carol is still definitely made with a child audience in mind. It makes Dickens' tale more accessible but the film doesn't push itself all the way - as previously mentioned, some of the ghost sequences are a little too scary for younger kids and the film's songs are pretty unmemorable. The pacing also seems a bit slow for a kid's film and the atmosphere is quite dark in places such as the poverty the Cratchit's live in and the poor health suffered by Tiny Tim. Of course, the film suffers from some dated special effects that modern technology could smooth out such as noticeable green-screens. But only a miser like Scrooge would point them out.
While it's always good to see the Muppets on screen, the film doesn't really do much different to stand out. Even the story, which has been adapted for film numerous times since 1901, doesn't feel as fresh or invigorated as I'd hoped - the film is just another retelling of a familiar story and doesn't offer any significantly different from any other filmed version, besides wise-cracking puppets. If this is your first exposure to Dickens' work then you'll find this is a perfectly acceptable version that will enthrall youngsters in a way that the book is perhaps unable to. But adults might find their initial enthusiasm waning once the Muppet magic wears out.
Should I watch it?
The Muppet Christmas Carol is a delightfully charming and surprisingly faithful interpretation of Dickens' classic novel. It Indulges adults with a warming nostalgia while also bringing the tale to life for younger viewers, the film is probably the best of the original run of Muppets movies that ran from 1979-1999. Technically impressive and visually lush, the film might be a bit too long and scary for very young children but otherwise deserves to be regarded as a festive favourite for families everywhere.
Great For: Muppet fans everywhere, keeping Dickens' novel relevant for modern audiences, Christmas viewing (obviously)
Not So Great For: very young children, Dickens' purists (if there are such people)
What else should I watch?
The original run of Muppets movies began with, not surprisingly, The Muppet Movie in 1979 which capitalised on the success of the popular TV show. Widely praised for its technical ingenuity, feel-good atmosphere and memorable songs, the film was even nominated for two Academy Awards and was selected for preservation at the US National Film Registry in 2009, surely the ultimate honour for any film. Sadly, the law of diminished returns began shortly afterwards - both The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan took much less at the box office and combined with the death of Muppets creator Jim Henson in 1990 amid negotiations with Disney, it meant that the release of this film was delayed somewhat.
However, after the response to this film, production began again on Muppet films. Another adaptation of a classic novel, Muppet Treasure Island was released in 1996 but wasn't a huge financial success. The end came after the mixed response and financial failure of Muppets From Space, which abandoned the musical nature of previous films and ultimately saw the retirement from the franchise of puppeteers Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson and writer Jerry Juhl. Until the much-heralded return to form in 2011's The Muppets, the fuzzy bunch found themselves stuck in straight-to-video purgatory and TV efforts - perhaps unfairly. After all, the gang are still highly entertaining to both children and adults and remain unlike anything else you can think of. They occupy a unique space in film history and deserve to be enjoyed for many more years to come.
© 2020 Benjamin Cox