It seems as though everyone has their favorite version of A Christmas Carol. Many like the classic 1951 Scrooge starring Alastair Sim as the title character. Others prefer George C. Scott in the 1984 made-for-television version. There are those that enjoy the updated Bill Murray version, Scrooged. Some people actually like the 2004 made-for musical version starring Kelsey Grammar (I don’t personally know any of these people, but they exist). While I’m a huge fan of the Alastair Sim version, and like a number of others as well, in my mind there’s no substitute for the 1992 feature film version done by Brian Henson and his crowd, aptly titled The Muppet Christmas Carol.
This is the classic Dickens tale (I assume herein that everyone is familiar with this story of redemption), told, of course, with a little bit of Muppet silliness. Michael Caine does a wonderful turn as Ebenezer Scrooge and Kermit is his Bob Cratchit. Both of these actors seem naturals for their roles. The entire story is told by The Great Gonzo who portrays, at least at some points during the film, Charles Dickens. In wonderfully witty, Muppet and breaking the fourth wall style, Gonzo is relating this story to Rizzo The Rat and the audience as they both watch the entire thing unfold. Rizzo starts off skeptical that Gonzo is Charles Dickens, but is continually impressed by Gonzo’s ability to foretell events.
The device of having Gonzo tell the story to Rizzo allows for the tension and scare-factor to be cut, making this more enjoyable for young ones. Not that there aren’t moments that younger audience members may find unnerving, but Gonzo and Rizzo do help, at least until they both get too frightened and leave the viewers to fend for themselves until the end of the movie.
If the movie does get bogged down at any moment, it is in the telling of Ebenezer’s losing the love of his life, Belle (Meredith Braun) during the Ghost of Christmas Past sequence. The movie is a little laborious at this point, even giving Belle an unnecessary song, “When Love is Gone.” It’s not that the sentimentality doesn’t work on its own, it just feels to be at odds with the rest of the film. As for the song Belle gets to sing, the setting and inspiration feel forced, the only time in the film that a song feels this way.
Despite this minor misstep, upon ending the Ghost of Christmas Past portion of the film, things pick right back up with the incredibly funny and warm Ghost of Christmas Present (voice by Jerry Nelson, with Donald Austen performing). He manages to be, at turns, both warm and wonderful and incredibly upsetting and touching.
Outside of the addition of the narrator, one of the more interesting changes from other filmic versions of this story to the Muppet rendition is the addition of a brother for Jacob Marley, Robert. The Marleys are played by the classic Muppets, Statler and Waldorf (or, “those guys that sit in the balcony all the time and mock the show” if you prefer). These two crusty old codgers are the perfect Marleys, and watching the story unfold with two Marley brothers seems so natural that it will be hard to recall whether or not Dickens’s tale has two initially.
As it’s a Muppet film, it wouldn’t be complete without songs, and there are several catchy ones included here. From the opening number “Scrooge,” to “Marley and Marley,” to “It Feels Like Christmas” the songs tend to be more than just incredibly hummable, and actually fall into the very sing-along-able category.
The Muppets have the astounding ability to make things fun for both children and adults alike. The Muppet Christmas Carol superbly displays this skill, creating one of the most memorable versions of the Dickens classic to be put on film.