Christmas films to watch: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Michael Caine is Ebenezer Scrooge, whilst Kermit plays Bob Crotchet and Gonzo narrates as Charles Dickens in this comedy-musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol
Michael Caine is Ebenezer Scrooge, whilst Kermit plays Bob Crotchet and Gonzo narrates as Charles Dickens in this comedy-musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol. A traditional story by Charles Dickens about Ebenezer Scrooge – a man who is so miserly he refuses to give to the poor, or believe in Christmas – that is until he is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. It is a story that most of us know very well, and a story that has been adapted many, many times – so many in fact I could probably write a whole series of blog posts purely on the different adaptations. However, to spare you (and I) this pain I instead offer you a review of my favourite adaptation of Dickens’ famous novel – the Muppet Christmas Carol.

Set in Victorian London, this version is high on comedy and drama making it suitable for children and adults alike. Perhaps the most notable aspect I found about the film whilst watching it for this review, is that it is only Ebenezer, and his love interest (see Ghost of Christmas Past) are played by human actors; perhaps highlighting that there should never be a ‘bad’ Muppet, well not in that way at least! Kermit the Frog is almost magical in the gentle way he plays Bob Cratchit whilst Miss Piggy is suitably abrasive (as you would expect) as his wife.

What sets this apart from most adaptations of A Christmas Carol however is the fact that Charles Dickens actually appears – as played by Gonzo. Ably assisted by Rizzo the Rat, the pair provide a lovely commentary on events that ensure that younger viewers can keep abreast of the plot, whilst also providing some incredibly funny moments. ‘Why are you whispering’ Rizzo asks; ‘It’s for dramatic emphasis.’ Gonzo replies – though most of the comedy between the two is fairly visual.

The key point about this adaptation is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, like the Muppets in general. It does however get the serious point of Christmas and goodwill to all men across. For this to work, the scenery and costumes are superb. There is an awareness here that it is ‘America’ doing ‘Britain’ or London to be exact – and the staging is every bit as you would expect – Victorian in every way, from street lights and candles down to horse-drawn carriages and top hats. Unlike some adaptations it doesn’t try too hard at this either – the staging fitting in effortlessly around the script.

The other big selling point of this adaptation is that essentially it is a musical. With strong brass orchestral sound the music bridges a gap between ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘classical’ in both the background music and the songs. As with Dickens and Rizzo used as plot devices to lighten what is essentially quite a dark plot, the music also achieves a similar aim. Seriously – would Jacob and Robert Marley emerge as ghosts, in chains and start singing a song about how Scrooge was doomed? Of course they wouldn’t. In actual fact the saddest song in ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ was cut from the film when it was re-edited for DVD, though a reprise still makes it into the film at the end. If you ever watch a version of the film that features ‘When Love Is Gone’ rest assured you have seen a very rare cut of this film – though arguably the cut makes very little difference.

In short ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ is a lovely way to introduce youngish children to Charles Dickens and the Victorian traditions of Christmas. It is also a good excuse for the older people amongst us to laugh, smile and act like children as we remember the Muppets. A great Christmas film, I always like watching this the day before Christmas Eve, with the lights off and the Christmas tree lights glistening. A true sign Christmas is here…

The Muppet Christmas Carol is available to buy on DVD and Blu-Ray. The film is also scheduled to be screened on Channel Four, Christmas Eve at 4.50pm… if you’re reading this at 5.20pm Christmas Eve – don’t forget Channel Four + 1!