As Christmas approached this year, I will finally had a couple of hours for my yearly watching of one of the greatest Disney Christmas movies ever: The Muppet Christmas Carol.
December 11th, 1992 brought to the silver screens the nine billionth retelling of the Charles Dickens classic tale, and I for one call this movie version the best of them all. It has the Muppets, what else do you need.
Michael Caine takes on the Ebenezer Scrooge role with glee. He inhabits the miser with pomp and arrogance and never lets the audience forget that anyone and everyone is beneath him. Playing against Caine is Kermit the Frog as the dutiful employee Bob Cratchit. Miss Piggy is Mrs. Cratchit, with every other Muppet finding a part in the story too.
Our narrators are Gonzo (taking on the role of Charles Dickens) and his pal Rizzo, who guide us throughout this 19th Century English tale. You would think that a Muppets tale would divert from the original text, with all the comedy and musical numbers, but it stays very close in content and narrative structure to what Dickens wrote in 1843.
When it was released in 1992, critics were mixed in their assessment. Gene Siskel gave it a thumb down, and while many critics praised the movie for its sets and lighting, the consensus was that this was a movie that would not be interesting for kids and too boring for adults.
I respectfully disagree with the critics. While the movie finished with over $27 million in box office grosses and opened at #6 on its first weekend — a disappointment by today’s standards — I don’t think it was because the movie was bad. The Muppet Christmas Carol was competing against Aladdin and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Kermit and friends got lost in the holiday shuffle.
Why I think this film works and still holds up today is because it features the Muppets. The Henson characters have staying power, because of their friendly appearances and their humor. When a movie is about an awful rich man who doesn’t care about anyone, and you involve ghosts and the possibility of death, the Muppets mere presence lighten the mood and help brighten a somewhat dreary story.
When I think of the recent Robert Zemeckis retelling of this classic, I could never fully enjoy the movie because it was done in motion capture animation. I didn’t like the characters because I couldn’t connect with the digitally created awkward looking people with their dead looking eyes.
I think many people in 1992 missed the point of The Muppet Christmas Carol. We had a fresh take on a classic story, and though there are numerous musical moments and funny exchanges between the Muppets, they were still telling a well-known story, only this time through puppets.
Why do I love The Muppet Christmas Carol? There are many reasons, but I think what I enjoy the most about this movie is that every Muppets production has brought a smile to my face, and even when they deal with a serious subject, the humor shines through.
I consistently watch this movie every year because it holds up so well. No matter what year it is, the tale of a rich stingy person refusing to help others is timeless. You can't escape how wealth corrupts and twists people, and seeing the redemption of Scrooge by way of the three ghosts is heartwarming, and makes you want to cheer at the end of the film. Dickens story can be intense, with many ways to take the tale in a frightening direction. With the Muppets, I know everything will be okay.
The Muppets are funny, and they have been around for a long time. Watch as Gonzo, Kermit, and even Fozzie amuse you, while playing your heartstrings for the poor Tiny Tim, and then leap for joy as Scrooge finds his heart. By the end of the movie, you won’t even think of this as a Muppet movie.
Three things to watch for in this movie:
His demeanor is perfect as the crusty old miser, but he routinely holds back a smile at many points. The genius of Caine is that he hides his joy with resentment and hostility. At first glance, it looks like he is just a perfect angry old man. The fact is that Michael Caine is a perfect Ebenezer Scrooge, but he also looks like he is having a great time.
The Many Muppets
The film is filled to the brim with Muppets and human actors. As you walk through the movie, how many Muppets do you know? Can you name more than 10? Even a casual fan should be able to reach double digits in their Muppet counting.
You wouldn't expect a story that has so much content about poverty and desperation could have so many light-hearted musical numbers, that are topical and relevant to the story, but also fun to watch. The Muppets have been known for two things since Jim Henson first started out, explosions and music. When you watch The Muppet Christmas Carol, you will see a little bit of both.
Every Disney fan should have a copy of this movie, and watch it at least once a year.