The Muppets Christmas Carol – #7 in the U.S. (Dec. 18-20)
All-Time Domestic $27,281,507 | All-Time Worldwide $1,910,927
All-Time Worldwide $29,192,434
The Muppet Christmas Carol takes advantage of the audience’s previous knowledge of Dickens’s work, plays within the world with charming humor and gags, but never ever loses out on the heart of the original.
Who knew the Muppets would be able to adapt classic literature?
I do not think that was even a question before the creation and production of The Muppet Christmas Carol. The film began as a Christmas special pitch to ABC, the first after the passing of the late Jim Henson. Henson’s son, Brian, was tasked with taking on the production, with Walt Disney Pictures taking up the opportunity to turn it into a feature film instead. The adaptation itself would go on to try its best to adapt the story, complete with narration and original Muppet portraying the Ghosts outside of Jacob Marley. The Great Gonzo would be cast as Charles Dickens to guide our story. Rizzo would be there too, if only for the food and to add levity to the story. What follows is, no joke, one of the more accurate adaptations of Dickens’s work, save for a few characters, names, and a plethora of humor.
Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) is an old miser who is cruel, hates Christmas, and –
Editor: Sorry to barge in, but are you seriously writing a synopsis of “A Christmas Carol?”
Yes, I am. The synopsis always goes here.
E: It’s been told in films, stage plays, animated shorts, and television since it was written. Even Saved by the Bell did it.
Yeah, but it breaks the template of my style.
E: What style? Anyone could do this. Those reading know what happens in the story. Just get to the review portion.
But what if one of those five readers wants to know who plays Bob Cratchit in this version?
E: It’s Kermit the Frog, as shown in the trailer linked above the synopsis.
I see your point. I’ll carry on.
E: Much better. The Muppet Christmas Carol is a –
I’m the writer here.
The Muppet Christmas Carol is a unique and heartfelt adaptation of the classic tale held together with humor and Michael Caine’s brilliant take on Ebenezer Scrooge. Caine was in an interview with GQ back in 2016 about his love of being in this film, and with good reason: he is spectacular. This one is my favorite Scrooge performance I’ve seen.
Caine plays Scrooge as a slimy bastard out of the gate, with a dry evil wit, jerk-ass nature, and oozing sinister. Yet, throughout the film and with each passing spirit visit, he can give Scrooge the emotion needed. Caine sells Scrooge slowly becoming wistful of the past, heartbroken over the loss, and horrified at how he is perceived. This Scrooge, despite being a total jerk, still has a heart on his sleeve. Caine is so good in the role that when Beaker gives him a scarf in return for his donation at the end, Scrooge starts getting teary-eyed, and you do, too, over a scene with Beaker in it.
The Muppet performers also to a phenomenal job in their performances. David Goelz as Gonzo (as Charles Dickens) and Steve Whitmire as Rizzo the Rat are genuinely the best pair for this film, and putting them together is a match made in heaven. The way they bounce off one another is perfect, with Gonzo sticking to the narration and job at hand while Rizzo is our audience surrogate and questions Dickens throughout. There’s one moment I simply love as Rizzo offers Gonzo a jelly bean. Gonzo scoffs as Rizzo asks, “What?” They awkwardly stare at one another until Rizzo kisses his nose. I laugh my head off every time. They sell the humor and add so much levity that it feels like all laughter died when they dip out of the third act. When they return in the finale, we breathe a sigh of relief. The part regarding Tiny Tim’s fate always cracks a smile out of me:
Gonzo: “Tiny Tim, who did NOT die….”
Rizzo: “Oh well isn’t that swell!”
Steve Whitmire’s first go-around as Kermit is alright either replicated Jim Henson’s delivery and style without ever sounding like a meager impression. Frank Oz returns to his characters of Miss Piggy and Fozzie, doing a stellar job as always. Finally, Jerry Nelson returns not only as his Muppet character but as one of the new original Muppets for this film.
The designs of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present (Nelson), and Yet to Come are a sight to behold. They stick with the original story descriptions, and it shows. Christmas Past is spooky as hell. I do not know anyone who is not immediately freaked out by whatever this drowned Dickensian child is. Voiced by Jessica Fox of Hollyoaks and puppeteered by Karen Prell of Fraggle Rock, this Ghost was filmed and performed in a water tank to show it floating in the air and haunting Scrooge. This gives the main characters in The Dark Crystal a run for their money as the creepiest puppets committed to celluloid.
Christmas Present has Jerry Nelson in a suit being able to walk about with Caine following the green robe and crown description. I also love how they do the aging effects with it, gradually getting grey and weaker as time passes. And, of course, Yet To Come remains the same ghoul one expects, except as time passes, the design is less spooky and more akin to a Nazgûl (Ringwraith) from Lord of the Rings (or a Dementor from Harry Potter if you wish). Also, a special shoutout to making Statler and Waldorf one character as two, with Statler as Jacob Marley and Waldorf as Robert Marley, surrounded by wailing lockboxes. It’s a play on Bob Marley and the Wailers. Shoutout to my pal Carlos telling me because that is such a subtle joke that I never got until this year.
The music itself is also joyous as heck, for the most part, with Paul Williams back in the fold. “One More Sleep till Christmas” will get stuck in your head for days, if only because it sounds like the Fraggle Rock theme. “Scrooge” is a fantastic intro song with everyone getting a word on how much he sucks as a person. “It Feels Like Christmas” is a banger, with Caine even dancing and getting in on the action. Michael Caine gets in on the singing towards the end with “Thankful Heart” and a hopeful reprise of “When the Love Gone,” a song that was not in the final theatrical version of the film due to Jefferey Katzenberg, then-chairman of Disney, saying the kids wouldn’t relate, ruining the reprise.
An original negative of the film was found in 2020, complete with “When Love is Gone.” It’s streaming on Disney+ in the film’s extra section in 4K, nonetheless. This is the version I decided to review. While it can be seen as one of the weaker songs in the film in the grand scheme, it is still profound. It adds a significant part to the story with Belle being heartbroken over losing Scrooge and older Scrooge, now crying and singing along with her, realizing that the loss of love and lack thereof after made him who he is today. It’s a heartbreaking moment in a film that has Robin as Tiny Tim die, complete with a long shot of his crutch by a chair. What the heck? I thought a Muppet movie was supposed to make me laugh, and now I’m crying. Yet, that’s the beauty of this adaptation.
The Muppet Christmas Carol takes advantage of the audience’s previous knowledge of Dickens’s work, plays within the world with charming humor and gags, but never ever loses out on the heart of the original. This film feels like a labor of love, especially after the death of Jim Henson. There’s love in this film, from the production design to the performances to the music. It’s not only a fun Muppet film, stellar adaptation, or a great Christmas movie; it’s a great film overall which is something remarkable in itself, showing the Muppets could still go on long after their creator left the world. Thanks for leaving them with us, Jim.
Revue Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Next time, it’s the final film of the ’92 Cinema Revue as Al Pacino finally gets his Oscar thanks to his performance in Scent of a Woman. See you at the finale.
P.S. I always thought it was the Muppets in the title, not just Muppet. It seems wrong.