a christmas carol, charles dickens, christmas carol, disney, film review, jim henson, michael caine, movie review, muppet christmas carol, muppets, the muppet christmas carol, the muppets, walt disney
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The Muppets were a cultural phenomenon. Having started in the 50’s and continuing on to star in their own 70’s show, The Muppet Show, it wasn’t long before they started appearing in theatrical films.
The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan were all somewhat successful in the box office. So, it wasn’t long before Disney became interested in buying the Muppets. Sadly, negotiations broke down with the death of Jim Henson in 1990.
Nevertheless, Disney still offered to co-produce 2 theatrical films with Jim Henson Productions before officially buying the Muppets in 2004. After the acquisition of the Muppets, Disney would produce two more theatrical Muppets films.
So in total, there are four Disney theatrical Muppets films which I have to review. So if you want to know what I think of The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppets Take Manhattan, and Muppets from Space, you won’t find out on this blog.
The only Muppets films being discussed on this blog will obviously be the ones that Disney produced. Today, we take a look at the first of these films: the 1992 classic, The Muppet Christmas Carol.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been adapted for the cinemas and television multiple times. Because of this, the story of the greedy, miserly cold, Ebenezer Scrooge is widely known and is somewhat a ubiquitous tale, at least in America.
Alistair Sim, Albert Finney, Reginald Owen, George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart, Jim Carrey, Tim Curry, Kelsey Grammer, and Simon Callow among others have all portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge. With all these multiple adaptations of the story and multiple incarnations of Scrooge, everyone has their personal favorites.
However, this is the Muppets adaptation of the classic novella with the amazing Michael Caine as Mr. Scrooge, himself. So without further ado, let’s begin the review.
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The movie begins in your typical A Christmas Carol town where all the townsfolk and Muppets are enjoying the last day before Christmas. Amongst them are Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat. Gonzo introduces himself as Charles Dickens and Rizzo introduces himself as…well, Rizzo. The two of them serve as the narrators of the story, well Gonzo more so, and provide light-hearted comic relief as well. It’s an interesting aspect as it puts a Muppets touch on the classic Christmas tale and actually works really well!
Gonzo begins telling the story and introduces the audience to Ebenezer Scrooge, the greedy, miserly, unmerciful, cold-hearted main character. We first see Scrooge in the shadows as a song is sung by all the townsfolk describing his qualities.
What’s the song entitled? Scrooge, of course!
This, in my opinion, is the only commendable song in the film.
I know, I’m sorry. I have quite an issue with the songs and music in this film. I feel that the majority of the songs aren’t memorable, aren’t unique, and suffer from some lazy lyrics and rhyming schemes. There are other 2 other songs in this movie that I’d “tolerate”, but other than that, I don’t commend any of the other songs. I just don’t feel that this movie is a great musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
Anyway, as the song, Scrooge, ends, we finally get a look at our Ebenezer Scrooge in this film: one of my favorite actors (if not my #1 favorite actor), Michael Caine!
Scrooge, by trade, is a moneylender, and his characteristics fit perfectly well with the stereotype of the unmerciful, tight-fisted moneylender trope. Just to demonstrate proof of his stinginess, Scrooge actually rations how much coal his employees can use to warm themselves!
Another example of his demeanor is shown when two fundraisers, played by Dr. Honeydew and Beaker, come to ask Scrooge for donations, Scrooge brushes them off and says that if the poor are meant to die, then they should die “and decrease the surplus population”. Yeah, Scrooge is one of those elders whom you wouldn’t want to be your grandfather. Thankfully, Scrooge doesn’t have any grandkids.
However, he does have a nephew, Fred, played by Steven Mackintosh. Fred loves his uncle dearly and tries to get Scrooge to spend Christmas with him and his wife. But, Scrooge refuses and doesn’t really want anything to do with his nephew.
When the time to close up shop commences, one of Scrooge’s clerks, Bob Cratchit, played by Kermit the Frog, cautiously asks Scrooge if he and the other workers can have the day off tomorrow as it’s Christmas. Scrooge is strongly against the idea of losing a day’s worth of business on account of a holiday, but eventually acquiesces to Bob’s request.
Scrooge then heads home and leaves Kermit and the other workers to close up shop. As they do this, Kermit begins singing One More Sleep ’til Christmas, signifying his and all the townspeople’s anticipation for the upcoming joyous holiday. I’m not a fan of this song. It just bothers me how sometimes the lyrics rhyme with the word “sleep” in the chorus, and at others, with the word, “one”. And at the end of the song, the word “Day” is added to “Christmas”. I dunno, the lyrics and rhyming scheme are just sloppy as I’ve said before.
When the song finishes, we see Scrooge approaching the door to his home. As he attempts to unlock it, something strange happens. The door knocker transforms into Statler.
A bit shocked by this queer and eerie happening, Scrooge hurries inside. While he’s sitting near the fireplace, one of the doorbells in his house starts ringing and he hears what sound like chains and shackles. All of a sudden, the ghosts of Statler and Waldorf appear before him.
The duo play the ghosts of Jacob and Robert Marley (get it? Bob Marley!), the deceased partners of Scrooge who used to work alongside him as moneylenders years before. As if their being there wasn’t strange enough, the two are also chained and shackled.
Scrooge is both frightened of the ghosts as well as curious as to why they’ve come. They then sing a song, Marley and Marley, describing how when they were alive, they treated people badly out of their own avarice and greed. And as a result, they’re left to be chained and shackled for eternity to pay for the sins they’ve committed.
But, they’ve come back to warn Scrooge that if he doesn’t change his ways, he too will meet the same fate. In order to help him, they notify him that three spirits will visit him throughout the course of the night in an effort to make him a better person. This, of course, frightens Scrooge even more as if meeting two ghosts in one night wasn’t enough!
Not long after, the Marleys disappear and Scrooge tries to shrug off everything and go to sleep. At the toll of 1, he’s visited by the first ghost: The Ghost of Christmas Past, a translucent, child-like, over 1900 year-old, indescribable spirit.
I quite like the design of this ghost as in the original book, this ghost was described as being unable to be ascertained to be a boy or a girl or old or young, rather somewhere in-between. The ghost tells Scrooge that he’s come to show him events from Scrooge’s Christmases in the past. It beckons Scrooge to hold on it. When Scrooge does, they both start flying out of the window, much to Scrooge’s fear.
Not long after, they land. However’ they’ve landed in Scrooge’s past. They’ve arrived at Scrooge’s school when Scrooge was a young boy. As Scrooge looks around, nostalgia hits him as he sees familiar faces and familiar sights. However, as this all has taken place already, the people in the past can’t hear or see Scrooge and the ghost.
As Scrooge and the ghost explore, Scrooge suddenly sees a familiar sight. He sees himself when he was a schoolboy sitting alone in the school building during the Christmas holiday. Every Christmas, his family wouldn’t bring him home for the holidays. Rather, they’d leave him there to study more. Years pass by in front of the old Scrooge’s eyes until we see the day when Scrooge has become old enough to take on a job.
The ghost then takes Scrooge to a later Christmas in his life. It’s a Christmas where he’s working at Fozziwig and Mom’s rubber chicken factory! Fozziwig is played by Fozzie Bear, of course, and his mom is played by…umm…Fozzie too? Heck, why does there even need to be a mom?
Oh well, as Scrooge becomes happy seeing his old boss and workplace again, he sees that it’s the annual Christmas party at the rubber chicken factory. And he soon sees something else. He sees his younger self catching eyes with a lovely, young lady. This woman is Belle, played by Meredith Braun. She’s the woman with whom he fell in love years ago. Seeing his young self and Belle together brings emotions back to the old Scrooge.
One wants to know whatever happened to Belle. Did she and Scrooge marry? Did she die? Is that why he’s such a cold man?
To answer that question, the ghost takes Scrooge a few more Christmases later in his life, much to Scrooge’s not wanting to. As Scrooge and the ghost look out, they’re in a snowy area where the young Scrooge and Belle are talking together. Apparently, the young Scrooge and Belle have been engaged to be married, but the young Scrooge has been so preoccupied with seeking money that he seems to be neglecting Belle and constantly postponing their marriage. It’s clear from Belle’s face that she’s unhappy at how everything’s turned out and tells Scrooge that they should just cancel their engagement.
It’s here where we come to an interesting place, depending on which version of the movie you have. There actually was a song called When Love is Gone that was supposed to be sung at this point in the movie. It was supposed to be sung by Belle wherein she would explain how she and the young Scrooge almost had love, but that they had to go their own separate ways. The song was deemed too boring though, and was cut from the film.
Fortunately, I have the DVD version which includes this song and this is one of the two songs that I said I could tolerate. I don’t think it’s amazing, but just seeing the emotions going through the old Scrooge’s face as Belle sings this song is just heartrending! This is probably the only reason why I would recommend buying the DVD, to be precise, the DVD that has this deleted song.
When the song finishes and Belle walks away, we see how distraught the old Scrooge is. As he weeps, the Ghost of Christmas Past disappears and Scrooge finds himself back inside his bedroom. It’s not long after, at 2 o’clock precisely, that he’s visited by the second spirit: the Ghost of Christmas Present.
One of the changes that this movie makes to the original story is that they change the personality of the Ghost of Christmas Present. In the story, he’s a stern, to-the-point ghost, whereas in this version, he’s jolly, cheerful, and a bit absent-minded.
Anyway, as you can imagine, this ghost decides to show Scrooge various current Christmases. They venture out (via ghostly magic) into the town on Christmas Day to see all the people being happy and cheerful while singing the song, It Feels like Christmas, which is an incredibly forgettable song, in my opinion.
All this good-naturedness makes Scrooge somewhat cheerful especially when compared to the Christmases that the other ghost showed him. The Ghost of Christmas Present then takes Scrooge to the home of his nephew Fred, where Fred is hosting a Christmas party. And just like before, nobody can see or hear Scrooge or the ghost. Fred and his guests are playing a game in which Fred is thinking of something and they all have to guess what it is by asking questions. Fred’s thinking of an animal, an unwanted creature, to be precise. Take a guess. Yep, Scrooge!
Understandingly, this puts a damper in Scrooge’s spirit (see what I did there? Spirit? Ha…hmm…well, I thought it was fun) and he wants to leave this place. So, the ghost takes Scrooge to another house: the home of his clerk, Bob Cratchit. Scrooge sees that Bob is quite poor. Bob’s married to Emily, played by Miss Piggy and they have four kids: two frogs and two pigs.
The youngest child though is named Tiny Tim. He’s sickly and has to use a crutch to walk. Nevertheless, he has a cheerful personality and is actually the most cheerful in his family. He loves Christmas and has such a big heart that he wants God to bless everyone, including Mr. Scrooge (whom his mother and sisters despise because of his stingy habits). Nevertheless, Tiny Tim’s cheerfulness makes his mom and sisters forget their dislike for Scrooge and they all start singing, Bless Us All, the other song in the film that I can tolerate.
Scrooge, who has been watching all of this, develops a care towards the young boy and asks the ghost if Tiny Tim will live, despite his sickly disposition. The ghost replies that if nothing changes and the current shadows remain their course, then he doesn’t think that Tiny Tim will live. The ghost also reminds Scrooge about his earlier points of view regarding the poor and how they should just die and decrease the surplus population. Those words come back to sting Scrooge.
Not long after, it’s time for the Ghost of Christmas Present to go away. He disappears while he and Scrooge are by a church. Then, everything gets cloudy and gloomy as the third spirit arrives: the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.
This ghost is a fearsome, faceless spirit whose job is to show Scrooge of future Christmases in his life. As he does this, we see that all of them are gloomy. Some of Scrooge’s old friends are speaking happily about an acquaintance of theirs who has died. Tiny Tim has died and his family is extremely bereaved. And if that weren’t enough, Scrooge is taken to a graveyard where he sees his own gravestone and realizes the big truth. He’s the one whom his “friends” were happy about when he died! He’s the one who didn’t do anything to save Tiny Tim!
It’s at this moment that Scrooge is most repentant and promises to be a better person and honor Christmas throughout the whole year. As he’s begging and pleading, he realizes he’s back in his bed and it’s Christmas morning!
Elated by having a second chance of life, he does all he can to right his previous wrongs: he donates money to the fundraisers, visits the Cratchits with a turkey, raises Bob’s salary, drops in on Fred, finally meets his wife, visits his old headmaster and Fozziwig (who both must be like 130 years old, by now), spreads cheer and gifts throughout the town, and sings the song, Thankful Heart, which sounds just like It Feels Like Christmas to me.
And so, with Scrooge a changed man and all the ones around him surprised, but happy about his change, the movie ends.
And that’s A Muppet Christmas Carol. As an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, it’s not bad. It keeps most of the original and important plots, and it’s a movie I enjoy watching and can watch it over and over. Heck, I can watch any adaptation of A Christmas Carol over and over!
But, that’s not to say that I don’t think that this movie has any problems. It does, in my opinion. One big problem it has is that I don’t feel that Michael Caine is a very good Scrooge. I’m sorry! I love the man, but I don’t think he captures the essence of Scrooge.
Yes, he tries his best and is bitter and mean when he has to, but his Scrooge is way too repentant and way too easily swayed. I mean, even when the Ghost of Christmas Past is around, Scrooge already seems willing to change right there and then, rather than stick around for two more spirits!
Another big problem for me that I’ve mentioned before is the music/songs. For a musical, I didn’t think it was a good one. I mean, there are only 3 songs in here that I think are any good: only 1 of them I’d actually commend, 1 I’d merely tolerate, and 1 isn’t even on all the copies of this movie! The music and songs really disappointed me!
Maybe I’m too harsh about it as I guess most of the other songs are Christmas classics that people sing during the holidays, whereas I don’t celebrate Christmas, so the only time I hear these songs is in connection with this film.
Other than that, the performers of the Muppets are superb as always and the backgrounds/sets are good. It’s nothing extravagant or amazing, but good. In the end, even though this movie will get a low-ish grade, it’s definitely one that I would recommend to all lovers of A Christmas Carol films and personally watch over and over!
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 25/35 = 71.43% (C-) !
The next review will be posted on November 10th.