– Summary –
Director : Brian Henson
Cast : Michael Caine, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggie, Gonzo, Rizzo.
Year Of Release : 1992
Length : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: Elderly miser Ebenezer Scrooge is haunted by three Ghosts Of Christmas, to teach him a valuable life lesson and the meaning of Christmas.
Review : Sumptuous, well mounted production of Dickens’ classic tale, told with a Muppet twist, this is a wonderful film suitable for all ages.
Hilarious, entertaining and wonderful, this Muppet feature could quite conceivably by the last Muppet film to actually be any good. Since Carol, the Muppet movies have moved more and more into the realm of disingenuous franchise fillers, akin to the direct-to-DVD films put out by Disney during the late 90’s through to today. However, with fabulously lavish production design, a slightly darker tone than previous Muppet entries, and a zesty performance by Michael Caine as chief character Ebenezer Scrooge, The Muppets Christmas Carol is the perfect antidote for all the stupid, vapid holiday films put out by the Hollywood system at this time of year.
Based on the oft-filmed Dickens story about an elderly miser who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve, to learn the true meaning of Christmas itself, and put his life back on track, The Muppets Christmas Carol is less reliant this time on the slapstick the Muppets’ usual films are filled with, and more reliant on actual character and narrative depth. In a weird quirk, it’s the juxtaposition of the Muppet comedy ethos and the dark, depressive Dickens story that is both fascinating to watch and also somewhat off-kilter. Caine delivers one of the better portrayals of Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser who whose life has been spent squirreling away a vast fortune at the expense of everything dear to him: his family, his friends, his one true love, all have deserted him in disgust at his now arrogant and angry nature. One of his employees, Bob Cratchitt (Kermit the Frog) bears the brunt of Scrooge’s malevolent and tetchy nature, when asking for a little extra coal for the fire to keep the office warm, or perhaps for a day off for the Christmas holiday. Scrooge is a particularly odious man, not the kind who you’d ask for a favour or assistance. His business involves collecting rent from those who reside in premises he owns. His former business partners, Marley and Marley (played in their ghostly form by the two hecklers from The Muppet Show) have been dead for a short time, leaving Scrooge the sole earner from their enterprise. He has no time for vagrants, the destitute or the poor. He only has time for himself and his money.
So, one snowing Christmas Eve, Scrooge retires for the evening to his enormous, cavernous, mansion to while away the hours until the most detested and commercially unviable day of the year arrives. Suddenly, the ghosts of his former business partners appears, to tell him he’s going to be haunted by three spirits: the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future. Scrooge, fearing for his soul, takes the threat seriously, although his terror subsides when the none of the ghosts appear. However, upon the stroke of midnight, the first ghost appears, that of Past, who takes Scrooge back to his childhood, where he studies and studies at school (to the detriment of his social development) to ensure his life is not written the same as his poor parents. His vow never to be poor ensures his life takes a dramatic and quite sad turn. Secondly, Scrooge encounters the Ghost of Christmas present, a larger than life spirit who bounces and dances his way through the Christmas Day. Here, Scrooge learns the situation of the Cratchitt family, especially Bob’s youngest sin, Tiny Tim (played with heartbreaking sincerity by Kermit’s young nephew Robin), whose affliction has left him partially paralysed and unable to walk properly. Bob’s wife (Miss Piggy) berates Scrooge’s unbending miserliness, which has effectively castigated them to the poverty line, and this strikes Scrooge quite deeply. Finally, to round out Scrooge’s misery, the ghost of Christmas Future arrives, to show Scrooge what the future holds with him continuing to be the complete bastard he is. In this vision, we see Tiny Tim dead, we see Scrooge dead and those around him picking his life’s work apart, and his family mocking the very name of Ebenezer Scrooge outright. Devastated by the way he is thought of by his family and peers, Scrooge undergoes an epiphany of sorts, finally seeing that he will be better thought of if he gives back to society, rather than simply taking what he wants.
Dickens’ story has become a Christmas favourite over the years since it’s first publication. How this has occurred is a little beyond me, considering the tone and style of the film, the decidedly dark nature of Scrooge’s journey into the light. It’s not the most uplifting tale, considering the bulk of the story is told around a man who is less than desirable. But somehow, A Christmas Carol has endured, and along with Sherlock Holmes, become one of the most filmed stories in history. The Muppetisation of the famous story, however, remains a curious beast. The film is a true delight, I have to say, but not without some charming moments of whimsy that can only come from the Henson studios.
The film is narrated (in a way) by Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat, in a strange comedy duo-esque routine that doesn’t quite gel with the tone of the film: Gonzo and Rizzo must put out a quota of one-liners and slapstick throughout that is an obvious attempt to make light of the dark scenario for the children watching; it’s often not quite able to do what’s intended, although points must be awarded for the effort. Regular Muppet characters make appearances throughout the film, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear (as Scrooge’s one-time boss, Fozziewig), Rowlf, Scooter, as well as the cornucopia of miscellany from the Muppet Studio’s backlot. Every character that can be a muppet is, and the mixture of human/Muppet interaction is, as usual, superb. The production design of the film is excellent, the use of sets is perfect, with the opening moments through the streets of turn-of-the-century London lovingly rendered. There are virtually no CGI effects here, only the sweat and tears of a film done as in-camera as possible. While the film is essentially a studio-bound production, there is a scope and epic-ness to the production that belies it’s limited range of location.
The undisputed star of this film is Michael Caine, as Scrooge. He steals the scenes from his puppet co-stars, often out-acting them in every regard. Caine is the consummate Scrooge, his angry, savage belligerence a stark contrast to his softer, emotional moments at the films conclusion. The transition between the two, as Scrooge comes to understand what he needs to do to change his life, is truly heartbreaking, the agony and ecstasy written across Caine’s face as realisation dawns. It’s a genuine movie “moment”, one of those moments you often recall as a truely magical cinematic event. Caine cuts a swathe through the first third of this film, as he belittles and berates almost everybody on screen with him, uttering the famous “Bah, humbug!” exclamation at opportune moments. Here is a role that suits Caine to the ground, the actors ability to channel both malevolent rage and softly spoken delicacy almost simultaneously is wonderful to watch. It’s almost like this is a Michael Caine film with Muppets, not the other way around. Kermit and Co keep pretty close to the background as major characters, with Caine striding across this film like a Goliath.
The Muppets Christmas Carol is perfect family fodder for all ages, a delightful Muppet film, and a great movie overall. Filled with great moral and ethical lessons for the young ones, as well as some great songs and truly terrifying visuals (the Ghost of Christmas Past in particular is absolutely horrifying, a gargantuan Grim Reaper-being that fills the screen!), this is one version of the classic story that you’ll want to watch every Christmas.