The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The Muppets make me happy, but of all their films, The Muppet Christmas Carol makes me the happiest. I don’t think it’s the best Muppet film and, as much as I love it, I recognize its flaws. But I still find it wonderful. From the songs to the way it adapts the story, The Muppet Christmas Carol is an absolute joy.

The miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) has an unusual Christmas Eve when he is visited by three Christmas spirits who attempt to impart the meaning of Christmas to him. As the spirits impart their lessons to him, he witnesses the meager, yet joy-filled, life of his employee Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog).

Part of what I love about this particular adaptation of Charles Dickens’ book is how well the various Muppet characters fit into the roles. Kermit’s typically upbeat spirit but insecurity makes him ideal for the Bob Cratchit character. And Statler and Waldorf are a perfect fit to play Robert and Jacob Marley.  Also, Gonzo and Rizzo running through the films as narrators introduces a self-aware element that is one of the signatures of Muppet humor.

Plus, in typical Muppet fashion, the film is a musical. Paul Williams comes up with some real gems in the soundtrack. While not as witty as his work in The Muppet Movie, Williams’ ability to embrace the unbridled optimism and joy of the Muppets comes through in the songs. Songs like “It Feels Like Christmas” and “One More Sleep ‘til Christmas” are cherry and catchy. However, the simplicity of “Bless Us All” makes it the most powerful piece of the whole film.

Yet as much as I find the film joyful, I recognize the flaws. A lot of the special effects are poor, even for the time. The film also cheats some of the rules of the world. While Scrooge is non-corporeal through his journey with the ghosts, Gonzo and Rizzo aren’t for some reason that is never explained. And Michael Caine’s singing voice isn’t that good, but his wonderful performance through the rest of the film makes up for that shortcoming.

What attracts me to the story is that we follow a character who starts out hating Christmas. I’m usually in the Christmas hater camp. I find the rampant commercialization and greed on display overwhelmingly depressing most years. The redemption for Scrooge is that he finds a way to embrace charity and love in a season he used to hate. I’ll admit I love that part about the season, but when I see commercials on TV or get dragged to a shopping mall, I’m in full-on old Scrooge mode.

The Muppet Christmas Carol is a film that works in spite of its flaws. It’s sincerity is heart-felt without being overwrought or sappy. The Muppets fit superbly into the story and having Michael Caine as Scrooge elevates the casting even further. It’s not a great film, but it’s a film I love and one I come back to without fail every Christmas season.

© 2013 James Blake Ewing