By Elizabeth C. Bunce
Audiences have loved Charles Dickens’s yuletide ghost story, A Christmas Carol, for 171 years, and it’s been committed to film at least 50 times. It’s hard to dispute the status of 1951’s Scrooge starring Alastair Sim, or surpass Patrick Stewart’s masterly performance as the cruel miser in the 1999 television adaptation. But for annual, feel-good holiday fun, our money is on The Muppet Christmas Carol.
Released in 1992 and representing the first of several retellings produced by the zany puppets & crew, The Muppet Christmas Carol also boasts a strong human cast. Most notable, of course, is Michael Caine (Batman Begins, Get Carter) as Ebenezer Scrooge, in a turn that is just the right balance of humbug and humor.
The Muppet version brings all the elements you expect from A Christmas Carol, from dead-as-a-doornail business partner Marley, to Tiny Tim asking God to bless us, everyone… but with wonderful Muppet twists. All your favorite Muppets are here, as well, in their expected roles: Kermit the Frog as put-upon clerk Bob Cratchitt (with nephew Robin in the roll of Tim); Miss Piggy as Mrs. Cratchitt, naturally; and even 1990’s standard duo Gonzo and Rizzo, taking a meta-fiction approach as tour-guide-to-the-tale Charles Dickens and a skeptical sidekick.
The Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, however, are original Muppets devised solely for the film. You may find yourself wondering why they didn’t draw from the pool of familiar favorites (Fozzie as Christmas Present?)… or maybe not, but you can’t deny the dread imparted by the silent harbinger of Scrooge’s future doom, or the joy of seeing the holiday through Christmas Present’s eyes.
The production values are superb, from the costumes of human and Muppet characters alike, to the outstanding use of forced perspective in the set design, to the memorable musical numbers. An early DVD release includes feature-length commentary by director Brian Henson that is well-worth a listen by dedicated fans (perfect background for tree-trimming, cookie-baking, or gift-wrapping!), but the 20th Anniversary Blu-ray release has no special features (and, much to many fans’ and reviewers’ outrage, also omits a song cut from the theatrical release but included on video).
The Muppet Christmas Carol is also available on both DVD and live streaming on Netflix.