*Dedicated to my Grandpa. I miss you more with each passing day, even after all these years*
It wouldn’t be Christmas without A Christmas Carol, and, for me, it wouldn’t be A Christmas Carol without The Muppets. There are countless iterations of the classic tale, and each one manages to conjure the spirit of the original, but it’s this particular version that I grew up with. Each Boxing Day was spent at my Nanna’s house, and each time eventually the noise of socialising would become to much, which is when I would escape to the spare bedroom and press play on the VHS player. It’s now been some time since Boxing Day celebrations were held in that house, but The Muppet Christmas Carol has become a staple of the season to me.
Based on the 1843 novel by Charles Dickens, we follow Ebeneezer Scrooge as he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Technically we follow Gonzo the Great portraying Charles Dickens, and Rizzo the Rat portraying himself, as they follow Ebeneezer. It’s a perfect addition to the story, injecting some classic Muppet humour while not distracting from the tale itself and adding some culture in the form of Gonzo’s narration. It never feels overused and allows the focus to remain on Scrooge, who is portrayed this time round by the wonderful Sir Michael Caine. His natural likeability is hidden well under Scrooge’s grumpy demeanour, but when it’s finally allowed to shine through it’s delightfully infectious. Ebeneezer is joined by his ex-fiance Belle, his nephew Fred, and Fred’s wife Clara as the only human core cast members. There are humans as background extras but for the most part, the cast is made up of Muppets.
Kermit is overly optimistic as Bob Cratchitt, while his nephew Robin portrays a perfectly adorable Tiny Tim. Sam the Eagle is hilariously monotone as Scrooge’s former headmaster, Fozzy Bear is wonderfully dimwitted as Scrooge’s first employer, and Animal, Rolf, and The Swedish Chef manage to make appearances. Of course, to me, the highlight is Statler and Waldorf’s iconic performances and Robert and Jacob Marley- Scrooges former business partners. As curmudgeons of the dead, it feels like they were born to play these roles. Though The Muppets are “just puppets” they interact with the cast and surroundings in a way that I don’t think CGI ever could. It is perhaps for that reason that they have remained such a beloved memory to many, or perhaps it’s the timeless comedy and their lovable personalities.
In true Muppet style, this has some of the best musical numbers I have ever encountered. Tragically omitted from most versions of the film is Ebeneezer and Belle’s duet When Love is Gone, which is heartbreaking and given the weight it deserves when re-instated. If you’re going to hunt down any copy of The Muppet Christmas Carol, please make it one with this song because it really is worth the extra effort. For every song that tugs at the heartstrings there’s a One More Sleep ‘Till Christmas or a Marley and Marley which are so toe-tapping that you’ll find yourself humming them all year round. Each of the ghosts of Christmas get their own musical accompaniment and costumes which were especially made for the occasion. The Ghost of Christmas Future still sends a shiver down my spine.
The Muppet Christmas Carol would be the first project for Henson Studios since the passing of Jim Henson, and would be dedicated to him. It would also be dedicated to long-time Muppet performer Richard Hunt who passed away a year before the film’s release. Both men were extraordinarily talented, and their contributions to the history of The Muppets are really felt here. It doesn’t seem fair that they would never see what is perhaps the greatest moment in Muppets history. If nothing else, please watch it on their behalf. And so, as Tiny Tim observed,
God bless us every one…