Of all the cinematic incarnations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, there’s only one where Bob Cratchett is played by a frog. Heck, this same version is the only one where Mr. and Mrs. Cratchett come from two entirely different species. But not to worry, it’s not something creepy. The Muppet Christmas Carol, the first big Muppet project following the death of the franchise’s creator and visionary, Jim Henson, has a lot of the hijinks you’d expect from Kermit, Fozzie, Miss. Piggy, et al. However, it also seems to be missing a magical tone that’d you’d hope for when combining the Muppets and Dickens.
Michael Caine, one of only a handful of humans in the cast, takes on the role of Scrooge. A miserly and lonely man, he is visited by a series of spirits one Christmas Eve in hopes of changing his greedy and destructive ways. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come are perhaps the best Muppet creations in the film. The first is a small fairy, similar in look to the Gelfling in Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. The Ghost of Christmas Present is a large human-looking puppet who is both ominous and joyful at the same time. He is fashioned in scale to the over-sized monsters seen on The Muppet Show, without being a monster of course. And while there’s nothing overly spectacular about the traditional dark cloak Grim Reaper look of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the two reflect a lot of the imagination and innovation I grew up watching and adoring about the Muppets.
Because of all the wonderful creatures and oddlings, The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of the most visually pleasing interpretations of A Christmas Carol. The puppet creatures are well detailed and full of personality – even the small background characters. The set design is very much in Old English tradition, yet they have a certain cartoon appeal that fits well with the Muppet way of life being neither animated nor alive by our human standards.
It’s fun placing Muppet favourites in the roles Dickens created because the Muppets already have distinct personalities. But in giving them roles in an adaptation of an acknowledged classic tale, it’s as though the puppets are indeed humans, or at least living beings. This is how I saw the Muppets watching them on television at any given opportunity. It’s hard for me to come at any Muppet project with an unbiased perspective since they were such an influential part of my growing up. But at the same time, I’d expect to be harder on the film for it since these are my beloved friends in a new role.
Still, there’s a little something missing, something magical. Perhaps it’s the lack of Jim Henson, perhaps not. While he was the creator and driving force behind the franchise, he wasn’t the only person running the show. Sure his soul was obvious as the voice of Kermit, but there’s a lot of other people who were on board the show as well. The Muppet Show wouldn’t have been the same if it weren’t for the likes of Frank Oz and Jerry Juhl, just to name a couple. They’re both here. Maybe it’s just that I can tell that Kermit’s voice is a little bit deeper this time around and I’m saddened by this knowing that it’s not Jim with his hand up the frog’s posterior. Yet, that’s not completely it. The Muppets worked so well because, like The Simpsons today, it had material that worked on levels for both children and adults. The Muppet Christmas Carol marks a definite shift in tone towards the kiddie sector. And because this is the case, A Christmas Carol might not be the best choice of stories to remake. While the Dickens tale is timeless, I remember not being all too impressed with it as a child. It was a little on the boring side and dealt with issues kids on a small allowance can’t directly relate to. I’d argue A Christmas Carol has more appeal with an adult crowd, yet the film is clearly geared towards a more juvenile audience with bright colours and simple jokes that don’t go much beyond the surface of what is said. Because the two pull against one another, The Muppet Christmas Carol is taken down a notch with it. Had the writing been a little better and perhaps some material for the adults been more abundant, the film could have worked on both levels.
Even so, The Muppet Christmas Carol is solid fun for what it is. Just as a Muppet project, it doesn’t live up to the high-level of work I’d watched and fantasized about as a child.
The Muppet Christmas Carol Gallery