The Muppet Christmas Carol

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Muppet Christmas Carol
"It's one of those rare seasonal films that really can entertain the whole family."

Starting in 1901, 58 years after Dickens' much-loved but little-read novella A Christmas Carol was written, 19 different production teams have attempted to adapt it for the big screen. None of them has had the impact of the Muppets. By far the best of their works, this unlikely marriage of laboured political fable and showbusiness spectacular has wit, energy and a lot of heart. It's one of those rare seasonal films that really can entertain the whole family, and for many people it has become a staple of Christmas Eve festivities.

Adults coming to this film will mostly be familiar with the story of a miser visited by three ghosts - those of Christmasses past, present and future - who urge him to change his ways. For the benefit of younger viewers, supporting narration is provided by Gonzo the Great, with the excuse that he is educating streetwise but not very erudite sidekick Rizzo the Rat. Despite Gonzo's natural charisma and Rizzo's secondary role, it is very much the rat who steals the show, both with his banter and with his tendency to suffer unfortunate accidents in pursuit of food. He epitomises the street urchins of whose follies Dickens was fond, but with a distinctly American twist.

Copy picture

It would be difficult for any actor to make an impression opposite these two. Michael Caine doesn't even try, phoning in his performance (and so little moved by it himself that he has continued to make Scrooge-like comments since with no apparent sense of irony). It's the one disappointing aspect of the film, and is especially problematic in the scenes that detail Scrooge's romance with an equally bland young woman (Meredith Braun) whose heart he is destined to break.

Fortunately the Muppet performances are strong enough to carry any scene where they also appear. Kermit the Frog makes an endearing Bob Cratchett, whilst Miss Piggy is wisely kept away from centre stage as his wife, though she still overacts at every opportunity and makes her mark on the film. There's a sweet turn from Bunsen and Beaker as charity workers, and Sam the Eagle, appearing as the young Scrooge's headmaster, has never been better cast.

Naturally, this being a Muppet film, there are more song and dance numbers than Dickens envisaged and the inhabitants of London are somewhat more diverse, but due homage is paid to the original setting with wage disputes and jokes about chimney sweeps. Despite its cheery fa├žade, the film effectively captures the grit and grime essential to the author's works, and it goes to sufficiently dark places that when the happy ending arrives it feels earned. No party is as joyous as a Muppet celebration, so don't wait until there's only one more sleep till Christmas - enjoy The Muppet Christmas Carol at every chance you get.

Reviewed on: 02 Dec 2017
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The Muppet Christmas Carol packshot
Charles Dickens' tale gets the Henson twist.

Director: Brian Henson

Writer: Charles Dickens, Jerry Juhl

Starring: Michael Caine, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, Frank Oz, David Rudman, Don Austen, Jessica Fox, Robert Tygner, Steven Mackintosh, Meredith Braun, Robin Weaver, Raymond Coulthard, Russell Martin, Theo Sanders

Year: 1992

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

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