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The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

6 December 2002 by Gnoll No Comment

THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL


1992, Dir. Brian Henson.

85 min. Rated G.
Starring: Michael Caine, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson.

Review by Noel Wood

#6 on our list of the Best Christmas Movies Ever!

Denis Leary, star of our #10 Retarded Xmas movie THE REF, once said in his stand-up special No Cure for Cancer: “We all love the Muppets. They’re so cuuuuute!” And you know something? He’s right.

We do love the Muppets. Anyone who doesn’t is a most likely a heartless, crotchety old bastard who probably gets no warm fuzzy feeling when being introduced to a new puppy and probably only delights in watching fare like “60 Minutes” or “Murder She Wrote”. I mean, they’re just an amazing institution in the entertainment world that appeal to people of all ages, in all corners of the globe. Jim Henson, may he rest in peace, took a few ideas and some foam and felt and created decades and decades of magic.

Admit it. If you’re anywhere in the gen X/gen Y timespan you probably grew up on Sesame Street, graduated to the Muppet Show a few years later, and begged your parents for HBO so that you could talk about Fraggle Rock with your friends. Hell, not only did I cry when Jim Henson Died, I knew a lot of other people my age that did as well. And we were teenagers at the time.

Even after Henson’s passing, the Muppets still lived on. The first major product that appeared from the Muppet crew following his death was THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL, which, as you probably already guessed, is yet another retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic novel. Yes, I realize that another unconventional version appeared elsewhere on our list in SCROOGED. This version stays far closer to the original than the Bill Murray vehicle. Sure, some liberties are taken (I mean, when your film is credited such as “Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit”, you can’t expect an exact replica of the novel), but for the most part it remains true in spirit to the original.

The role of Ebeneezer Scrooge is played by Michael Caine, who suprisingly plays the role straight as hell. You’d think a guy like Caine would ham it up a bit to match his costars, most of whom have puppeteers’ hands up their butts. But it’s not the case at all. Caine would look just as well, regardless whether he were playing against Kermit the Frog or Kevin Kline. Scrooge, the unsympathetic pennypincher we all know him to be, is of course forewarned of the coming of three Christmas spirits — except this time, it’s the brothers Marley who warn him: Jacob and Robert. Of course, it’s an excuse to work Muppet heckler stalwarts Statler and Waldorf into the mix, and they make an impact by singing just one of many musical numbers in the film.

Like in the other Muppet Movies, the songs are a nice fit to add some variety to the films and keep the kids hooked into repeat viewings. And they generally seem to work. That is, until the middle act, and “When Love is Gone.” Let me tell you about this song. This is the slow, sappy one that signifies Scrooge getting dumped by the love of his life on a soundstage — er, I mean a meadow — in the snow. It goes on for what I swear to God is eight minutes and the chick who plays Belle not only is a terrible singer but doesn’t even have much going on for her in the way of eye candy material. It blows. And just when you think it’s ending, Caine joins in and hums a few bars with her, through the spiritual plane he’s on, of course. The rest of the songs are fine and do their job nicely, but this one should have been left on the cutting room floor.

The dialogue even holds true to the novel, word for word even, in certain scenes. Well, some scenes. When Gonzo, in the role of Charles Dickens himself, begins the narration with “The Marleys were dead”, you know you’re going to see some discrepancies. But most of the memorable lines are left intact, from the “know me better, man”s to the “God bless us, everyone”s. So to a true fan of the classic, it still sits pretty well, and it’s also a great way to get younger viewers interested in the book.

No, it’s not the greatest movie the Muppets were ever featured in, and it’s probably not the best version of Dickens’ novel to ever make its way on celluloid, but it sure is a lot of fun. I’d say this movie belongs on any Christmas movie list, for young or old.

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