I don’t need to tell you the story of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; there’s about a million and a half different versions of the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his trans formative Christmas Eve, but one stands above them all. It’s not George C. Scott, it’s not Alastair Simm, and it’s not Jim Carrey. It’s the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational (Ed: this isn’t a word but it should be) version out there.
The first Muppet’s film made following Jim Henson’s death, The Muppet Christmas Carol is far and away one of the best Christmas films of all time, and while it’s a tough title to compete for, it’s arguably the best Muppet film too. I had never actually seen the film when I was young, but actually became familiar with it by performing it; in Year 9, my school put on a production of A Christmas Carol, using the script and music from this adaptation. I played a young Scrooge, visibly aching on stage as Belle sang the famously removed “When Love is Gone” – I won an award for cheesiest performance. Still my greatest accomplishment – As well as filling for one of the bookkeepers, getting to sing “Heatwave! This is my island in the sun!” and whilst the experience of it remains one of my all time favourites, I didn’t quite understand it at the time. I eventually settled down to watch it, and discovered what could only be described as pure elation; the music, the comedy, the festivity and the warm feelings of comfort and joy were unparalleled by any other holiday film I’d seen. It’s now become a yearly tradition for my sister and I to watch it on Christmas Eve, to truly plunge ourselves into the spirit.
But why is it the best adaptation of them all? I mean, it’s almost definitely the least faithful to the source material – Well I haven’t read it, so maybe there is singing rats and vegetables – but it offers the most perfect balance of light and dark. A Christmas Carol is famously a brooding story of a bitter man forced to confront the moments in which his life took a turn for the worse, and despite the change that comes at the end, it’s still a harrowing tale. The brilliant thing about Muppets is that at no point is that ever lost; the scenes in which Michael Caine – who is beautiful in this film, but we’ll get to that – is forced to watch his childhood and face the ramifications of his actions are truly haunting. And yet, this doesn’t prevent the film from reaching unbelievable heights of love and hilarity. The jokes are so sharp, that same Muppet wit that has never not been funny, and the songs by Paul Williams are just wonderful. Lyrically brilliant and toe-tappingly wonderful, with Thankful Heart being a personal favourite.
However, despite all the Muppets and musical numbers, the heart of this film is the central performance by Michael Caine; the first ever lead role in a Muppet film not to be Kermit, Caine famously played the role as seriously as he could, without ever acknowledging the presence of puppets or models, and it pays off wonderfully. Most if not all of the other films feature the human co-stars being very chummy with The Muppets and sticking to their level of performance, and while this has never been a bad thing, Caine’s decision to play the character straight is what sets this apart from the rest of the franchise. It legitimises it’s place as a great adaptation with this performance and avoids being the standard Muppet fair. Caine’s Scrooge is cold and cruel, then bitter and remorseful, and finally, exhilarated and reborn. A perfect performance from start to finish.
Christmas is a time for comfort and happiness, and The Muppet Christmas Carol offers it in spades. It’s up there with the best of them, and it always will be. Make sure you check it out with those closest to you this Christmas. Because, you know, wherever you find love…
Happy 25th Anniversary The Muppet Christmas Carol!