Saturday, 8 December 2012

Film Review | The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The Muppet Christmas Carol looked like anything but a safe bet when it was released twenty years ago. Eight years on from their previous big screen outing, 1984's The Muppets Take Manhattan, the film was a notable departure from the more straightforward stage musical style that the Muppets were known for. It was also the first major release from the characters since the death of their creator, Jim Henson, two years previously; the film is dedicated to Henson, and his son Brian took on the director's role. These factors combined meant that a Muppet version of Dickens' famous festive ghost story could at the times of its release be considered a sizeable risk. Two decades later and the film is one of the most well-loved film versions of the tale and, arguably, the Muppets' most successful feature film.

The film recounts the well-known story of Ebeneezer Scrooge (Michael Caine), a miserly misanthrope who detests Christmas. However, during a visit from the ghosts of his deceased business partners Jacob and Robert Marley one Christmas Eve, Scrooge is warned to change his ways and informed he will be visited by three further spirits throughout the night.

The Muppet Christmas Carol gives you an awful lot to like about it all the way through. The casting, both human and Muppet, is spot on: Kermit is the perfect fit for humble optimist Bob Cratchit, with Miss Piggy overacting tremendously in the role of his wife; Statler and Waldorf heckling from beyond the grave as the Marley brothers is simply superb, as is Fozzie Bear in the small but key role of Scrooge's first employer Fozziwig; the best piece of Muppet casting, however, has to go to Gonzo narrating the whole thing as Charles Dickens himself, forming a perfect double act with Rizzo The Rat (as himself) and providing plenty of laugh-out-loud moments throughout.

The way in which the three Christmas ghosts are realised through original Muppet creations is wonderful,  with acute attention to detail and incredible faith to the source material; only the Ghost Of Christmas Present is softened up a little, working to the film's benefit by providing a much starker contrast to the Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come. Whilst this is a Muppet film, much of the film's success must also be attributed to a faultless central performance from Caine. His Scrooge is the perfect balance of cruel taskmaster, lonely and bitter old man and, becoming more and more evident as the story wears on, a sympathetic figure with some serious emotional damage. His transformation from the start to the end of the film, coupled with the chemistry he consistently demonstrates with his Muppet co-stars, shows just how skilled an actor Caine is.

The combination of fidelity to Dickens' novella, sharp and intelligent humour and some incredibly catchy tunes (you'll have "Marley And Marley" stuck in your head for days after you watch) make The Muppet Christmas Carol a near comprehensive success. It occasionally becomes a little too sentimental for its own good, with some of the scenes involving Tiny Tim (played by Kermit's nephew Robin) laying on the schmaltz a little too heavy-handedly, but the story's pervading morals coupled with this being a Christmas tale allow this to be mostly forgiven. Overall, this is a charming, well made and incredibly enjoyable treat that deserves to be revisited every year during the festive season.


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