RE:View – The Muppet Christmas Carol

RE:View – The Muppet Christmas Carol

No story on Earth has been done to death as thoroughly as Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.  Every possible iteration on this classic story has been made.  I tried to find out how many versions there were by typing “A Christmas Carol” into the IMDB search bar, and it called me an asshole.

Or it may as well have.  I stopped counting the screen adaptions when I hit the fifth search page of results. A Nashville Christmas Carol, A Country Christmas Carol, Dora’s Christmas Carol, Bug’s Bunny’s Christmas Carol, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, All Dogs Go to Heaven Christmas Carol, Bill Murray’s Retarded Version, Scrooge in the Hood, A Zombie Christmas Carol, An Ex-Hooker’s Christmas Carol… I didn’t make any of those up.

I’m barely scratching the surface here, there’s better than a hundred of the things.  

I’ve seen some of these, forgotten several, and never seen most.  The BBC’s latest version earned my highly uncoveted Avoid Like The Plague rating. 

Yet, the only Christmas Carol my family faithfully watches just about every year is The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Why?  What does this one get so right?

I am absolutely not going to review the plot of A Christmas Carol here.  If you don’t know it, you’re sad and retarded.  If you need to give me your brilliantly inciteful hot take on why it’s bad or Charles Dickens was a ticket-taker, fuck you, my comments are locked. Ha! Ha!

Truthfully the reason Dickens’s story has been remade so many times and in so many redundant iterations is that Scrooge’s story of redemption on Christmas Eve is perfect. I don’t use the term “perfect” lightly, but it is. There was nothing Charles Dickens got wrong.

It’s a profoundly Christian tale of hope and redemption for a man who seems on the face of it beyond any chance of recovering his lost humanity or the salvation of his soul.  Yet by taking a close look at his life, the world around him, and a potential future where his own damnation has left the world a hollow, hopeless place Ebenezer Scrooge is redeemed. 

Consequently, you’d think a silly version with puppets would just be another one of the 100+ utterly disposable variations on the same narrative.

But it stands out on so many levels that it just manages to become something kind of special.

It came out in 1992 when I was deploying my ass off.  It was already on video by the time the ops tempo of my life gave me enough breathing space in garrison to peruse it in the Jacksonville Blockbuster Video on Western Blvd. 

I looked at it and said, “Nah. I’m past the Muppet part of my life.”  While I had loved the Muppets as much as any other Gen X kid, by 1992 they had sadly earned a reputation for bringing nothing new to the party.  Jim Henson had been dead for a couple of years and honestly, it didn’t feel like Kermit was alive anymore.  I wrote it off (in admittedly sophomoric ignorance) as something that was beneath me now.

Then I had kids.

During a rather snowy December, my wife and kids were watching it on TV and drinking hot cocoa.  

Made from scratch cocoa with homemade peppermint marshmallows.

This cocoa, it was explained to me by the Mother of the Darkspawn, would only be made available to me if I sat down and watched with my children rather than doing more work in my den. It didn’t seem like a big sacrifice. After all, I had loved the Muppets when I was a kid.

But as I watched I became very impressed with how well it worked as a movie.  I figured Michael Caine would do the usual mugging along with the Muppets that all the celebrities tried to do and only Johnathon Winters and Robin Williams ever really succeeded at.

The truth is the human actor invariably ended up playing second fiddle in any Muppets production but in this version, Caine absolutely took the lead and ran with it.  He is the star and they are the supporting players.  How did he do it?

Simple, he wasn’t starring in a comedy even if the Muppets were.  Michael Caine had been in the business long enough to know when not to compete on a field that didn’t favor him. Instead of hamming it up, he played it absolutely straight.  “I’m going to play it like I’m playing opposite the Royal Shakespeare Company,” Caine said.

The end result was that you didn’t mentally dismiss Ebenezer Scrooge’s story of salvation because that was indeed what you were watching.  Brian Henson for his part knew enough to follow his lead when he was going in the right direction, as a result, the Spirits of Christmas all played it straight too.  While there was a bunch of muppet gags that keep the little kids giggling and in truth the adults engaged with a story they know completely by heart, it didn’t detract from the narrative.  It can honestly be said to enhance it and after (holy glob) thirty years this year, it has moved into the status of a Christmas classic. 

Merry Christmas, I’m done here.

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