Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been turned into a variety of films and television shows. Alistair Sim stars in the most traditional film version, while Bill Murray played an 80s version of Scrooge in Scrooged and Jim Carrey stars in an 3D animated version. The best of all the adaptations, was released in 1992 and starred a collection of Jim Henson puppets made famous on 1970s TV show. The Muppet Christmas Carol, starring Michael Caine as Scrooge, is the funniest and most heart-warming adaptation and remains one of the greatest Christmas films of all time. It only took $27m off a budget of $12m, but through home distribution and showings over Christmas has become a mainstay of the festive season.
Ebenezer Scrooge (Caine) is a money-lender in Victorian London. Obsessed with profits and harbouring a despise for the Christmas season, he intends on making his staff work on Christmas day, including the loyal Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog). Miserly and miserable on Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the spirits of his former business partners Marley and Marley (Statler and Waldorf) who warn that he will be visited in the night by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet to come. The ghosts visit in turn to try and teach Scrooge the true spirit of Christmas and help him repent his mistakes.
The Muppet Christmas Carol stays true to the Dickens’ classic in structure and plot, while filling every available scene with sight gags and little nods to literature, including the casting of Gonzo as Dickens himself (although he never admits it), who narrates the action. The Muppets films in general have been a mixed bag, but in their two attempts at giving their spin of classic literature they really do strike film gold. The comedy of their characters sit beautifully juxtaposed to the cold, snowy Victorian setting. It is the attention to detail that really helps create the perfect Christmas atmosphere, including a shop early on called Micklewhite’s (Caine’s real name).
Caine is careful not to overplay his part and upstage the Muppets in The Muppet Christmas Carol, who remain the real stars of the film, but his portrayal of Scrooge is utterly convincing and he even manages to make the switchover from miser to generous soul without too much sugary sweet sentiment. He is pitch-perfect throughout, with the exception of his singing, which is all the wrong pitch. The Muppets pretty much play themselves, which works as they squeeze in so many laughs throughout that it’s difficult to dwell on the fact that they’ve changed the characters from the literature.
From the opening Victorian Christmas vista all the way to the sentimental, but not too sugary finale, The Muppet Christmas Carol is the epitome of the Christmas season.