If you were lucky like me to grow up in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, your formative years were enriched by The Muppets. From the visionary mind of Jim Henson, The Muppets were a pop culture phenomenon who entertained kids and adults alike with just the right mixture of wholesome optimism and playful satire. From their hit variety show (The Muppet Show which ran from 1976 to 1981) to a successful trio of feature films (The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan), this crew of puppet characters became as iconic as they were lovable. After Jim Henson’s untimely death in 1990, creative stewardship fell to his son Brian who took the director’s chair for 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol.
The film is a fairly faithful adaptation of Charles Dickson’s classic holiday tale but with touching original songs by Paul Williams and plenty of Muppet magic. Set in a whimsical turn of the century London where Muppets and humans seamlessly co-exist, we watch the eventual redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge played by none other than Michael Caine. The two-time Oscar winner joins the company of other famous Scrooge portrayers like Albert Finney, George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart, to name a few. Caine is believably gruff as the classic miser and surprisingly adept during the ensuing musical numbers. As for our beloved Muppet performers we have The Great Gonzo as the Narrator, Kermit the Frog as Bob Crachit, Miss Piggy as Emily Crachit, Fozzy the Bear as Fozziewig (Scrooge’s first boss), and Rizzo the Rat as well, himself.
I will admit that when I first saw the film back in 1992 I was not impressed. Was it possible that I had outgrown my cherished childhood friends? Perhaps I wasn’t much different than the general movie audience of the time that also passed up on this Muppet fable in favor of the blockbuster that was Disney’s Aladdin. Thankfully, I rediscovered the film in recent years, courtesy of my wife’s staunch admiration.
The film is vibrant and colorful, which shouldn’t be surprising for a Muppet film, but there’s also great technical craft on display, especially with the larger characters like the Ghost of Christmas Present. Henson fans are reminded of previous mature fare like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. But what brings everything together is the original music of Paul Williams. The longtime Muppet collaborator best known for “The Rainbow Connection” has plenty of talent on display. Arguably the best songs are “It Feels Like Christmas” and “Thankful Heart.”
Recent years have seen The Muppet Christmas Carol join the ranks of traditional holiday programming. It probably helps that Disney bought the Jim Henson company over a decade ago and our fair animal puppets have won over a whole new generation thanks to recent outings in 2011’s The Muppets and 2014’s Muppets Most Wanted. The Muppets like Dickens are timeless. And The Muppet Christmas Carol is the perfect marriage and a must-see holiday classic.