By Bradley Lane
Charles Dickens’ classic English novel has seen adaptation in film as early as 1901 and has even had classic films in its catalog like 1951’s Scrooge, but for my money the best version is the 1992 Brian Henson directed The Muppet Christmas Carol. The Muppets have always been deft at balancing humor aimed at both children and adults, and this film is certainly no exception. This base level excellence is elevated here by the talent surrounding the film, namely, Michael Caine’s wonderfully stone-faced turn as Scrooge and the imaginative songs of the original Muppet Movie songwriter, Paul Williams.
Like all versions of the story, this adaptation follows Ebenezer Scrooge as he is confronted by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, to demonstrate to him the error of his selfish ways come Christmastime. However, this film distinguishes itself by introducing Charles Dickens as a narrator, portrayed by Gonzo and accompanied by his rat friend Rizzo, to create a new dynamic that makes the story easier for children to understand and adds a whole lot of comedic banter. Additionally, this film is a musical and this aspect adds a great sense of pacing to a story that can typically be a little dreary.
At the heart of this movie is an amazing performance from Michael Caine as the perfect straight man for all the puppet antics in the film. Caine plays the role with sincerity and a seriousness that many actors might not be able to maintain when playing mostly against puppets. It’s this grounded performance that gives way to both some of the best gags in the film and some genuinely emotional moments throughout.
The key to making classic enduring Christmas films is obvious in hindsight but might not be readily apparent when considering them on face value, but they need to be re-watchable. Christmas movies are of course designed for a very specific time of year, which can make newer Christmas films, even the good ones, seem disposable compared to the long-standing Christmas standards. This emphasizes the importance of being enjoyable to watch over and over again and that is precisely why The Muppet Christmas Carol is my pick for the best version on film of the classic Christmas tale. I never get tired of hearing the songs, laughing at the jokes and getting to the emotional climax shared between all versions of the story.
The Muppet Christmas Carol might not be the first thing people associate with Charles Dickens novel, but it deserves a place amongst some of the best in the Christmas movie canon. Do yourself a favor and revisit this one, available to stream on Disney Plus, this holiday season.
– 4/5 stars