Near the top of many people’s Christmas movie list is The Muppet Christmas Carol. It was released in 1992, just two years after Jim Henson’s death, and was directed by his son, Brian Henson.
The film retells the popular tale written by Charles Dickens of Ebenezer Scrooge and the night that changed his life. While there are several characters portrayed by “real people” in the background, the only characters of the human variety that get real screen time are Michael Caine as Scrooge and Scrooge’s Nephew, Fred, played by Steven Mackintosh. Throughout the film, we see our familiar Muppet friends such as Gonzo and Rizzo who appear as Charles Dickens and, well, Rizzo.
Gonzo and Rizzo are introduced as narrators and invite us into the story, all the while continually breaking the fourth wall by not only interacting and talking directly to the audience, but also interacting with the characters and locales seen in the movie. This leads to a lot of funny moments as Rizzo tends to fall from heights, get set on fire, get frozen like a popsicle, and other scenes of unfortunate circumstances.
It is Christmas Eve, and Scrooge is visited by someone not able to pay their mortgage. Scrooge is unwilling to budge saying Christmas is the foreclosure season. When Cratchit (Kermit) asks for Christmas Day off on behalf of the rats working for Scrooge, Scrooge throws a fit but eventually relents and tells the lot to make sure they are at work bright in early the next morning. The opening number and this scene clearly tell us Scrooge is one unhappy guy.
When Scrooge returns to his home, he is frightened to see the doorknocker on his front door change into that of one of his former colleagues. A bit shaken, he retreats into his house, only to be visited by Jacob and Robert Marley, portrayed by hecklers Statler and Waldorf. They tell the frightened Scrooge he will be visited by three ghosts during the night.
The first arrives at the ringing of 1 AM on the clock. This ghost takes him to his own childhood school where he sees himself studying on Christmas. This repeats several times as he is shown year after year of being alone and in the school. Eventually Christmas Past shows him meeting a young woman, Belle. He is once again sent ahead three years where Belle leaves him, and he is once again alone. He is then sent back to the present to wait for the next ghost.
The ghost of Christmas present arrives and we get an inside glimpse of Bob Cratchit’s home, where Miss Piggy is his wife and they have twin daughters, an older frog son and of course Tiny Tim. Tiny Tim not only walks with a crutch but has a sickly green color instead of the bright green of Bob and Peter Cratchit. The ghost takes him through a song and other scenes until Scrooge is left with only one ghost left: Christmas future.
Scrooge follows the next ghost to his town where he overhears the townsfolk talking about how happy they are that someone has died. Surely they can’t mean Tiny Tim. Through several scenery changes we learn that indeed Tiny Tim has died, but the person they were talking about was Ebenezer himself. As he is taken back to the present he asks if this is what will come or what may come?
Awakening back in the present, Scrooge is a changed man. He sends a cat to buy the biggest turkey and surprises Cratchit at his home, gives him a raise, and offers to pay off his mortgage. We end with the well-known phrase of God bless us, every one.
While this is on the Christmas movie list for so many people, to be honest, I am not sure I ever watched it before. 1992 was a weird time for me. Reviewing the film in 2020, I really feel I am seeing it for the first time. Sir Michael Caine interacting with the Muppets is absolutely fantastic. I can’t think of another actor who would be able to pull off such an iconic role and do so with the Muppets.
Taking over the reins from Jim Henson had to be a daunting task, but Brian did so superbly. The camera angles used and the creative transitions of scenes are top-notch. Add to the technical elements of just filming the movie the additional requirements and challenges of the Muppets, this was certainly a great start to a fantastic career.
I also couldn’t close this review without mentioning the talents of the Jim Henson company of puppeteers. Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, Frank Oz, David Rudman, Don Austen, and Robert Tygner all brought their extraordinary talent and beloved characters and helped make this film a real treat.
I highly recommend an annual viewing of this film. You can find it right now on Disney+ and also for purchase from Apple Movies, Amazon Price, Youtube, and Vudu.