If there was ever anyone you could say, hand on heart, loved Christmas, it would be Charles Dickens. He loved Christmas so much that he wrote one of his best-selling novellas about it – A Christmas Carol.
Published in 1843, it told the story of the mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge, who found redemption through the visitation of four spirits, and was an instant hit with the Victorians, who both longed for the old Christmas traditions (which still hadn’t quite returned after the Puritan ban while Oliver Cromwell was in charge) and were set on making new ones, such as Christmas trees and greeting cards.
Over the years, A Christmas Carol has been adapted many times, for film, theatre, television, radio, and opera. But in 1992, it was the Muppets who turned their hand to it, and created one of my favourite Christmas films.
A Muppet Christmas Carol involved some human actors – most notably Michael Caine, playing a wonderfully evil Scrooge – but almost all of the characters are played by Muppets.
The story is narrated by Charles Dickens himself, played by Gonzo the Great, occasionally helped by the disbelieving and ever-hungry Rizzo the Rat, and their commentary helps to lighten an otherwise dark story. Indeed, in places, Rizzo voices his concerns about the kids in the audience, to which Gonzo (sorry, Charles Dickens) replies, “No, it’s alright. This is culture.”
Bob and Emily Cratchit are portrayed by Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, perhaps unsurprisingly, but for once, Miss Piggy does not steal the scene. The scene is stolen instead by Tiny Tim, played by Robin the Frog, whose childlike joy never fails to bring a tear to my eye as he shows such obvious gratitude for such small things.
It is interesting to note that, despite being a children’s film, it is also one of the closest adaptations to the actual book, with many of Dickens’ original words present. The only place it differs (aside from the absence of the ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’, the two children the Spirit of Christmas Present traditionally produces from under his cloak) is that Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley, has a brother, Robert (a nod to Bob Marley).
The Marley brothers are played by Statler and Waldorf, who reprise their role from the original Muppets Show by constantly heckling Scrooge, advising him to ‘leave the comedy to the bears’. One of Dickens’ original puns (as in the title of this review) was left in, I believe, purely to give these two something to heckle.
The only thing I can find to criticise this film is that a song was cut from the original theatrical release. Scrooge’s one-time love, Belle, played by Meredith Braun, only appears in a few scenes, in the last of which she breaks off their engagement. It’s quite a jerky scene, and as she leaves, Rizzo is seen sobbing, which makes little sense, because the conversation with brief, and hardly emotional.
Everything is explained, however, when you realise that there is a song missing, which she sings and which the older Scrooge (invisible to the memories around him) joins in with. It is called ‘When Love is Gone’, a direct companion to the ending song ‘When Love is Found’, and was removed by Walt Disney Studios because it didn’t appeal to children. Director Brian Henson, son of creator Jim Henson, who died just before the film was made, objected to the decision, and the song was restored to subsequent VHS releases, only to be removed from the DVD and blu-ray releases.
Big mistake, in my opinion. Yeah, children do get a bit restless during scenes like that, but there’s this brilliant new invention – it’s called a fast forward button. There are loads of films that, when I was younger, I used to fast forward through the ‘mushy parts’, but I never wished they weren’t there. And, now that I’m older, I have a new appreciation for them.
Without the song, the scene is jarred and, honestly, pointless, because it doesn’t explain why the memory is so upsetting to Scrooge and why it helps him on his path to redemption. Without it, it’s hard to believe that Scrooge really loved Belle at all.
Aside from that, I love this movie, and it’s become one of my favourite festive films – my brother and I like to watch it on Christmas Eve (one of those little traditions that form, you know?)
So with that, I have nothing more to say than to wish you all a Merry Christmas – and, as Tiny Tim observed, “God bless us – everyone.”
I would give this film 4 out of 5 (for the aforementioned song glitch).
Roxanne Williams (realises the last line is woefully cheesy)