How can you ever hope to improve upon the classic Christmas tale by Charles Dickens? Putting Michael Caine in the lead role is a good start. Some good comedy and decent songs can help. But, of course, adding muppets – now THAT’S the masterstroke. And that’s why this remains, despite how it may upset some traditionalists, one of the very best adaptations of A Christmas Carol for all the family.
Michael Caine is Ebenezer Scrooge, Kermit The Frog is Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy is Emily Cratchit, Fozzie Bear is Fozziewig, a small and cute frog is Tiny Tim, The Great Gonzo plays Charles Dickens and Rizzo The Rat is . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rizzo The Rat. Never fear if you haven’t seen your favourite muppet named yet, there’s plenty of room amongst the music and the madness for Beaker, Ralph, Animal, Sam The Eagle, Statler and Waldorf, Swedish Chef and plenty of others. Steven Mackintosh is one of the other few human actors onscreen and does well as Fred, Scrooge’s nephew. Nobody needs to be told the story by now. You either know it off by heart or you should be enjoying it this Christmas. It’s a bona fide classic for good reason and a tale that should be read by everyone at least once in their lifetime, in my opinion.
Of course, this isn’t a literal translation of the material but it remains surprisingly faithful to the story despite the muppets being in the mix. The script by Jerry Juhl is everything that a fresh and reverential adaptation of classic work should be. The muppets are able to play characters in ways that don’t seem too jarring, the comedy is consistently enjoyable and there are only one or two weaker moments throughout (one being a rather bland song and the other being the ease with which Scrooge seems to see the error of his ways – the latter is a problem with adapting the material for the screen and happens in many film versions of the tale). The direction by Brian Henson gets everything just right. The balance of humour and spiritual growth is perfect, the effects are all in line with the style of the characters and the set design and shot composition are all pretty perfect when aligned to the nature of the material.
It may seem wrong to end this review by praising the cast (considering that most of the characters are played by the muppets and their puppeteers) but that’s exactly what I aim to do. First of all, everyone involved deserves credit for animating and voicing the characters in such a way that they become alive. Secondly, in a film crammed full of such colour and character it’s a testament to the greatness of Michael Caine that when offered a role as great as Mr. Scrooge he gets into character and gives one of the best performances of his career. I don’t say that in a way to dismiss many wonderful Michael Caine performances, I say this to emphasise just how great he is in this movie, despite the fact that some will view it as JUST a muppet movie. Steven Mackintosh also does very well but this film belongs to a bunch of muppets and Michael Caine, with both deserving shared top billing.
DIRECTOR: BRIAN HENSON
WRITER: JERRY JUHL, BASED ON “A CHRISTMAS CAROL” BY CHARLES DICKENS
STARS: MICHAEL CAINE, KERMIT THE FROG, MISS PIGGY, THE GREAT GONZO, RIZZO THE RAT, FOZZIE BEAR, STEVEN MACKINTOSH
RUNTIME: 89 MINS APPROX