The Muppets make everything better. In a world of divisiveness and unease, they remain a shining beacon of joy.
To say that A Christmas Carol is a ‘familiar’ story to movie-goers would be an understatement. There have been more than twenty adaptations of the story dating back as early as 1901, and the fact that one of the most beloved adaptations stars the lovable felt creatures should tell you everything you need to know; it’s beloved by all ages, and I want to explore why.
As much as we all shouldn’t need this particular story laid out for us; here’s a brief summary nonetheless: Ebenezer Scrooge (Sir Michael Caine) is a miserly money-lender who despises Christmas almost as much as he despises the people who surround him making merry. He is visited by three spirits one Christmas Eve to try and steer his soul back onto the right path.
In preparation for this review, I rewatched this film last night (as if I need an excuse, I watch it every December) and I was very pleasantly surprised to see that all these years of cynicism haven’t dulled the warm glow this film gives me. It still gives me the same sense of joy and wonders I felt when I first watched it, more so in fact, as the more I watch it, the more I appreciate how well-made it is. The performances, the razor-sharp script, and the soundtrack are all incredible and still have the ability to touch your heart, even though the cast is predominantly made of felt.
Watching with an adult eye, you get more of the jokes that are pitched a bit too far over the children’s head, you appreciate the songs in a whole new way, and you connect further with the heart of the story. I think your perspective changes with age, in fact. As a kid, you’re focused on the story of a grumpy old man changing his ways, and getting a little bit of comeuppance along the way; whereas now, the more I watch it, the more I realise that Bob Cratchitt’s story is the real emotional heart.
At the start of the story, Bob is introduced as a kind of ‘audience surrogate’ he observes Scrooge’s behaviour as we would; uncomprehending, but obedient for fear of losing his income. When we next see him, however, we see the reality of his life, with a wife, and four children, one of which is incredibly sick, but whom the Cratchitt’s can’t afford to get better healthcare for. It is seeing this that shifts Scrooge’s perspective the most, arguably.
The real accomplishment in all of this is making us forget that we’re watching this highly-emotional dramatic scene unfold entirely (more or less) portrayed by Muppets. I put it to you that the scenes with Tiny Tim are no less impactful in this film than in any other. It may be even more so, and that’s a testament to the work the film does to make this work with their colourful cast of puppets. The fact that Tiny Tim is a small frog made out of fabric ultimately means nothing because of how well-made the film is, it makes suspending our disbelief surrounding these characters so much easier.
Also helping to sell the film is an incredible performance from Sir Michael Caine who plays the role as if he were on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and it pays off spectacularly. You’d never know he was playing opposite Muppets, and it works in the film’s favour.
Scrooge is, by design, a pretty glum character to begin with, and The Muppets around him will be doing the comedic heavy-lifting, having him there makes all the Muppet-based comedy seem well-earned, and makes for a much better balance, all told. Having an actor of his calibre there to sell the drama really ups the ante for the sadder moments, making them all the more poignant, even when they’re between a frog and a pig.
You also can’t talk about this films merits without talking about its songs.
The Muppets have a pretty strong track record with songs, truth be told. Their original big-screen outing gave us the classic ‘Rainbow Connection’ and in more recent times, their 2011 film The Muppets won an Oscar for the song ‘Man or Muppet’ (now I’ve typed the word ‘Muppet’ so often the word looks weird to me) and all the films in-between have been known to have a memorable tune or two. The Muppets Christmas Carol outdoes this by having a soundtrack full of memorable tunes.
From its opening number ‘Scrooge’ through to ‘Thankful Heart’ near the end, you’ll no doubt find yourself humming at least one of the tunes long after the credits have rolled.
When I spoke last week in my Jingle Jangle review, I spoke about this mythical thing called ‘Christmas magic’ and there is no finer example of what I was talking about than this film. I believe it deserves to be esteemed among the higher pantheon of ‘Christmas classics’. It may not seem like it’s worthy at first glance, but I genuinely believe it’s the best adaptation of the story.
It’s pure joy, brimming with wit and happiness, along with that inventive, archaic Muppets spirit that has made them endure for so long. Treat yourself again this year, and settle down to an hour and a half of cinematic bliss that won’t just warm the cockles of your heart, it’ll roast them over an open fire.