There have been dozens of adaptations of the classic Charles Dickens tale ‘A Christmas Carol’ over the decades, with many great actors taking on the iconic role of Ebenezer Scrooge. With a huge variety of film adaptations to choose from, ranging from the classic Dickensian ones, to modern day comedies, and even animated adventures, there’s one version of the story that captures the hearts more than any other, The Muppet Christmas Carol.
The idea of blending classic Dickens with the iconic Jim Henson puppets might seem like a strange combination, especially when you throw in a hugely respected and seasoned actor like Michael Caine and add singing, but it somehow works perfectly. Perhaps it’s because the film doesn’t try to push the silly humour too much, maybe it’s that Caine plays it completely straight throughout, or perhaps it’s the touching emotional moments the film manages to squeeze in. Whatever the reasoning, there’s only one version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ that I watch each holiday season, this one, the best one.
This was the first Muppets film made since the death of their creator Henson just two years before, and was dedicated to his memory; along with that of actor Richard Hunt, who voiced Statler, who dies during pre-production. Perhaps because the loss of these members of the Muppet family, but this is easily the darkest of the Muppet movies, with the third act of the film being particularly grim. Despite this, it’s also one with the most love, managing to warm the heart of not just the evil Scrooge, but anyone watching at home too.
The film is remarkably close to the source material, despite being acted out by foam puppets and singing vegetables rather than people, and even takes many of the lines from the original text and uses them, such as Scrooge’s reply to hearing that the poor would rather die than go to the workhouses, ‘If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population’.
It’s moments like this, along with Scrooge having to relive his worst memory of losing the woman he loved, watching people steal his possessions after his death, and facing the possibility of Tiny Tim dying that makes this a dark film. Yes, there are bright and colourful characters and jokes aplenty, but this is the kind of film that you should watch with your kids for their first viewing as it can get quite sad and frightening at times.
Thanks to these moments, some of which still bring me close to tears as an adult thanks to how well they are handled and the phenomenal acting from Michael Caine, that the end is as good as it it. By the time that Scrooge has come to change his way’s you’ve come to like him and to care for him, you want him to be a good man and to make the lives of the people around him better.
The final moments will have you smiling, possibly through tears, as you’re filled with the sentiment that one person can make a difference to others; that you can go and be a force for good and kindness in the world, even if you think it’s too late. Yes, it’s a film will silly puppets and Christmas trappings, but it’s a film with a message and a heart to it that’s important. This is why the film is still beloved 20 years after it’s release, why it’s back in the cinema now, and why it will forever and always be my favourite Christmas film.
The Muppet Christmas Carol is now on re-release in the UK.