Part children’s puppet show, part classic retelling of Charles Dickens’ terrifying winter classic, The Muppet Christmas Carol, it seems, has it all. Chickens singing original medleys from snow-dusted windowsills chime in just seconds before copious amounts of fog blanket a graveyard in the dead of night. I wonder if the great Mr. Dickens, when composing his poetic and heavily symbolic A Christmas Carol, pictured it being performed by world famous felt-on-a-stick, Kermit the Frog. My gut tells me that not even in his wildest, opium-induced dreams would this future have crossed his mind.
Everybody loves Christmas – except for the grumpy, stingy, friendless money-lender, Scrooge (Michael Caine). He may be perfectly satisfied being an asshole to all humanity, but his old partners from beyond the grave decide it’s due time to give Scrooge a shot at real happiness. This duo, Marley (voiced by Dave Goelz) and Marley (voiced by Jerry Nelson) – better known as the Two Old Guys – warn Scrooge that the life he’s currently living is pulling him into damnation, unless he changes his ways. Immediately. At the stroke of 1:00, three great spirits lead Scrooge through Christmases past, present, and future on a journey of self-discovery. They gradually show the old grump the mark he’s leaving on the world, and bring him to the realization that life is bigger than a bank book.
Most of Michael Caine’s script is faithful to Dickens’ original novel. So the young viewers don’t get lost, however, we have Gonzo – I mean Charles Dickens – (voiced by Dave Goelz) and his comic relief, Rizzo the Rat (voiced by Steve Whitmire), narrating Scrooge’s every move. Michael Caine is delightful, playing both the jerk-face Scrooge and the Christmas-saving unofficial uncle with class, poise, and a touch of comedy. His harmonies may not make him the next Frank Sinatra, but I’d happily share a boy-sized turkey with this dressing gown-loving scamp any Christmas day.
The Muppet Christmas Carol has everything you love about the original story sprinkled in children’s theatre and sing-alongs. While the songs aren’t quite catchy-enough to make it onto a Michael Buble holiday album, the light-hearted nature is so very… Christmassy. We’ve got the charming Tiny Tim played by a frog the size of a teapot, a Ghost of Christmas Present that needs a bracelet with his address on it, and cotton-ball snow falling on a sunny morning as the peasants pirouette in the street. It’s like my advent calendar tableau come to life.
But we also have a little creepy. What would A Christmas Carol be without the foreboding future? The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (gestured by Don Austen) looks like the inspiration for Spirited Away’s No Face. Out of the gloom of Voldemort’s graveyard he pulls Scrooge into a damp Christmas future clearly affected by unattended climate change. It’s so ominous even our narrator, Gonzo/Dickens, closes his eyes and hides away until things get brighter.
But the gloom doesn’t last for long and (spoiler alert) Tiny Tim lives! The Muppet Christmas Carol makes the classic story accessible to five-year-olds and gives parents a guaranteed 80-minute nap. It’s one of the few holiday movies where gifting coal to your colleagues is considered far too generous. The Muppet Christmas Carol isn’t overloaded with celebrity appearances or national monuments. It’s classic, quick, and pleasant. For a kid’s Christmas movie I’d settle it around a 6.5/10.