It’s nearly Christmas! To celebrate, the writers of One Room With A View are going to present their arguments as to why their choice is the Ultimate Christmas Movie. After David argued for Die Hard and Steve for Die Hard 2, Chris D offers up his festive favourite, 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol.
For me, Christmas begins when I sit down on December 24th to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. The film never fails to delight, despite the fact that there will be more adaptations of this Dickens classic on TV over the coming weeks then snowflakes likely to fall on Christmas Day. Nonetheless, there is something enchanting, engrossing, and enriching about this particular version that makes it, for me, the ultimate Christmas film of all time.
Based on the serialised novella by Charles Dickens, the film stars Michael Caine as (arguably the best) Ebenezer Scrooge, a curmudgeonly loner who has a change of heart following a series of ghostly visitations one Christmas Eve. Surprisingly close to the source, even small concessions to the Muppets franchise – such as the ghost of Jacob Marley becoming the ghosts of Jacob and Robert (‘Bob’?) Marley so they can be played by Statler and Waldorf – don’t feel out of place within this reverent revelry. Indeed, the film is laden with lines taken directly from the book and related to us by Dickens himself – as played by Gonzo the Great and his sidekick, Rizzo: yes, a blue, furry Charles Dickens who hangs out with a rat…
This partnership is a highlight of the film, as amongst quoting the source and encouraging the audience to go read it after finishing the film, Gonzo and Rizzo also reflect the deep emotional significance of many scenes, such as crying when Belle leaves Scrooge and fleeing the narrative when the wraith-like Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come arrives, as well as offering comic relief from the phantasmagorical sequences and ensuring that they scare but never terrify the younger audience.
Caine’s equally excels as Scrooge, and the star speaks fondly of the film in his autobiography, stating “I had a wonderful time doing it…working with the Muppets was just like working with real people”. This was also the first Muppet movie to cast a ‘real person’ as the protagonist. By playing it straight Caine grounds the film with a real, identifiable character to counterbalance the eccentricities of the Muppets, who also populate the traditional Dickensian setting with American accents while Caine’s unmistakable cockney twang returns us to the intended location.
His performance conveys the complete range of Scrooge’s personality, from the cold origins to the joyous finale where, despite lacking a melodious singing voice, we cannot help but be overcome by Scrooge/Caine’s euphoric redemption in the song ‘With a Thankful Heart’. The numerous musical numbers in the film are amongst the Muppets’ best and most memorable, from Scrooge’s introduction with ‘There Goes Mr Humbug’ to the innocently uncynical and celebratory ‘It Feels Like Christmas’, these should feature on any Christmas playlist, with Kermit’s ‘One More Sleep ‘til Christmas’ is the ultimate soundtrack to Christmas Eve.
The film itself creates an atmosphere of Christmas; snow-smothered streets, brass-bands, Christmas wreaths and general mise-en-scene of Victorian England all lend themselves to traditional depictions of Christmas. The story also combines the superstitious elements of Christmas into an old convention of telling ghost stories during winter nights, yet the family-friendly content and message of love make it the quintessential festive film for everyone to enjoy.
But what really makes this version of A Christmas Carol so special is its heartfelt sincerity. All adaptations of this tale depict Scrooge’s joy on Christmas morning, but too often they mistake the principle turning point in his regeneration as his discovery of his own grave. It may remind Scrooge of his mortality and the limitations time bequeaths us, but through a longing glance at a crutch without an owner we realise it is actually the death of Tiny Tim – and the sadness opened on Christmas day by the Cratchit family – that touches Scrooge deep inside. He must change his ways not only to save himself, but also to prevent a terrible loss.
A loss the Muppets had suffered.
This was the first Muppet film released since the death of Muppeteer Richard Hunt and Muppets creator – and voice of Kermit – Jim Henson. Although Steve Whitmire brilliantly took up playing Kermit, Hunt and Henson’s deaths resonated among the team and none more so than for the director of The Muppet Christmas Carol, Brian Henson – Jim’s son. When the camera focuses on Tiny Tim’s empty chair in the Cratchit home, it symbolises the void Henson and Hunt have left in the Muppet family, but through, song, colour and humour Tim is saved and lives on, as will they through the Muppet legacy.
A joyous, hilarious, sing-along treat for the festive season, the film is faithful to the source while also being riotously anarchic. But at its core the film contains an emotional honesty that finds form in its redemptive message of love, understanding and goodwill to all men (and Muppets).
Where does The Muppet Christmas Carol figure in your favourite Christmas films? Is this a gift you’re yet to open? Let us know below!