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The Media Man Reviews: The Muppets Christmas Carol (ft. Sam the Mini Yeti)


Everyone has seen at least one adaptation of A Christmas Carol.


Written by famed Victorian-era author Charles Dickens and published on the 19th December 1843; A Christmas Carol remains Charles's most popular story alongside other classics of his like Oliver Twist and Great Expectations and is by far the most popular Christmas story ever written. No, I'm not exaggerating when I say this. There's like a million different adaptations of the story from various film companies and producers, there's stage productions and also audio readings. Needless to say, everyone has been exposed to A Christmas Carol in some form or another and everyone has an adaptation they consider to be their introduction to the story.


For me, I'd probably say it might be Mickey's Christmas Carol that introduced me to the classic tale but I can't remember for sure. As for why the story is so popular, I imagine a large chunk of the reason why might be done to how easily adaptable it is and how it's a story that can be told in multiple ways. I mean there was one time Disney did an Easter-themed spin on the story with Springtime with Roo. It also explores very relatable and human concepts like age, death, our actions having consequences, the importance of what you do with your life and how you make it worthwhile and is one of those Christmas stories that is associated with the good feelings of the holiday, but also isn't afraid to have a dark side to it. It's iconic for many reasons and I always enjoy experiencing this story around the holidays.


My personal favourite adaptations of the story include the 2009 Robert Zemeckis version by Disney, the Patrick Stewart version from 1999, Mickey's Christmas Carol and the George C. Scott version from 1984. But I'm not reviewing either of them today. I'm reviewing another adaptation I also have a soft spot for. This version...is the Muppet version.


Released in 1992, The Muppets made their own version of the story and has since become a holiday favourite amongst casual movie-goers, Muppet fans, Charles Dickens fans and Christmas junkies everywhere with Michael Caine's version of Ebenezer Scrooge remaining one of the most memorable, beloved and popular versions of the character to this day. It's also one of the most beloved Muppets movies of all time. So is this a Christmas Carol we will cherish forever with a thankful heart? Or should this movie be haunted by the spirits too? Before we dive in, I'd like to welcome a good friend of mine who has volunteered to review this with me. Please welcome Sam the Mini Yeti everyone.


Sam: Hiya folks, it's good to be here, and it's good to be reviewing this movie with you, Mr. Media Man. If you guys must know, I'm a big Muppet fan, so naturally, I wanted to help my friend review the movie, especially that this year is the film's 30th anniversary. So let's take a look at this film and see how it holds up, both as a "Christmas Carol" adaptation and as a Muppet movie.


Section 1: The Story


Media Man: It's pointless to explain the story of this movie because EVERYONE knows the story of A Christmas Carol like the backs of their hands. This movie pretty much tells the story very faithfully with not a lot of deviations so there's no need for a summary of the plot here. It's as basic an adaptation as it gets with Ebenezer Scrooge getting haunted by three ghosts that teach him to stop being a miserable old sod and appreciate the true meaning of Christmas.


So as an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, how good is it? As I said, it's a VERY faithful adaptation of the book with all the familiar plot-beats hit and some of the prose from the books is even outright quoted here. Of course, this is THE MUPPETS Christmas Carol so they tell the story with a Muppets twist, which is what gives this version its own identity. And surprisingly, it REALLY works! Not only do we get the trademark style of humour that only The Muppets can provide, but they don't shy away from the darker and more emotional parts of the movie too. Hell, Gonzo and Rizzo even leave the movie during the third act so the whole Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come stuff can remain as creepy and dark as possible without them killing the mood. That was such a clever piece of storytelling, and it shows that The Muppets know that there's a time and a place for humour. If only the MCU could get that message...


Another clever bit of storytelling here is having Gonzo play the part of Charles Dickens and narrate the movie to us. That idea is both funny and charming and it allows the movie to feature some of the book's prose as Gonzo narrates to us, providing some wonderful fan-service for Charles Dickens enthusiasts while adding a fun "Muppets" twist on the formula. You'd think this joke would get old and wear itself out really quickly but surprisingly, it doesn't and they don't always play it for laughs either, which adds a dignified air to the movie and makes this a more authentic adaptation of A Christmas Carol as a result.


Sam: I actually should mention about this movie, this is NOT the first time that the Muppets retold a classic story. They have done it multiple times, and when they do, there would be something in the story that would go wrong, so typically when you see the Muppets do something like this, you watch to see how not to do the story, so it's interesting to see the Muppets balance serious moments with comical moments, but use actual prose from the book.


Media Man: You're so right on that, Sam. The Muppets could've easily made this an overly goofy, silly adaptation of the book but they actually treat the source material with the respect and dignity it deserves and stay very true to the legendary work of Charles Dickens. It's what we expect from an adaptation of A Christmas Carol and I imagine that's why many Dickens enthusiasts love this movie.


So it succeeds as an adaptation of A Christmas Carol. How is it as a movie in general? Honestly, it's good on its own merits too. It's what you expect in a family-friendly movie where we have the funny stuff, colourful characters and bouncy musical numbers for the kids and the dark themes, emotional moments and recognizable celebrities for the parents and it's easy to imagine families gathering together to watch this movie for the holiday season.


Sam: There actually are some kids that were introduced to the book through this movie, so you're not too far off. If "Mickey's Christmas Carol," was not their introduction to Scrooge's story, it's usually this one.


Fun fact: This one is said to be the best adaptation of the book by Charles Dickens' descendants, along with some people who work at the Dickens Family Museum, so if it's a must watch if you want to see a faithful adaptation!


Media Man: Absolutely. If there's anything to criticize about this movie, it's only that if you're familiar with A Christmas Carol then you won't find a lot of surprises with this one. It's a faithful adaptation with a Muppet twist to add something new to it yes, but the plot is still that same familiar Christmas Carol story that you know all too well so if you're in for an adaptation that plays with the formula and has a twist on the story to make it seem new again, then you might be disappointed. This is a movie where what you see is what you get and for some, that might be a turnoff. Otherwise, I have nothing really to criticize about this movie? How about you Sam?


Sam: Actually, I'm kinda with you, if you watched any other adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," and you wanna see something new, this one is not gonna be your cup of tea. Not to say it's a bad thing, as it is a great story overall, and the way the Muppets tell it is pretty darn cool.


Media Man: Indeed it is. With The Muppets Christmas Carol, you don't expect anything more or less with it. You get The Muppets telling a Christmas Carol, and that's what you get and it makes for a fun, festive, frolic of a film for everyone to enjoy...


Section 2: The Characters


So how do The Muppets do at portraying these iconic Dickensian characters? Let's go through them one-by-one.


We have the headman himself, Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Sir Michael Caine). This version of Scrooge is just what you expect from any version of Ebenezer Scrooge and they don't really do anything all that different with him except for one small change where this Scrooge is such a jerk that he wanted to make Bob Cratchit work all-day Christmas Day as well and had to be talked out of it, which wasn't all that necessary as it didn't change anything in the story all that much. But Michael Caine's performance makes for one of the most enjoyable portrayals of Scrooge for he effortlessly captures the miserable miser side of Scrooge before the ghosts visit and just as effortlessly captures the reformed and joyous side of Scrooge after the ghosts visit. Michael especially deserves so much credit for playing his part completely straight even when surrounded by cartoony puppet characters. I imagine it's hard to keep a straight face when you're surrounded by The Muppets but Caine pulls it off and we have a very enjoyable version of Scrooge as a result. No complaints about how he's written or portrayed here, he's perfect.


And we have the equally as perfect casting of Kermit the Frog (played by Steve Whitmere) as Bob Cratchit. Let's face it, who else was gonna play this guy in The Muppets Christmas Carol? Kermit sells the desperate situation of Bob Cratchit flawlessly and despite being a puppet, he really makes you feel sorry for him as any actor playing Bob Cratchit would. The desperation he feels and the meek and mildness in his voice when he interacts with Scrooge are perfectly handled here and are so true-to-text on how Bob Cratchit should be portrayed. Steve Whitmere especially deserves a round of applause for his fantastic performance here. This was his first time portraying Kermit after his original puppeteer, Jim Henson, passed away two years before this movie would be released. Not only is his Kermit voice a spot-on impression but he manages to make the role his own too and he gives an endearingly sweet performance that only amplifies how well Kermit suits the role of Bob Cratchit for this adaptation.


Sam: I agree, Steve was a great successor to Jim after he passed and even with him playing a different character technically as Cratchet, it makes sense to have Kermit play him, it just fits perfectly.


We also Gonzo (played by Dave Goelz) as Charles Dickens himself and Rizzo the Rat (also played by Steve Whitmere) narrating the story. We already mentioned how Gonzo quotes the actual prose from the book, but we also gotta mention how funny they are, as not only Rizzo questions how omniscient Dickens is as a storyteller, but in some parts of the movie, they both get beat up which is honestly really funny.


We also have Kermit's nephew, Robin the Frog as Cratchit's son, Tiny Tim, who much like his uncle, plays his part very well. While Tim is more of a minor character, he still plays an important part, and Robin does the part like you expect him too, so it warms your heart when you see him.


Media Man: Indeed-y. This version of Tiny Tim is as charming and sympathetic as most other versions of the character and he also gets one of the best musical numbers with "Bless Us All" but we'll cover that later.


Naturally, Emily Cratchit is played by Miss Piggy (played by Frank Oz) and I love how they manage to downplay her diva style personality for this movie as it really would've been out of place for a Christmas Carol movie. Hell, this movie proves that it's somehow possible for Miss Piggy to make you cry when she's mourning for Tiny Tim and Frank Oz's performance only adds to that! These puppeteers really don't get enough credit for the work they put into these things, I swear. They're so good at what they do!


And now onto the ghosts. We have the Ghost of Christmas Past (voiced by Jessica Fox) who is given a unique portrayal as this floating ghostly child like puppet rather than the illuminated man or woman we see in other versions of the story. I found that a neat twist on the character to have the one who represents the past be portrayed as a child as if the ghost is so far from the past that it's back when it was still a child.


But the most unique take on these iconic ghosts is easily Christmas Present (played by Jerry Nelson). I cannot give the writers enough credit for this fun twist on the character in where he's portrayed as absent-minded because he's always living in the present. That's so funny and clever and I adore it!


Sam: Now what about the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come? Oh my goodness, in any adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," this spirit has to be the spookiest out of all of them, and even for the Muppets, this one is no exception. The way it stands ominously still and points is creepy, not helping the fact it never shows it's face, and it does a great job giving its presence. Easily one of the creepiest thing associated with the Muppets besides Uncle Deadly.


Now let's get to some of the more minor characters. First is not just the spirit of Jacob Marley, Scrooge's long-dead partner, but it's a pair of Marley's, Jacob and Robert, played appropriately by those old heckling geezers, Statler and Waldorf (played by Jerry Nelson and Dave Goelz). These two are appropriate and unique not only for their quips, but also, the way they talk about their lives' work and then shudder is pretty in tune with what Marley is like in the book.


Of course, I gotta talk about the one casting choice that had to happen, Fozzie Bear (also played by Frank Oz) as, not Fezziwig, but Fozziwig. Maybe they were on the nose at first, but as soon as they realized they can use Fozziwig, they wrote "YES" all over the contract!


Media Man: I'm sure the writers were very happy with that pun. XD


Now when it comes to the human characters aside from Scrooge, we have Fred Scrooge (played by Steven Mackintosh) who is the usual nice guy that we know and love from the book while also having a pretty sassy side to him, especially when he quips at Scrooge's expense "that is certainly true" and "that is certainly not true" at one point. I always enjoy Steven's charming performance as Fred and how he comes across as a really friendly guy, as Fred should do in this story.


We also have Belle (played by Meredith Braun), Scrooge's love from his youth. Belle isn't in it much, as is usually the case in A Christmas Carol adaptations but she does leave a big impression with the part she plays in Scrooge's backstory and Meredith plays the part beautifully. She even gets her own musical number which didn't get used in the end and she does it well here too.


The characters are true to their original selves in the book and the human and Muppet cast play them brilliantly. Not all of them have unique new takes on them but the ones that do are fun incarnations of the characters and I'm sure that this is an adaptation that'll make you enjoy these versions of these iconic characters.


Section 3: The Cinematography


The Muppets never cease to amaze me with how great the cinematography tends to be in their movies and what they can do with puppets in these sets. This movie is no exception.


Sam: Now as someone who has seen the previous Muppet films, it's made clear that they shoot these films straight on. And it makes sense, they were thinking about hiding the puppeteers. This is the first Muppet film to have more interesting angles because they actually built sets so human actors and Muppets can exist on the same floor. When you first see London, you can tell it's not even a real city, but it's not a miniature either, it's a...medium-ture. XD There's also some shots that must've taken some real skill to accomplish, like one small shot of Kermit locking a door. That shot alone must have been hard to shoot, but it's done very convincingly.


This is also the first Muppet film to use XGI the puppeteers for certain shots like when Gonzo latches on to Scrooge and Christmas Past, and a shot where Kermit and Robin are walking down the street. If there's one thing everybody has to praise when talking about the Muppets, it's the way they accomplish making their characters feel real, and the way they achieve certain shots. :D


Media Man: Oh aye. I haven't seen many Muppet movies but the ones I have seen continuously impress me on how they film these puppets and keep the actors hidden, even in shots where the puppets are walking or standing somewhere like when Kermit watches a shooting star during "One More Sleep Til Christmas" or when Kermit and Robin are walking home together as Sam mentioned earlier. There's even a scene where Rizzo falls on top of the Cratchit family's roasting goose and they're able to make it leap up and down from foot-to-foot as it's too hot for him to stand on, and all with no puppeteer in sight! It's so clever how the filmmakers pull this off.


I especially love the costume and the puppetry on Ghost of Christmas Present. As he's human-sized and interacts with Scrooge, he can be a guy in a costume while the face is done through puppetry and it's quite an impressive effect. The design of him especially fits for what is essentially a Muppet-fied version of the character with his rather friendly looking face, cartoony proportions and the long flowing red hair. Christmas Past is another great effect too in where they filmed the puppet in water so it looks like this floating, ethereal creature out of a fantasy story. It always has this air of grace and yet uncanniness to its movements that makes it, in a way, strangely beautiful in that sense. The doll-like face also makes it look somewhat creepy as well but not too much so that it's too scary for the kids.


It's not just the puppets that look great though. Michael Caine looks great whenever he's on camera as Scrooge. His costume in the first act of the movie especially makes him look imposing and intimidating yet classy and respectable with the black smart suit, cape, top hat and cane. It's all so very Victorian England and it looks great. The costumes on the other human actors look spot-on for the time period too, really selling you that this is in Victorian England and we're truly in the days of old. The sets also help with that too with the dingy looking houses that also have a bit of a stylized look to them to make this Victorian England setting look a little more fantastical to fit the Muppets style. It's like we're in a fantasy version of the time of Charles Dickens with the stylized sets and the Muppet characters everywhere and it's such a fitting design choice for this version of A Christmas Carol.


Oh and random note, the sets even throw in a little in-joke to Michael Caine's real name. If you look closely, there's a store called "Mickelwhite", a reference to Michael Caine's real name actually being Maurice Mickelwhite. Don't you love it when the backgrounds have fun little Easter Eggs like that? ;)


Sam: Yeah, I love it when stuff like that is hidden, too. While we're at it, I should mention during the opening shot of London, one of the characters you'll notice happens to be Sprocket the dog from "Fraggle Rock." That's a cool Easter Egg as well. ^^


Media Man: Another thing this movie does visually well is also capture the feeling of Christmas. This is a movie that'll definitely have you feeling the holiday spirit from the visuals alone. Of course there's snow everywhere as is common in adaptations of A Christmas Carol but we also get Christmas decorations like trees and wreathes in places, warm candlelit rooms that really bring home that warm, holiday cheer you can't get any other time of the year and much more. I imagine that the filmmakers really had fun making and decorating these sets and giving the audience a Yuletide treat for the eyes with this film.


Is there anything to criticize about the visuals? Once again, not much. Just that it's very obvious that this film came out in the early 90's. Some of the effects haven't aged the best such as whenever a green screen is used but even at that, that feels like the most superficial of nitpicks because the rest of the cinematography is so damn good that you don't even care about the parts that haven't aged that well. They're easy to overlook because this movie looks that great and is put together so beautifully.


Sam: I agree, my only nitpick is that 90's green screen which doesn't really look that good today, but it was still impressive for its time, soi I can't complain too much. ^^


Media Man: Indeed-y. The Muppets have always defied expectations when it comes to great cinematography and this film is one of the shining examples of this.


Section 4: The Songs


This IS a Muppet movie so don't be too surprised that there are musical numbers here. And as expected from a Muppets movie, the songs are the highlight of the movie. Even to this day these tunes remain highly beloved and popular Muppet songs and also Christmas songs too.


We start off with my favourite of the bunch "Scrooge". The song is basically the whole town singing about how much Scrooge sucks as a human being and it's not only really funny with everyone insulting Scrooge behind his back as he walks to work, but it's insanely catchy too. I guarantee you'll spend all Christmas singing "There goes Mr (insert insulting name here)" when you've heard this song. It was a great way to open up the movie with a song about Scrooge and it was fitting that the first musical number should be how he's introduced. The way it's shot is great too with Scrooge's face constantly obscured be it by shadow or the camera being positioned behind or below him so we don't see him until right when the song ends. I always love hearing it when I watch this movie and it's so fun to sing to every time.


Sam: I agree, "Scrooge" also works as a good introduction to anyone who doesn't know the story, and the way they set it up is perfect. :D


The next song is "One More Sleep Til Christmas," sung by Kermit as he and a group of rats close for the night. This is the first song where Steve Whitmire sings as Kermit, and it makes for a fitting and good-feeling kinda song that Cratchit would sing. ^^


Media Man: It's a song that truly captures the excitable feeling one gets so close to Christmas. The happy, cheerful lyrics and the pleasant nature of the tune go hand-in-hand and make for a really sweet song that goes well with the merry feeling of Christmas.


Then next we have "We're Marley and Marley", sung by Statler and Waldorf as Robert and Jacob Marley respectively. I like how they turn Jacob Marley's scene into a musical number to make this a new way to tell his part of the story by doing it in musical form but they still stay true to the dark tone of Jacob's entrance with this song having murkier visuals and some pretty unpleasant lyrics as the Marleys sing about their cruelty in life and how they've been condemned to their fates as a result, and the same will happen to Scrooge unless he changes too. It's a song that's a healthy blend of dark and fun at the same time and it makes for an enjoyable listen to. It's especially addicting whenever they sing "We're Marley and Marley" in the song.


Sam: Oh yeah, this song is definitely a cool song for sure. Considering Statler and Waldorf are the hecklers of the Muppets, it's weird listening to a song by them of all people.


Okay, before we talk about the next song, we gotta talk about the elephant in the room, and that is Belle's cut song "When Love is Gone." This was cut from the theatrical release, then put back in for the VHS release, and then cut out again from the DVD. A lot of people are mixed about this song. Some like it, some hate it, and I can understand both sides. Regardless, I didn't want to talk about this too much since not many people now have seen it, but good news, Disney found a good quality copy which will be in the Disney+ release soon. :D


Media Man: Aye. Having listened to it myself, it has a nice sombre melody to it but Meredith Braun's rather breathy vocals take it down a peg for me. Still, I think they should've kept it in the movie as it added more to Belle's character and her decision to leave Scrooge in the end while providing extra context to Rizzo crying, Scrooge's emotional reaction afterwards and even the end when they start singing "The Love We Found" to close off the movie. Speaking of Scrooge, I love how he joins in with Belle at one point and Michael Caine plays it as if Scrooge is just barely holding back tears as Belle finishes the song, showing how much this moment really wounds him emotionally. It's a lovely song number that should've stayed in if you ask me.


And now we move onto another of my favourite songs in the movie, "It Feels Like Christmas" which is sung by Christmas Present. It's a jolly, upbeat song that talks about the happy side of Christmas and what makes it truly feel like the holiday we know and love it as whether it's the singing of a street corner choir or going home and getting warm by the fire. The song starts off as just Christmas Present but then the civilians start to join in and it becomes a whole town-sized musical number that is so joyous and full of happy energy that you can't help but join in and feel good afterwards. I'd even say this song is what the feeling of Christmas is like in the form of a song, it lifts you up, gets you feeling all jolly and cheerful and you just feel like you've had an enjoyable Christmas party with friends and families afterwards. Absolute classic and Jerry Nelson deserves all the praise he gets for his performance of this fantastic number.


Sam: Heck yeah, definitely one of the best songs in the movie. ^^


Now we move onto the next song, "Bless Us All," sung by Robin the Frog. This is sung when Scrooge sees how Bob Cratchet's family is doing, even with the few money they have, yet Tiny Tim is still thankful for what they have. This is definitely the perfect Tiny Tim song as Robin has a good singing voice, and it's even more heart-warming as Kermit, Piggy, and the other Cratchet children join in.


Media Man: It's a song that is pretty saccharine and sweet by nature but also carries an air of sadness to it considering Tiny Tim's condition and that this could be the last family song moment the Cratchits have together before Tim's eventual passing. Even Miss Piggy sounds like she's barely holding back tears when she sings her parts. It's a sweet, uplifting song that carries the feeling of Christmas in every lyric and is otherwise just a perfect musical number to give to Tiny Tim, especially with it being somewhat based around his famous line of "God bless us everyone".


And finally, Scrooge gets his own musical number with "Thankful Heart". I like how they saved this for after Scrooge turns good as it would've been too silly to give him a musical number when he's still a miserable miser. Michael Caine may not be a phenomenal singer but he performs it so earnestly and joyfully that you don't really care and get swept up in the fun he's having performing this tune. It has a memorable tune to it, a catchy chorus and is easy to join in with as the other singers repeat after Scrooge when he sings certain lines. This was the perfect musical number to give to Scrooge as it radiates all the new joy and energy he now has in life again after his life-changing experiences and also carries one of the true meanings of Christmas in it, and that is being thankful. Christmas time is often a time we express how thankful we are for what we have and this song is all about that. It's fun, it's uplifting and all round enjoyable. You don't need a thankful heart in order to enjoy this tune as you'll enjoy it regardless.


Sam: I agree with you, while Caine is not the best singer, you still get a good feeling from Scrooge when he changes, and it feels so genuine, you can't help but smile with him. ^^


Media Man: Too right. This movie is one of the most beloved musicals for a reason. It's a movie that makes the soundtrack one of its highlights and makes a fun experience even more enjoyable as a result. If you want a fun, festive soundtrack, this is the movie for you.


Conclusion


So that's The Muppets Christmas Carol. It's alright. Nah, it's more than alright, it's bloody brilliant! XD The story is a faithful adaptation of A Christmas Carol with a fun Muppet twist on the formula, the characters are perfectly casted, the acting is top notch, the cinematography continues to show why The Muppets are amazing at what they can do and the soundtrack is pure Christmas cheer in the form of music. I don't even have to recommend you to watch it because chances are you already watch it every Christmas. So for Christmas this year, watch it again! You deserve to treat yourself like that. ^^


Sam: Oh yeah, I'm pretty sure most of you have already seen it, but for those who haven't, just see it already! It's one of the best adaptations of "A Christmas Carol," and also one of the best Muppet movies ever. Especially give it another watch if you have seen it already for it's 30th anniversary. :D


Anyway, thanks for letting me join you for this review, Mr. Media Man. ^^


Media Man: My pleasure, Sam. Thanks for joining me. :)


That's it for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you all to share your thoughts down below. Do you like this movie, do you not? Feel free to comment.


Join me on Christmas Eve as I review my favourite Christmas movie of all time, The Polar Express. See you then everyone!

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