I (Hamlette) first saw The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) when I was in college. It became an instant favorite, and a friend and I made a point of watching it together every year before our Christmas break. But after college, I didn't watch it again for more than a decade, so when I started it up last night, I was a little apprehensive as to whether or not I would still enjoy it.
Happily, I did! In fact, I think I like it better now than I did back then. I've seen several other movie versions since then, so I had more to compare it to than just Charles Dickens' original story. While some movie versions can get too sticky-sweet or too silly, the Muppet version blends humor and heartfelt emotion expertly.
First off, this version benefits greatly from Michael Caine playing Ebenezer Scrooge. Having someone able to convey so much depth with the simplest gestures really grounds the story in reality and keeps it from getting over-the-top goofy. Caine earns our sympathy from the first. We glimpse a lonely, unhappy man beneath his growl and bluster, which means he doesn't have to work to win us over, but instead can help us explore our own attitudes about generosity and helping others by letting us watch him learn about such ideas.
Secondly, framing the story by using Dickens as a narrator is a great idea because he can simply explain parts of the story instead of having to show every piece acted out. This shortens the movie, of course, and also helps keep kids engaged and allows the filmmakers to inject some extra humor now and then without messing with the story too much. Gonzo as Dickens and Rizzo the Rat as Rizzo the Rat help us navigate the Victorian era, discuss literary devices like omniscient narration, and generally make me laugh a lot.
A Muppet Christmas Carol has lots of songs too, and they're actually quite singable. My favorite is "It Feels Like Christmas," and you can listen to the whole soundtrack here on YouTube.
The whole movie has a great blend of references to The Muppet Show and unexpectedly touching moments. When I watched it last night, I had tears in my eyes more than once. It's family-friendly, except that the ghosts can be a little too scary for young children. I think my 8- and 5-year-olds could handle it fine, but my 4-year-old would be freaked out, so I'm waiting to show this to them all until next year.
If you'd like a little taste of what this movie is like, here's the trailer:
Next year is the 25th anniversary of this charming Christmas movie. If you haven't seen it yet, or haven't seen it lately, find a copy and try it out!