Let's not beat around the bush. I adore The Muppet Christmas Carol. Since my parents bought it for me on VHS back in 1993, it is the only Christmas film that I make a point of watching at least once every year. Taking one of the greatest stories ever written from one of the greatest writers of all time and making at least a half-decent film out of it shouldn't be too hard a task. Yet, there are films out there which have completely failed to make anything decent out of Dickens' story and some have even managed to somehow make it boring.
The biggest problem anyone faces with adapting A Christmas Carol is making it stand out from the other versions of it. To say there's an overabundance of adaptations is a radical understatement. On that basis, you'd think that one of the key ways to help your version stand out is by adopting a gimmick. There's so many failed examples of this though. The last high-profile adaptation was Robert Zemeckis' take on the story with Jim Carrey as Scrooge. The gimmick? Motion capture animation and 3D. Exactly what the story didn't need. Elsewhere, you've got modernizations, a potentially decent idea, but I can't name one that worked. I know some will stand up for Scrooged, but, for me, it was OK at best. Then there's A Christmas Carol 2000, in which ITV decided that a modernization with Ross Kemp playing Scrooge was a good idea.
So, why does The Muppet Christmas Carol work? The main reason is it's refusal to resort to any level of pretentiousness, a real sticking point for some of the worst versions of the story. Here, there is no belief present that they can add anything to the story or make it better, because they know that they can't. Instead, they take the story and everything that's great about it. Then, most crucially of all, they make sure that The Muppets themselves are made to fit around the story, rather than the other way round. I'm not providing a synopsis. If you don't know the plot, where have you been? In addition, I'm also not going to worry too much about avoiding spoilers from this point on.
In this adaptation, Michael Caine plays Scrooge and, frankly, it's inspired casting. Scrooge is a character that demands an actor with credibility, but the presence of The Muppets would mean that a lot of actors out there would not have taken this role seriously and would have completely phoned in the performance. Caine's not doing that here. He's crafting what I honestly believe to be one of his best performances. The usual style of performance for Caine wouldn't have worked here and it's refreshing to see little to none of his usual mannerisms present here. He delivers a fantastic interpretation and one that feels human, rather than the overly animated cartoonish performances (hello again, Jim Carrey) that we often find ourselves subjected to. That's not to say he's relatable. He's every bit as reprehensible as he should be, but because he seems like a real person, it means that his development over the course of the film feels legitimate and, in no way, forced. As for his singing and dancing, you'll just have to learn to forgive him for that and realize that it could be worse, you could be watching him in Jaws IV.
The presence of Caine also helps in another matter, as he makes sure the story is respected, allowing a balance to form between that and the antics of The Muppets, who fill most of the other roles. Kermit takes the biggest role of Bob Cratchitt and is really the only instance of a Muppet playing it straight, with the exception of a Kermit Jr. playing Tiny Tim. Elsewhere, the Muppets are pretty much kept to the comedy characters, as they should be. Rizzo's playing the sidekick to Gonzo's narrative performance as Charles Dickens and while Fozziwig may seem an obvious joke, it's a necessary one.
To be honest, the only place where the presence of a Muppet is fumbled is in Miss Piggy playing Emily Cratchit, or rather Miss Piggy playing Miss Piggy, but going by the name of Emily Cratchit. The jokes work fine for her. Piggy's not exactly my favourite Muppet, but the traditional and necessary elements of her character worked here. The problem is when they expect us to take her seriously as the grieving mother. It just doesn't work and renders what should be one of the most poignant moments of the story feeling a little bit hokey. To be honest though, it probably won't bother you too much and, as my score will demonstrate, it's not something that gets held against the film. In the long run, it's a minor gripe.
Then, we have the Muppet-style comedy transitioning into the Dickensian world and there's only one word to describe how they've handled this. Masterful. First off, it;s actually funny. A requirement that shouldn't need stating about comedy, but I watched Disaster Movie last week and learnt that, apparently, it does. There's also the flawless way that each joke fits into the story without feeling like it's intruding. Each joke is fast and to the point and, crucially, they don't dwell on them. The joke happens, you laugh and they head straight back to the story, meaning that the focus is never lost. They also don't feel the need to saturate every scene with them. The 15 (or so) minutes assigned to The Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come is pretty much devoid of jokes, relying almost entirely on the words of Dickens to bring out any humour, but, for the most part, keeping the necessarily morbid tone that the scenes require. As a result, that element of the story feels particularly powerful, as we're left to focus on Scrooge's despaired realization of where his actions will take him. If the earlier jokes weren't funny, this wouldn't have felt anywhere near as strong as it did and it also wouldn't provide the relief and joy of the final moments as we return to the jovial nature that dominates the rest of the film.
Finally, there are the songs. I'll say it now. Musicals are not my thing. I would much rather someone just tell me how they feel, rather than sing it to me. Yet, despite that, I love a lot of the songs from the film. I'm sure it helps that I first heard them when I was 6 and far less discerning than I am now, but regardless they are well written songs and my only issue comes from the deletion of one of them. Again, this is not something I will hold against the film as it is entirely down to studio interference, rather than creative choice. The song that's deleted is called When Love Is Gone. It's not the best song and it's almost overbearingly shmaltzy. Despite this, removing it causes far more issues than the quality of the song ever would. The most noticeable is a jarring edit, one of the worst I've ever seen in my life. Even if you haven't seen this film with the song included, you'll almost definitely still notice it and it won't sit right with you. Added to this are the facts that it almost makes the entire character of Belle border on pointless as she's gone faster than she arrives, as well as rendering the whole point of the film's final song effectively moot.
I found myself not sure how to end this review, because I kind of stated my conclusion in my introduction. I also would like to think that my love of this film has been summed up. So, I'll end with this. This review is my first perfect score that I've posted. This is probably more to do with the fact that it's Christmas time more than anything else. When I think about it though, The Muppet Christmas Carol is probably the first film I ever saw that I would have given a perfect score back then and still give a perfect score to now. On that basis, I think it's a fairly appropriate first.