By Eve Mustin
When thinking about what to write the Christmas print article on, only one film came to mind: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). Turning 30 in 2022, this cult classic makes a regular appearance on British TV screens this time of year. The Muppet Christmas Carol is a unique retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, featuring a cast of much-loved Muppets, and a feel-good soundtrack.
Against the backdrop of a snowy Victorian London, we follow the comedic duo of Gonzo (David Goelz) who depicts Charles Dickens, and his friend Rizzo the Rat (Steve Whitmire), as they narrate the events of Christmas Eve. By addressing the audience directly, the pair are able to break the fourth wall, establishing an intimate relationship with the viewer. Michael Caine’s exemplary performance is underpinned by his dedication to the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. As one of the only human characters in the film, director Brian Henson recalled Caine’s approach to the role in a 2022 article for the BBC: “He just said he wasn’t going to ever try to be funny in the film.” He played it as though he was onstage in a Royal Shakespeare production. If an actor tries to compete with the silliness and upstage the Muppets, it doesn’t work. Michael gave the characters a real nemesis in the film.”
The juxtaposition of the jolly Muppets with the miserable Scrooge makes the latter’s depiction even more realistic. Their relationship just works somehow. Caine fits right into their chaotic ensemble, first as a villain and later as a dear friend. The anthropomorphism of the Muppets makes us forget that they are puppets playing Dickens’ literary characters. They not only bring a comedic value to the film, but also provide a well-intentioned message: that charity and kindness towards others, rather than greed and selfishness, is what brings Scrooge true happiness. This moral resonates with the viewer during the Christmas period, making The Muppet Christmas Carol a year-after-year favourite.
The most memorable element of the film has to be the soundtrack written by Paul Williams and composed by Miles Goodman. Whether it’s the moving “When Love is Gone”, performed by Belle (Meredith Braun) with a tearful Scrooge singing along, or the joyful “It Feels Like Christmas”, sang by the Ghost of Christmas Present (Jerry Nelson and David Rudman), the musical performances are able to touch a cross-generational audience. These catchy songs have established themselves as Christmas classics that are essential to British culture. Puppets Statler and Waldorf’s “Marley and Marley” (Jerry Nelson and Dave Goelz) is a particular favourite of mine. As a child, these chained ghosts certainly instilled some fear in me. But rewatching through an adult lens, the song is amusing whilst also spreading an important message of repentance – a common technique of the film.
As seen with the Cratchit family, The Muppet Christmas Carol also engenders the value of family. Despite their financial struggles, the Cratchits demonstrate that true wealth lies in our relationships with others. Upon his redemption arc, Scrooge is welcomed into the family by Bob Cratchit, played by Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire). During the song “Thankful Heart”, Scrooge also visits his nephew Fred (Steve Mackintosh) to gift him Christmas presents, in a scene that represents the reparation of their relationship. All in all, The Muppet Christmas Carol evokes a strong sense of nostalgia for viewers. The combination of a timeless story and childhood Muppets characters, filmed in the aftermath of The Muppets creator Jim Henson’s passing, makes it so special 30 years on.
Illustration: Zahra Haroon