One of the first live stage productions I remember seeing is Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol (1843). What a lot of people do not seem to realize about this classic piece of Victorian literature is that it was originally published as a novella, not a play. Of course, it was soon adapted for the stage, but not by its original author, though with Dicken’s approval. Still, it is one of the most familiar Christmas stories of all time, and performances of it have been put on every year since its publication. Because Hollywood is more often unoriginal, and/or likes to fancy itself as an extension of the theater arts, it has naturally made its way onto film. There have been several versions made over the decades since we began watching movies, one of the strangest being the one starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. I say that somewhat tongue in cheek because the installment I have chosen for today is The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992).
I guess in order to ground The Muppet Christmas Carol more in the source material, they decided to make Gonzo the Great (voiced by Dave Goelz) Charles Dickens and the narrator of the story. He introduces us to the old man who put the “miser” in “miserly,” Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine). With a musical number (yes, this is a musical), he strides through a Muppets style London to his banking concern. Once there, his small army of rat employees, and the primary clerk Bob Cratchit, who is played by Kermit the Frog (voiced by Steve Whitmire), pay extra care to appear busy. It is Christmas Eve, and Scrooge’s nephew Fred (Steven Mackintosh) invites his uncle to Christmas dinner the next day. With his trademark “Bah, humbug!” Scrooge refuses the invitation, and turns down a couple of charity seekers while he is at it. Bob is the next to entreat him, asking if he and the rest of the employees could have Christmas Day off. Only when Bob reminds his employer that no other businesses will be open on that day does he agree to the proposition. At the end of the work day, Scrooge makes his ornery way back to his lonely home, eats a solitary meal, and goes to bed. Not long into his slumber, he is awakened by two ghosts. These are the disembodied souls of Jacob and Robert Marley, played respectively by Statler (voiced by Jerry Nelson) and Waldorf (voiced by Dave Goelz). They are Scrooge’s former business partners, and they have come to warn him that this night he will be visited by three spirits, the hope being that he changes his greedy ways. The first is the Ghost of Christmas Past (voiced by Jessica Fox), who takes Scrooge back to his childhood. There we see an adolescent Scrooge, who as a schoolboy was only interested in his work. Then there is the Christmas party hosted by his first employer, the rubber chicken manufacturer Fozziwig, played by Fozzie the Bear (voiced by Frank Oz). At the soiree, Scrooge meets Belle (Meredith Braun), and they fall in love. Unfortunately, Scrooge loves money more, a trait that Belle recognizes, and she refuses to marry him. At the sorrow of reliving this moment, Scrooge begs to be returned to his bed chamber. His wish is granted, only to be visited shortly thereafter by the jolly Ghost of Christmas Present (voiced by Jerry Nelson). Scrooge is ushered into the home of Bob Cratchit, where he assumes unkind words will be said by his employee’s family. Instead, while Miss Piggy’s Emily Cratchit (voiced by Frank Oz) sees Scrooge as a taskmaster, Bob defends his boss and remarks on the blessing it is to have a job. This is reinforced by their sickly frog son Tiny Tim (voiced by Jerry Nelson), who also shows his thankfulness for their meager Christmas supper. Scrooge is evidently moved, and it makes it harder to hear what the Ghost of Christmas Present says about Tiny Tim, that the young frog will not live to see the next Christmas. This troubling news lingers with Scrooge as he is visited by the next specter, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who brings Scrooge face-to-face not only with Tiny Tim’s demise, but his own. It all drives home the point that Scrooge needs to be kinder, and to not be stingy with the trappings of wealth that he has accumulated. His tearful vow to do better in this regard brings him back to his bedroom on Christmas Day. When the date is confirmed by people on the street, he rushes out to find a feast for the Cratchits, particularly Tiny Tim. By finding room in his heart for charity, he spreads life to Tiny Tim and himself.
What is interesting about The Muppet Christmas Carol is just how much it lines up with the source material, or at least the most familiar parts. It does have the usual Muppet shenanigans, stuff I appreciate as a fan of Jim Henson’s creations. At the same time, it has all the heart of the Victorian morality tale that only Charles Dickens could pen. The main theme is a familiar one to us Catholics and Christians, that being the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge. All the ghosts and showing Scrooge aspects of his past, present, and future, is meant to show the miserly money man the error of his ways. Indeed, in watching a movie like this, or its stage iteration, one could wish that God gave us such evident signs that we need to clean up our act. Of course, God does just that if we know where to look. My girlfriend often refers to these as “neon signs.” For me, it is more of an impression or feeling I get about a person or situation. Scrooge’s came in the form of a dream. With Christmas, God gave a clear indication to all of us that He wanted to redeem us, for it is the reason Jesus came into the world. No matter where you look, the idea is that it takes a personal relationship with God in order to not only receive the message, but understand it. While it is not suggested in the film that this is the result of Scrooge’s Faith, I bring up these relationships because God can speak to us however He likes, astral projection or otherwise. Recognizing it is often the tricky part.
There have been a lot of versions of Charles Dicken’s classic Christmas tale, but I like The Muppet Christmas Carolbecause it is a more light-hearted approach to Dicken’s more staid prose. Light is another good word to use when talking about anything related to this season. Jesus brought light into the world that has touched millions of souls. The Muppets attempt a less serious form of the same thing, and that has its own merit. Consider this an unequivocal recommendation.