This year has already seen the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’ birthday and is also, conveniently, the 20th anniversary of what must rate as one of the strangest screen adaptations of his perennial Yuletide story, A Christmas Carol. Directed by Brian Henson (son of the late Muppet maestro Jim Henson), Dickens’ seasonal warning against the perils of greed and moralistic tale of doing good to your fellow man, was brought successfully to life by that group of lovable felt rogues and misfits The Muppets in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), with Henson’s creations retaining that indefinable quality which gives them universal appeal.
The offbeat and quirky characteristics of the various Muppet clan members lend themselves near-perfectly to Dickens’ most famous tale of the ghoulish and supernatural. The casting is spot on throughout, with the matriarchal Miss Piggy in particular giving a stand-out performance as the quick tongued, buxom headmistress of the Cratchit family, whilst Kermit the Frog is perfectly diminutive as her mild mannered and kind hearted husband Bob, loyal coin pusher to a one Ebenezer Scrooge (good sport Michael Caine).
There are, as you would expect, a few diversions from Dickens’ original story of ghosts and regret. However, the bifurcation of Scrooge’s dead partner Jacob Marley into two bothers, Jacob and Robert, to allow for the inclusion of grouchy Muppet regulars Statler and Waldorf, is pure genius on the part of casting directors Suzanne Crowley, Mike Fenton and Gilly Poole. Such deft touches help immeasurably in terms of bringing a fresh twist to the well-known, ageing story.
The inclusion of humans, mainly in secondary or supporting roles, adds believability to the proceedings whilst not detracting or lessening the impact of the film’s main stars. Apart from Steven Macintosh as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, Michael Caine is the only other major human in the cast. His portrayal of Scrooge, the fusty and miserable moneylender, is wonderfully chilling yet pitiful, inducing sympathy for his wretched character as he is shown the mess he has made of his life and given one last opportunity to fix his ways before it is too late.
Christmas is (as we’re so often told) a time for children, and the rerelease of this magical piece of family-friendly escapism could well be the perfect antidote to the influx of big budget commercialism which will inevitably saturate the local multiplexes during the festive season. If you’ve somehow miraculously managed to avoid The Muppet Christmas Carol up until now, make sure you don’t miss out on seeing it during this limited cinematic rerun.