Charles Dickens’ novel “A Christmas Carol” is a classic piece of literature as well as a staple of the Christmas season. Its plot is well known; Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly man who mistreats his employees and has a general disregard for the welfare of others, is visited by four ghosts over the course of Christmas Eve night. The first ghost is that of his old business partner, Jacob Marley. The other three are the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. When Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning, he vows to change his ways.
“A Christmas Carol” has been retold many times, whether through pastiche, parody or adaptation, through many mediums, including theater, animation and film. One film adaptation, “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” casts Jim Henson’s famous puppets as the characters.
“The Muppet Christmas Carol” was released in December 1992. It features Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens and Rizzo the Rat, who acts as co-narrator. Kermit the Frog plays Scrooge’s put-upon employee Bob Cratchit, while Miss Piggy plays Mrs. Cratchit. The character of Marley was split into two so he could be played by Statler and Waldorf. Finally, Scrooge is played by the actor Michael Caine.
Despite the film making a few changes, such as adding in musical numbers, a bit more humor, and of course making the characters Muppets, it is a very faithful adaptation of Dickens’ original story. Though not an exact copy of the novel, it maintains the heart and soul of the original story.
“The Muppet Christmas Carol” opens with Gonzo and Rizzo on the streets of Victorian London. Gonzo proclaims himself to be Charles Dickens himself and begins to tell the audience the story of “A Christmas Carol.”
Caine as Scrooge is introduced walking to work. There, Bob Cratchit and the bookkeepers ask to have Christmas off, reasoning that there won’t be any business and that staying open would be a waste of money. Because of this, Scrooge relents. He is visited by several people over the course of the day: his nephew Fred, charity workers and a Christmas caroler, but he dismisses all of them.
When Scrooge returns home, strange things occur. First, the knocker of his door appears to turn into the face of Jacob Marley. Then, as he has his supper, Jacob and Robert Marley appear. They are weighed down by chains and lockboxes and warn Scrooge that if he does not change his ways, he will end up like them. Before they depart, they tell Scrooge that he will be visited by three other spirits.
Despite this disturbing encounter, Scrooge retires to bed and is soon visited by the first ghost. This spirit takes him to his past Christmases. He sees himself as a boy at boarding school, then a young man at a Christmas party where he meets Belle, a young woman. The last memory is of Belle leaving him and calling off their engagement after he chooses money over her. Scrooge, full of regret, tells the spirit to leave him.
The second ghost appears not by Scrooge’s bed, but outside his room. He is large and merry and takes Scrooge to two different households on Christmas Day. The first is Fred’s, where he, his wife and his guests are playing parlor games, mocking Scrooge’s greedy ways. The second location is the Cratchits’ house. Here, things are much more meager but still festive. Scrooge learns that Cratchit’s son, Tiny Tim, is ill, and the ghost states that he may not have much longer to live.
As the day goes by, the Ghost of Christmas Present ages. His red beard becomes gray, and he takes Scrooge to a cemetery before fading away.
The next and final spirit is that of Christmas Yet To Come. He takes Scrooge into the future and shows him a group of people celebrating the death of a man. The ghost then takes him to Cratchit’s house, where the family is mourning the death of Tiny Tim. The two of them return back to the cemetery. Despairing, Scrooge asks about the identity of the despised man. The spirit does not answer, and instead points to a tombstone. Scrooge discovers his own name on it and begs to know if there is still time to change his ways. The spirit still does not answer.
Scrooge wakes up to find that it is Christmas morning. Deciding to change his ways, he reconciles with Fred, and donates money to the charity workers. He visits Bob Cratchit, giving him a Christmas turkey and a raise. The film ends with a song and with Gonzo’s narration that, thanks to Scrooge’s change of heart, Tiny Tim did not die.
There are a few changes from Dickens’ novel, including the aforementioned character of Marley. One of the largest is a scene from the novel, in which the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge two starved children: Ignorance and Want. This harkens back to earlier in the novel, when Scrooge disparaged welfare and stated that the poor had the workhouses and prisons to turn to. Though this scene is important to the novel, it often gets cut from adaptations.
However, these removals don’t take away too much from the film. Aside from these changes, it is very faithful to the novel. Gonzo, as Dickens, quotes from the text and about 95% of the dialogue is Dickens’ own words. In both the novel and the film, Scrooge thinks that Marley is some hallucination brought on by indigestion and says, “There is more of gravy than of grave about you.” The Marleys, being played by Statler and Waldorf, naturally heckle him for his terrible pun. At the end of the film, Scrooge first leads Cratchit to believe he is in trouble, then reveals that he will be raising his salary. Being played by Miss Piggy, Mrs. Cratchit first threatens to raise Scrooge right off the pavement. In this way, the film is able to be faithful to both “A Christmas Carol” and to the characters of the Muppets.
Additionally, Michael Caine’s performance as Scrooge gives the film a lot of gravitas. Though human actors in Muppet movies sometimes go along with the comedy, Caine played Scrooge as the one serious character in the cast. Caine plays Scrooge as a cold-hearted miser, a man filled with regret, a man nostalgic for his childhood, and a man reduced to tearfully begging for another chance. Though his fellow actors are Muppets and not humans, his performance gives no notice to this.
Ultimately, although some aspects are changed, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” remains faithful to both source materials. It is one of the best adaptations of Charles Dickens’ novel and is worth adding to your list of Christmas movies to watch during the season.