The Muppet Christmas Carol (20th Anniversary Edition) Review

The Muppets’ take on the Dickens classic, starring Michael Caine as Scrooge, makes its Blu-ray debut

Probably the least Muppet-y of the films featuring everyone’s favorite collection of fur-lined puppets, The Muppet Christmas Carol nonetheless makes for a satisfying interpretation of the Charles Dickens classic. It generally lets Michael Caine hog the spotlight as Christmas-hater Ebenezer Scrooge, with Gonzo adding narration in his role as Dickens himself. Beyond that, there are numerous songs (though, regrettably, not the deleted “When Love Is Gone” number), laughs aplenty, and Muppets “acting” in roles such as Kermit the Frog playing Bob Cratchit.

Much of the charm in seeing the Muppets recreate the oft-told tale of Scrooge discovering the yuletide spirit comes from the film’s willingness to pair human actors with puppets absent any winking or acknowledgement as to what is occurring. The result is seeing Caine play it all completely straight, as though he’s not acting against a collection of inanimate objects being penetrated by men’s hands. It’s fun, and often funny, and, for those small children unfamiliar with the story being told, it might also be educational. The nice thing about the film, as directed by Brian Henson, is that it’s faithful enough to the Dickens classic as to be a worthy introduction for any and all newcomers.

Of course, the original didn’t include Rizzo the Rat as a featured player but such liberties are part of the film’s charm. We have here a very prominent role for Gonzo, who gets significantly more screen time than Kermit, Miss Piggy or Fozzie, all of whom are relegated to secondary parts. His contributions prove to be very much in the vein of the expected Muppet wit and irreverence. The film, as a whole, indeed makes for a worthy entry in the series and stands as a nice carrying of the torch by the younger Henson following the sudden, unexpected death of his father and Muppets creator Jim Henson.

While the most well-known Muppets can indeed feel almost like incidental figures in the film, there are interesting additions which help to offset their absence. Each of the three ghosts – of Christmases past, present and future – are embodied by unusual creations. A fairylike creature represents the past and a dark, ominous one is used for the future. The Ghost of Christmas Present is the only figure of the three who’s a Muppet but even he is a large, untraditional variety who is shown to age during his encounter with Scrooge. The prevailing feeling is that the collection of spectres represents something far more somber than what would usually exist in the Muppet world. It’s an admirable move to remain so faithful to the darkness present in the original story, to the point of not softening the ghosts with the sort of humor inherent in typical Muppet characters.

Liberties taken include giving Jacob Marley a brother so that Statler and Waldorf could provide a one-two punch of ghoulish heckling, but it all mostly registers as okay in the whole grand scheme of everything Muppet. It’s fair to consider the likely goals of a film like this against any and all obstacles, and then determine how successful it was able to achieve that balance. In this case, The Muppet Christmas Carol seems to have passed the test. It’s a generally light retelling which is bold enough to invite in the accompanying dimness without losing sight of the main objective. The Muppets are brought in for support rather than star turns. You’ll either like that or you won’t, and the abundance of songs could color opinions even more, but there’s a good feeling of respecting Dickens’ story without having the Muppets overshadow it. The result is enough, I think, to satisfy fans of both.

The Disc

Walt Disney Home Entertainment is releasing The Muppet Christmas Carol on Blu-ray in a 20th Anniversary edition given the additional (unnecessary) moniker of the “It’s Not Easy Being Scrooge Special Edition.” We need not speak of such a distinction ever again. The disc is region-free.

Video quality comes through nicely, with some visible grain remaining and any and all damage having been eliminated. It’s presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The color palette favors drab greys and cooler shades but the occasional brighter colors such as Kermit’s fur also look excellent. The detail on display in instances like the Muppets’ fur is a clear improvement over previous iterations. The crispness overall perhaps sits a notch below expectations for a title coming straight from cinemas, but I can find no worthwhile complaints about this transfer.

Audio registers well, courtesy of an English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. The dialogue and, particularly, the songs sound clean, if somewhat flat. It’s a pleasant listen that seems faithful to the source, but isn’t one to wow the masses. Volume remains steady throughout the picture. Optional subtitles are also available in English for the hearing impaired, Spanish and French. There are also dubs in French 5.1 Dolby Digital and Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital.

Special features are enjoyable but nonetheless sure to upset fans of the film who’d like to see the “When Love Is Gone” musical number restored or at least provided in some form as it was on the original DVD edition. It’s nowhere to be found here. That earlier volume had the song inserted into the film in an included fullscreen version, a compromise nonetheless seen as better than nothing. By comparison, I suppose we can label this as nothing.

Present are two commentaries and a few worthwhile carryovers from the standard definition edition. One of the commentaries, anchored by Gonzo and Rizzo but also featuring Kermit, is new and amounts to silly fun. The track with director Brian Henson is a far more informative listen, diving into the specifics of the production. It’s been ported over from the earlier release.

Also repeated is the “Frogs, Pigs and Humbug: Unwrapping a Holiday Classic” (21:56) featurette. This is hosted by Gonzo and Rizzo, who are also joined by Brian Henson, and provides a humorous behind-the-scenes overview of the film. Particularly enjoyable is “Pepe Profiles – Gonzo: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Weirdo” (5:29), in which everyone’s favorite king prawn hosts a probing discussion about the blue, hook-nosed Muppet. The “On the Set – Blooper Reel” (2:33) is a brief mixture of mistakes which seem to be intentional and some that most likely weren’t. A final extra is the “Christmas Around the World” (2:58) piece that has our loyal guides Gonzo and Rizzo discuss some of the holiday customs found in other countries. All of these previously available supplements are in standard definition.

New here is a Disney Intermission feature where Muppet characters perform Christmas carols when the film is paused. There are five different varieties.

A second disc found inside the case can access a digital copy of the movie.

clydefro jones

Updated: Nov 22, 2012

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