The Muppet Christmas Carol: Anniversary Edition Review

It is Christmas Eve and on the streets of old London, Charles Dickens (The Great Gonzo) is introducing the story of the haunting of Ebenezer Scrooge, beginning his tale with, "The Marleys were dead to begin with..." As the streets ring out to the sound of singing, the merriment is interrupted by the arrival of the wicked Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine), a money-lender who acknowledges Christmas day by demanding that his assistant, Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog) gift wrap the eviction notices. That night, as Bob Cratchit decorates the office, closes its doors for the holiday and returns home to his wife and family for Christmas, Scrooge goes home to an empty house. Lighting one piece of coal and eating a meagre supper of cheese and stale bread, Scrooge notices the lamps flicker and the doorbell ring. Out of the darkness come the ghosts of his old business partners, Jacob and Robert Marley (Statler and Waldorf), who have been locked into shackles for all eternity for their wickedness in life. Warning Scrooge that he will share their fate unless he changes his ways, they promise that three ghosts will visit Scrooge that night, the first of them coming as the bell strikes one...

In preparing If You're Feeling...Festive by looking through the list of Christmas titles reviewed for DVD Times over the years, there was a feeling of disappointment at seeing the only version of A Christmas Carol reviewed for site was a terrible musical version that starred Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge and Jane Krakowski as a pole-dancing Ghost Of Christmas Past. Amongst all of the film versions of A Christmas Carol, that one's probably the worst, a far cry from Alistair Sim's Scrooge from 1951, George C Scott's Christmas Carol of 1984 or even the Patrick Stewart version produced for the Hallmark Channel in 1999. In acknowledging the controversy that comes with saying such a thing, this is a personal favourite, telling the story of A Christmas Carol without letting the characters of the Muppets trample all over its sentiments. It's an almost perfect film for the season, so much so that it ought to come bundled with a mince pie and a glass of sherry.

Part of the film's charm is how easily the Muppet characters make slip into the story of A Christmas Carol. The Great Gonzo is the voice of the narrator, cast as Charles Dickens while Kermit The Frog and Miss Piggy, themselves romantically involved on The Muppet Show, appear as Bob Cratchit and his wife Emily while Fozzie Bear appears as Fozziewig, proprietor of Fozziewig's Rubber Chicken factory where Scrooge earns his apprenticeship. Other Muppets fit in here and there in cameos, including the Swedish Chef, Animal and the rest of the Muppet house band and Dr Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, with Sam The Eagle enjoying playing Scrooge's headmaster, who sends his pupil into the world of work with a, "It is the American way!" before he is corrected by Gonzo to say, "Oh... It is the British way!" But the highlights come with the appearances of Waldorf and Statler as Robert and Jacob Marley. Like their turns on The Muppet Show, they heckle both Fozziewig's Christmas speech and their own haunting of Ebenezer Scrooge, saying, "It's good to be heckling again...It's good to be doing anything again!" One of the best jokes in the film comes with Scrooge doubting their appearance in his home, "You may be a bit of undigested beef, a blob of mustard [or a] a crumb of cheese. Yes...there's more gravy than of grave about you" to which Robert and Jacob reply, "What a terrible pun...Leave comedy to the bears, Ebenezer!"

However, more than anything else, the reason for the success of The Muppet Christmas Carol is that the combination of the story, the songs and the characters, it's as welcome as a hug and performed with such joy that it's a wonder the spooky Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come doesn't make his excuses and leave the film even before the bells announce his entrance. When the Ghost Of Christmas Present and Ebenezer Scrooge sing Wherever You Find Love, It Feels Like Christmas, even the snowy skies clear and a warm sun shines down on the streets of London. In that moment, the film has the colour and warmth of a roaring fire, much as it does when Kermit sings One More Sleep 'Til Christmas and Caine sings Thankful Heart at the head of a table that groans under the weight of Christmas dinners, around which guests huddle, queuing through the door and down the street to get in. It's not the most demanding telling of A Christmas Carol but neither is it beyond showing the misery of Scrooge's Christmas. Tiny Tim, limping through the Christmas Present, is remembered only in the Christmas Yet to Come by an empty chair and his walking stick, Scrooge's servants fight over the scraps of his clothing while the wraithlike Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come points Scrooge towards his own grave in a lonely churchyard. Unloved and in the words of his own nephew Fred (Steven Mackintosh), Scrooge learns the error of his ways and The Muppet Christmas Carols finds Scrooge buying the biggest turkey in the butcher's shop and spending Christmas with his friends. Charles Dickens/Gonzo ends the film by saying, "And Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all and infinitely more!" So happy an ending it will stay with its audiences thereafter, The Muppet Christmas Carol is amongst the very best of Christmas films. This DVD finally does it justice.



Transfer

Even without comparing screenshots from one release to the other, it's perfectly obvious that this Anniversary Release has finally done The Muppet Christmas Carol proud. With a colour scheme that is slightly more blue and a little colder, which adds to the seasonal ambience, The Muppet Christmas Carol looks crisp, detailed and, now in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, much less claustrophobic than it did on the old fullscreen release. Everything about this release, from the slow crawl over the rooftops of London through the appearance of the ghosts and on to the long dinner table at which Scrooge greets his guests, this widescreen release of The Muppet Christmas Carol looks great with the crisp picture, the detail in the image and the clarity of the print all coming together in a release that's what it deserved all those years ago.

P&S R2 Release (Above) / W/S Anniversary Edition (Below)


P&S R2 Release (Above) / W/S Anniversary Edition (Below)


P&S R2 Release (Above) / W/S Anniversary Edition (Below)


P&S R2 Release (Above) / W/S Anniversary Edition (Below)


P&S R2 Release (Above) / W/S Anniversary Edition (Below)

With the image having been cleaned up, so too has the soundtrack. There was a small amount of background noise on the old release but this has been largely cleaned up such that it's barely noticeable. All of the dialogue is clear, as it always way, but it's the songs that sound better. They were jolly and festive beforehand but they sound much warmer now with the remastering giving them more bottom end, thereby sounding much less harsh and tinny than they were before. All in all, a much better release than the fullscreen version from some years back and, with a tin of Roses balancing on a tummy made fat from Christmas dinner, the only way to watch the film.



Extras

The Great Gonzo and Rizzo The Rat introduce a set on On The Set Bloopers (2m34s), which, like those of the Pixar films, appear to have been planned with almost as much care as the main film. As well as a feature on The Great Gonzo (5m37s) that is introduced by Pepe and sees contributions from Fozzie Bear, Kermit The Frog and Miss Piggy, the disc rounds off with Christmas Around The World (2m59s), a short feature on how Christmas is celebrated in Australia, in the Czech Republic, Sweden, France and, as Gonzo and Rizzo put it, jolly old England.



Overall

As a final note, one that didn't fit anywhere else, When Love is Gone, the song sung by Belle, remains cut out of this release of the film much as it did on its theatrical release. However, in all other respects, this is a superb Christmas film now looking exactly as it should on DVD.

Film
9 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
3 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

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