I was born in the late 80’s, so when The Muppet Christmas Carol came out in 1992 it was my first experience with the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge. Michael Caine plays the role perfectly, the best I’ve ever seen, getting both the cold, indifferent man at the beginning and the warm, renewed man at the end just right. The Muppets were already a big hit in my house and they slot quite nicely into the story, lending it a sense of fun that is often lacking in more stolid adaptations and employing their patented wry commentary to point out the sillier elements. Yelling, “Light the lamp, not the rat!” quickly became an annoyance to my mother, who moderated my viewing of the film on VHS to once a day for her sanity. I’ve never stopped enjoying it over these 20 or so years and though movies like Die Hard or Love, Actually have joined my yearly viewing rotation, there will always be a special place for The Muppet Christmas Carol on my sentimental favorites shelf.
The best parts of the film are the songs, most of which became instant classics upon my first viewing. The introduction to Caine’s Scrooge is a delightful description of the man, the cheeriest song about a mean guy I’ve ever heard. “If he became a flavor you can bet it would be sour,” the talking vegetables opine. Later, a group of caroling ladies ponder whether or not his reputation is deserved, “Look close and there must be a sweet man inside,” until he pauses at their hat and passes by with nary a cent thrown their way. “Nah!” But the two best elements of this number aren’t in the lyrics. The first is in the way they hide Scrooge from the audience until the very end. We see bits and pieces of him, identifying his cane and sharp clothes before the man himself. Then, to underline the class relationships present in all of Dickens’ work, the Muppets that sing the song are all disheveled and kind of mean looking, not at all like Kermit or Fozzie (both of whom come into the story later as mostly their usual selves). This choice signifies that, although this is a Muppet movie, it won’t tone down the scarier elements of the story. Life in this time is tough, even for Muppets.
That scariness comes almost immediately into play with the first ghosts that visit Scrooge. Again, we get a catchy song about something that isn’t usually catchy, namely the chains and bonds placed upon the Marley brothers in the afterlife given their dedication to miserliness in their business ventures and personal lives. Statler and Waldorf split the role of Jacob Marley into two and sing a creepily upbeat song acompanied by ghostly wails and singing chains. It’s scary stuff, made more so because of the obvious effect it has on Caine’s Scrooge, who is truly spooked. Not only did it haunt my younger self’s nightmares, it also taught me the meaning of the word avarice, which I recently used to great advantage while taking my GRE.
Not all of the songs are about un-Christmas-y things, though. “It Feels Like Christmas” is perhaps the most Christmas-y Christmas song there is. Super corny and filled with Muppet touches including a cat’s purr and a giant Ghost of Christmas Present laughing while singing about how, “wherever you find love it feels like Christmas.” Often these Muppet movies allow, through their songs, the essential purposes of the books they’re adapting to shine out in a very obvious but no less wondrous way. After “It Feels Like Christmas” no amount of heartbreak or terror from the Ghost of Christmas Future can derail the Christmas love train which whisks Scrooge into the realization he must have, that Christmas is not something to bah-humbug about but something about which we should shout from our rooftops and throw a party for.