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The Muppet Christmas Carol

Rated G, 85 min. Directed by Brian Henson. Voices by Dave Goelz, Frank Oz, Steve Whitmire. Starring Michael Caine.

REVIEWED By Pamela Bruce, Fri., Dec. 11, 1992

So many cinematic versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol have come and gone over the years, but the proverbial question still remains: do we really need yet another rendition of this overdone classic to officially promote holiday season cheeriness? Apparently Walt Disney and Jim Henson Productions thought that we needed one -- and or had visions of sugarplum dollar signs dancing in their heads -- when they joined forces to produce The Muppet Christmas Carol, a cute, and for the most part, imaginative take on Dickens' narrative that's sure to jumpstart the Muppets' commercial appeal, if achieving nothing else. Following the same basic formula of those previously produced, this film adaptation has Dickenseque London filled with live actors and Muppets in credible period detail, with son Brian taking directorial charge in the footsteps of his father, the late Jim Henson, narration by Rizzo the Rat and Gonzo as Charles Dickens (both of whom, at times, seem to wear thin their screen presence), and Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy as the Cratchits. Caine is cast as the Bah Humbuggedness himself, Ebenezer Scrooge, yet his characterization never quite convinces us that he is a personification of the Scrooge archetype -- even by attempted enhancement through heavy expressionistic camerawork. Instead, Caine's Scrooge comes across as a somewhat kinder, gentler miser who is easily intimidated into repentance by the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Despite cutesy cleverness in the construction of most scenes, the spirit segments are the real imaginative core of this film, where Muppet stylization and special effects merge to create a refreshing look to a familiar face. But in the back of one's mind, the suggestion still creeps: there was no reason for this film to be made -- aren't there already better Christmas films out there to satisfy holiday viewing rituals? It was made to reestablish The Muppets as commodity and latch onto Santa's already-overburdened sleigh of commercialism. It's enough to make one wonder if Jim Henson would have wanted things to take this course.
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