It's hard to believe that it has now been three decades since The Muppet Christmas Carol debuted in theaters all across the country. Even more surprising, it was only a modest success at the time, earning $27.2 million on a $12 million budget. But nowadays, it’s considered one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time. In fact, many critics and fans alike have lauded it as the best adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel. And with several generations brought up loving this film, it looks like things will stay that way for many more years to come.
Let’s take a closer look at this unexpected classic and see what makes it special for so many.
A New Era for the Muppets
The Muppet Christmas Carol was a first in more ways than one for Jim Henson Productions. For one, it was the first Muppets movie to be produced by Walt Disney Pictures, whose parent company would acquire the rights to their characters in 2004. But, sadly, it was also the first film made after Henson’s sudden death in 1990.
That year, talent agent and producer Brian Haber approached Brian Henson — now in charge — about making a movie adaptation and suggested ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Although he eventually agreed, it took time for writer Jerry Juhl to figure out who would play who. Initially, he wanted the more popular Muppets to play the three spirits — can you imagine Animal as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come? But in the end, they decided on brand new Muppets to maintain the ominous tone.
Filming took place at a soundstage in England, with floors removed and human actors walking on planks to make room for puppeteers. Buildings were constructed in different sizes to give the illusion of longer streets. And everything was tied together with a score by Miles Goodman and songs written by Paul Williams — who also co-wrote ‘Rainbow Connection. Though moderate, the success still paved the way for many more films and another beloved adaptation — 1996’s Muppet Treasure Island.
Michael Caine and Company
One of this movie’s highlights is Michael Caine’s incredible performance as Ebeneezer Scrooge. Given his co-stars, it would have been very easy for him to ham up his performance. But instead he chose to play the role completely straight and serious. And according to Brian Henson, that was completely intentional. In fact, upon being offered the role, he told the director he was “going to play this movie like I'm working with the Royal Shakespeare Company.” And it certainly paid off, as many consider him one of the best Scrooges in any film or theatrical production.
This wonderfully straight-on performance was balanced out by all our favorite muppets. First, we have Great Gonzo narrating as Charles Dickens, with help from a hungry — and very unlucky — Rizzo the Rat. Then Muppets leader Kermit the Frog is delightful as Bob Cratchit, with Miss Piggy playing Mrs. Cratchit of course. And we can’t forget about other standout roles like Robin the Frog as Tiny Tim, Fozzie Bear as Fozziwig, and Statler and Waldorf as Jacob and Robert Marley.
And it’s all thanks to the incredible voice cast that has made the Muppets for decades. Frank Oz, David Goelz, and Jerry Nelson all bring their trademark wit and humor to each of their characters. But the real standout star is Steve Whitmire — officially taking up the mantle from Henson as the voice of Kermit. To this day, we’re amazed at how he was able to match Henson’s tone and inflections exactly.
A Faithful Storyline
Aside from a few deviations — it is the Muppets, after all — this iteration stays faithful to the original plot. You’ll hear many of the same lines you’ve read in the book and heard in other adaptations. In fact, one of the best parts about having Gonzo as Dickens is that we get to hear the original narration from the book itself. And with Rizzo providing extra commentary, we get to laugh at some of the more absurd moments.
They also don’t try to undercut some of the darker events that happen in the story. We always get that twinge of fear every time Marley’s ghost apparatus on Scrooge’s door. When the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come guides Scrooge through the future, Gonzo and Rizzo leave the scene entirely until Scrooge wakes up. And learning about Tiny Tim’s death is just as tragic as with any other iteration of this story.
Come to think of it, there really isn’t much that’s taken away from the actual plot. Despite having a different spin, the core message of ‘A Christmas Carol’ shines throughout the film. In the end, it’s still a story about social injustice, redemption, family, and the Christmas Spirit.
Underrated Christmas Music
It’s a shame we don’t hear more people singing this movie’s songs every year, because there are some very catchy tunes. There’s the very descriptive opening number ‘Scrooge’ and the poignant ‘Bless Us All’ — also performed on The Muppet Show Live. But the biggest number seems to be ‘It Feels Like Christmas,’ led by the Ghost of Christmas Present as he tells Scrooge what Christmas means to others. Although our personal favorite is ‘One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas.’ Sung by Kermit’s Bob Cratchit, it perfectly captures the joy and excitement you feel every Christmas Eve.
One song we don’t hear much these days is ‘When Love is Gone,’ sung by Belle when she realizes Scrooge loves money more than her. Despite protests from Brian Henson, it was cut from the theatrical release when Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg deemed it too sad for children. Though they put it back for VHS and early DVD releases, it hasn’t been included on any Blu-ray or streaming services… until recently. At the 2022 D23 Expo, Henson announced that the original version of the film, along with the missing song, would finally be available for streaming on the film’s 30th anniversary.
Now, you can stream the entirety of The Muppet Christmas Carol on Disney+. In fact, we’re going to watch it again right now and relive some childhood memories.