One of the most remarkable things about Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol lies in its seemingly infinite adaptability. With its magically fantastical story, it’s open to any number of stage and screen interpretations. It must be the most adapted story in the history of entertainment (unless The Three Musketeers, Dracula, or The Hound of the Baskervilles supersedes it). Adding both music and Muppet magic to the venerable story, Brian Henson’s The Muppet Christmas Carol is a solid, entertaining version of the saga; maybe it’s not the greatest screen adaptation of the tale, but there are ample amounts of humor and heart to give this retelling of the classic story its own unique place among the best of the adaptations.
The Muppet Christmas Carol: 20th Anniversary (Blu-ray + Digital Copy)
Directed by Brian Henson
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 86 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 26.50
Release Date: November 6, 2012
Review Date: November 4, 2012
Pitiless miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) thinks only of making money, indifferent to the pleas of the poor, the poverty of his overworked clerk Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog voiced by Steve Whitmire), and the imploring of his nephew Fred (Steven Mackintosh) to become one of the family. On Christmas Eve, he’s visited by the ghosts of his former partners the Marleys (Statler and Waldorf voiced by Dave Goelz and Jerry Nelson) who in order to save Scrooge from a dire afterlife have arranged for three spirits to visit him and show him visions of the past, present, and future which may alter his viewpoint and help him to begin to live life in a different way.
Screenwriter Jerry Juhl has installed Gonzo the Great (Dave Goelz) as narrator Charles Dickens (he’s even given him actual dialogue from Dickens’ narrative version of the book) and even with cohort Rizzo the Rat (Steve Whitmire) offering comic relief through much of the film, the movie stays remarkably faithful to the original story, apart, of course, from the various Muppets taking on most of the roles of the story’s supporting characters. There’s a real movie feel to the telling here: director Brian Henson has used remarkably effective segues between segments that have their own sense of magic and élan to complement the magical aspects of the tale, and the movie never stays too long on any one segment or strays too far from the Scrooge story even when Gonzo and Rizzo get sidetracked occasionally with their foolishness (some of which is tiresome but much of it is very funny: Rizzo as a Popsicle is not to be missed). Though he’s contributed songs to many of the Muppet ventures including their first film, Paul Williams’ song score here isn’t very memorable. On repeated listens, the tunes do grow on you a bit , but none of them can hold a candle to the brilliance of Leslie Bricusse’s Scrooge score. To his credit, Williams musicalizes some parts of the story where one wouldn’t expect songs (the Marleys explaining their business in song) and leaves off songs where one might think they’d be (Fezziwig’s – or here Fozziewig played by Frank Oz’s Fozzie Bear – party), but on the whole, the songs are merely serviceable rather than memorable. It still remains remarkable that the Muppets who have such unique and individual personalities could fit so snugly into this preexisting story. It’s no wonder they went immediately into another literary classic: Treasure Island.
Michael Caine may not be the greatest Scrooge on film, but he does an excellent job with the role and proves his mettle acting opposite pieces of felt in circumstances which must be trying to any live actor. Steven Mackintosh does a likewise outstanding job as Scrooge’s nephew Fred and being cast as younger than the part normally is makes him additionally interesting to watch. As for the Muppet performers, they are their usual terrific selves fitting into their roles so expertly that they almost seem made to play those parts.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully rendered in this outstanding 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is flawless (you can see much detail in facial features of the human actors and the contours of the felt on the Muppets), and color saturation levels are masterful in this encode making for one of the best Blu-rays available for this particular story. There are no age-related artifacts to harm the visual presentation which has only slightly less than optimum black levels as its only slight flaw. The film has been divided into 10 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix gives the background score of Miles Goodman and the songs of Paul Williams the only real surround elements of the transfer. Otherwise, it’s basically a very effective stereo mix with the excellently recorded dialogue rooted to the center channel and ambient effects spread across the front left and right channels.
There are two audio commentaries available. Gonzo and Rizzo narrate most of the first one cracking jokes but not offering much in the way of filming anecdotes (Kermit and Statler and Waldorf are also briefly heard). For a behind-the-scenes narration of how shots were accomplished, one will need to listen to director Brian Henson’s commentary track which does lift the curtain on Muppet magic to describe how these elaborate movies are filmed.
Every time the viewer puts the movie into pause mode, a Muppet Intermission segment is begun featuring various characters singing holiday carols to the viewer.
The remaining featurettes are presented in 480i.
“Frogs, Pigs, and Humbug” is a 22-minute behind-the-scenes look at the filming of the picture with comments from producer/writer Jerry Juhl, star Michael Caine (recording his songs in the studio), composer Paul Williams, director Brian Henson, and an assortment of Muppets.
The movie’s blooper reel is hosted by Gonzo and Rizzo and runs 2 ½ minutes.
“Portrait of the Artist as a Young Weirdo” is a 5 ½-minute featurette with Pepe the King Prawn interviewing Gonzo and with other Muppets offering opinions on his work as the narrator of the movie.
“Christmas Around the World” finds Gonzo telling Rizzo about how Christmas is celebrated in other countries in this 3-minute vignette.
The second disc in the set is the digital copy of the movie.
The disc offers promo trailers for Wreck-It Ralph and Santa Paws 2.
4/5 (not an average)
A delightful retelling of the familiar Dickens classic, The Muppet Christmas Carol is the theatrical version, not the three-minute longer director’s cut, but apart from that option not being offered, there’s little to criticize about this beautiful looking and sounding Blu-ray package. Recommended!