**/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras C
starring Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, The Great Gonzo, Michael Caine
screenplay by Jerry Juhl, based on the novel by Charles Dickens
directed by Brian Henson
by Bill Chambers It's all but inevitable that the Muppets would take on Charles Dickens's venerable plug-and-play app A Christmas Carol at some point. More surprisingly, Michael Caine had not only not played Ebenezer Scrooge prior to The Muppet Christmas Carol (the role is like Hamlet for English actors who've plateaued), he had never before shared a stage with the Muppets, either. This despite his being, in the '70s and '80s, the exact calibre of star the Muppets pursued for cameos, and ubiquitous besides. He is, to my taste, not a harsh-enough Scrooge--there's an irrepressible compassion there when Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog) asks him for Christmas Day off. And The Muppet Christmas Carol frankly surrenders too much of the spotlight to this human character: If this were my first Muppet movie, I'd've felt especially double-crossed during his song number with the also-flesh-and-blood Meredith Braun, which was restored for the VHS and TV versions of the film kids have grown up with but is absent again on the new Blu-ray. (Former FFC contributor Ian Pugh tells me he "always, always, ALWAYS" used to fast-forward this part as a child.) It's almost cheating, to finally do the Muppet version of this tale and put an interloper in the lead, when the whole point of adapting it to a pre-existing framework is to match up the archetypes and balance that against audience expectations. It is, effectively, like getting to use characters as actors by casting them as different characters. This is also why Bill Murray works so well in Scrooged, because Scrooge pings off Murray's crabby, misanthropic '80s persona.