The Muppet Christmas Carol is the best Christmas movie of all time. Now, you might be thinking “well, I don’t know about that, Downer, I mean it’s good and all, but there are so many other classic, canonical films,” and true, Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life are close seconds, but I speak the truth. Trust me.
Here are a few of the many reasons why (Spoilers, maybe?):
1) Hans Zimmer’s absolutely perfect score.
Zimmer’s songs are universally fantastic (if you skip through the Tiny Tim one), fitting the Muppets’ brand of satire comedy while also being wonderful tunes by themselves. The opening number “Scrooge” exemplifies this; it’s a minor key march whose major key chorus betrays that its lead character (Michael Caine, in a career defining performance) isn’t really threatening, just a grouchy guy we’re going to love unconditionally. Later, “Marley and Marley” turns a haunting into a thrilling duet between Statler and Waldorf in one of the film’s most memorable and meta-awesome scenes. And “When Love If Gone” is actually kind of a tearjerker when you ignore the completely flaccid actress singing it. As far as Christmas musicals go, Muppet Christmas Carol gets it right by having all their songs be instantly recallable and undeniably lovable.
2) It’s the best version of “A Christmas Carol”
In the context of “Christmas Carol” adaptations, it’s no contest: Muppet Christmas Carol gets the story pitch perfect for the holiday season. This version blends whimsy and heart while staying true enough to the novel as to not bastardize Dickens (although having Gonzo play Dickens might undermine that… whatever). “A Christmas Carol” is a ghost story, inherently, but where the George C. Scott and Alastair Sim versions play up the novel’s ghastly undertones, they also make the story scarier than it really needs to be. This might make them great films, but not fodder for family traditions on Christmas Eve. Muppet Christmas Carol subverts most of the novel’s scarier bits with its cast, such as Jacob Marley being turned into Statler and Waldorf, but it doesn’t completely abandon the uncanny. The Ghost of Christmas Future is still a pretty scary figure to youngsters, but for me, the creepiest part of the movie is The Ghost of Christmas Present’s cheery laughter as he evaporates into nothingness as the graveyard clock strikes 12. There are enough unsettling bits to make us care, but not enough to make us really creeped out. And that’s how I want to feel while hearing this story.
3) Michael Caine
Playing the classic protagonist, Michael Caine actually makes Scrooge likable from the beginning of the film, a key difference from Jim Carrey, Scott, Sim, and others. He’s also not mailing in the performance a la Patrick Stewart or Kelsey Grammar. Rather, he plays him perfectly, again with just the right amount of menace and comedy. His report with his staff humorous while still fiery, his “UNEMPLOYED!” line a classic. He has more chemistry with every single Muppet than the real people in the movie have with each other. And his accent is enough to make me love him even as he mutters “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas!’ on his lips would be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart!”
4) The Muppets
Still, what sets Muppet Christmas Carol apart from every Christmas film is the Muppets. As with every great Muppet adaptation, the magic comes in the brilliant casting of the Muppet team in the famous supporting roles. My personal favorite Muppet casting choice is Sam the Eagle as Scrooge’s headmaster, but virtually every choice is obvious and perfect. Of course meek Kermit would play Bob Crachit, and of course Miss Piggy would play his strong willed wife. Fozzie Bear makes a perfect Fezziwig, and not only because his name lends itself so easily to the pun. And Gonzo and Rizzo as narrators are, as always, a hilarious comedy duo, Gonzo the straight man to Rizzo’s top banana. I admit it’s my soft spot for all things Muppet related that makes this, to me, the best Christmas movie ever. And even as I’ve gotten older and have gotten better versed in Christmas classics, this will always be #1. To be honest, no other Christmas movie really stands a chance.