Walt Disney Pictures/Buena Vista .
R4 . COLOR . 82 mins .
G . PAL
Oh goodness; we’re late, we’re late! Well, we would be if following the supermarket calendar for doing these things, in which case this review should have been up around May. Oh well, you’ll just have to get all Christmassy with only around seven weeks until the day fat boy does his miraculous chimney trick rather than seven months.
But anyway, onto the Muppets. First things first – this is a musical, so if such things make you run screaming for the nearest exit then ready… set… go!
Three little pigs?
Hopefully some people are left, for this Muppetifised take on Charles Dickens’ classic and rather over-filmed Christmas tale is actually quite a cracker as far as festive movie fare goes. The first foray back into familiar territory for Jim Henson’s Creature Shop after the untimely demise of their cherished and visionary leader, Kermit and pretty much any little furry thing to have ever graced the stage of The Muppet Show is gathered together along with Michael Caine as the niggardly old grumble-pants Ebenezer Scrooge.
The tale of Scrooge is surely a familiar one to all but the unborn – the grouchy old miser despises the Christmas season second to only one thing, love. As such he “Bah, humbug!”s his way around whilst those of lesser wealth get into the whole celebratory spirit of the season, until one night and a visit from his former business partners Jacob and Robert Marley, who have been dead and decaying in their graves for some time now. How so? Well, they’re ghosts, and they forewarn the old Ebster about three nocturnal visitors he shall be receiving – the ghosts of Christmas past, future and yet to come. Not wishing to ruin things for any foetuses who may be reading this – and ever mindful of certain types who’ll cry “spoiler” at the mere mention of a line like “this is a film…” - we’ll leave it there, other than to say that this Scrooge dude may not necessarily be as hard as he thinks he is...
Michael Caine puts in a stellar turn as the stingy old bugger Scrooge, remaining admirably straight throughout despite the Muppet chaos surrounding him. Allowing Jim Henson’s glorious creations such freedom is what sets this take on Dickens’ tale apart from the zillions of others, even giving it an element of levity at times when things become very dark indeed, especially when you consider this is traditional tell-it-to-the-kids type Christmas fare. While Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat take up the bulk of the Muppet screen time, naturally the likes of Kermit, Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear get their chances to shine – but so too do those quirkier faves such as Professor Bunsen Honeydew and his squeaky sidekick Beaker, the gloriously incomprehensible Swedish Chef, hecklers Waldorf and Statler, defiantly patriotic Sam Eagle and, most pleasingly, Dr Teeth and his musical gang – including possibly the most feral assemblage of material and fluffy stuff ever in Animal.
A potential moral dilemma for any vegetarians out there...
While finding definitive details on the original ratio of The Muppet Christmas Carol has proved about as easy as getting a penny from Scrooge on Chrissie Eve, it seems a fair assumption that it was not shown cinematically in a ratio of 1.33:1. Sadly, however, this is how we get it on DVD – can’t spook those kiddiewinks with those dreaded, nasty, evil black bars of death now, can we?
This works to the transfer’s detriment in many ways. The resultant magnification of what’s on offer only serves to make the myriad flecks, specks and blobs on display all the more noticeable, not to mention the grain which is regularly present. Shadow detail is only average at best, and when the first part of the film in particular is mostly set in dark places this proves a major annoyance. While the colour’s OK and the layer change should prove little nuisance for most, generally everything looks just a little too Fozzie, erm, fuzzy. In all this is a pretty lousy transfer for a flick that’s only just over ten years old. Still, at least we get Swedish subtitles (amongst others).
Warning: Do not look at this picture, it may contain spoilers.
Things on the sonic front fare a little better, presented as they are via a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. For the most part it relies heavily on the front three speakers whilst providing little action for the rears, while the subwoofwoof gets the odd whoosh here and there to play with but little else. Still, you don’t need a sonic dance party to get the essence of a Dickensian tale such as this across, and dialogue is steadfastly discernable at all times – well, the Swedish Chef poses a few problems, but that’s part of his attraction.
Being a musical, the presence of sometimes cloying songs is a given, in this case these can be attributed to Paul Williams. At least having big, silly looking pup- erm, Muppets belting them out mops up some of the excess sappiness though, and in tandem with Miles Goodman’s appropriately traditional score things fare quite well on the musical front.
Really, the words ‘Special’ and ‘Edition’ get stuck together and plastered across many DVDs which simply don’t live up to such claims. Sadly, The Muppet Christmas Carol is no exception. Mind you, the menus, featuring an increasingly stressed-out Kermit the Frog, are a fun introduction to proceedings. A handful of extras have been included, amongst which are a couple of things created especially for this DVD release.
First up is a commentary from director and son of Jim, Brian Henson, and sadly it’s possibly the most boring, gap-ridden excuse for such a beastie you may ever clap ears upon. The Muppets mean fun, and perhaps if they had been let loose in the commentary booth this would have been, but instead we’re privy to little of interest in favour of mostly over-technical guff about the production which just doesn’t fit the vibe of proceedings.
Things do improve, however, with the recently made featuretteFrogs, Pigs and Humbug (20:35). Gonzo and Rizzo pin Brian Henson down in a comfy chair and act as hosts, bringing some signs of life out of the guy while things are punctuated with interview grabs old and new from the likes of Michael Caine, Paul Williams, Kermit and Miss Piggy. It features liberal film grabs, so shouldn’t be viewed before the feature, but amongst the traditional schmooze-fest stuff lies some sweet Muppet-styled humour and the odd amusing outtake.
Speaking of outtakes, a 2:35 gag reel is also included, featuring a number of ‘bloopers’ from the recording of the film. These things can often make wallpaper-watching seem inviting; however those included here are engaging enough to keep the attention.
Finally, we have another brief featurette in Christmas Around the World. Once again hosted by Gonzo and Rizzo, this 2:58 blipvert apparently shows us different ways Christmas is celebrated around the world. With Australians said to be visited by Father Christmas on a surfboard, we sincerely hope they’re taking the piss.
Jim Henson left behind one of the greatest entertainment legacies ever in his fuzzy little creations, and the world is certainly a much better place for their presence.
As for this DVD, the presentation isn’t great, and most definitely not worthy of ‘Special Edition’ status, however any fan of the Muppets is certain to find this a delightful alternative to more plodding Christmas fare – perfect accompaniment for that Chrissie dinner of roast børk, børk, børk …
Jack & Sarah "Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, this is an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money... "