Muppet Christmas Carol (The)
R1 - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak and Tom Williams (21st May 2006).
The Film

It would be pointless to approach a screening of The Muppet Christmas Carol with scepticism, questioning how on earth bizarre creatures with no lower halves and wires peacefully coexist with a bunch of humans. Instead, watching the 50th anniversary DVD release requires something of a light heart, and an appreciation for the audience for which the film is intended. The Muppet Christmas Carol is as faithful an adaptation of Charles Dickens‘ classic as anyone would want to see Gonzo (David Goelz) in, and a fantastic children’s film. The Muppets always had something of a sarcastic edge to go with their humour, and it’s a pleasure to see this edge left sharp, as when Gonzo (as Charles Dickens) uses Rizzo the Rat (Steve Whitmire) to clean a window- and is answered by Rizzo saying “Thank you for making me a part of this”. The slapstick humour dealt out to the Muppets doesn’t leave any space for any modern ideas that children might begin treating each other the same way, and instead allows the overtly didactic story to be married with typical Muppet silliness.
The story is so well known that hopefully it would need no introduction, but essentially it unfolds thus: Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine), tightwad supreme, belittles Christmas and evicts his tenants on Christmas Day, refuses to give his employees the day off, etc. After being visited by several ghosts- his old partners in business and the ghosts of Christmases Past (Karen Prell), Present (Jerry Nelson) and Future (Robert Tygner)- he is taught the error of his ways and finds the true spirit of Christmas, etc.
All the Muppets you’d expect are present, with Miss Piggy’s (Frank Oz) long held wish to be with Kermit (Steve Whitmire) answered within the marriage of Bob and Emily Cratchit, but comparing frogs on wires and pigs on strings with real actors would probably be a futile exercise. The only human with any meat to their role is Michael Caine, who plays Scrooge. Caine does as well as can be expected while surrounded by a menagerie, wisely choosing to play his role straight, as if the Muppets were real- rather than going for a laugh. His performance is supported by an oddly effective and atmospheric London, as well as a cast of Muppets dressed in appropriate clothing.
The Muppets created particularly for the film are very effective, particularly the Ghost of Christmas Past, a floating, shimmering fairy child. All the creations are remarkably true to the book, and perhaps it reflects Dickens’ talent that (admittedly stripped of its bulky language) his story transposes time, genre, medium and species and yet remains interesting and effective. Rizzo the Rat fulfils his role as comic relief with particular aplomb and effectiveness.
Ultimately, this isn’t a film one would expect any adult to buy and enjoy unless they were a huge Muppet fan- but it is certainly a film an adult could watch with their child and take at least some enjoyment from. Its style and delivery are more like Finding Nemo (2003) or Monsters, Inc (2001) rather than some of the other, more saccharine deliveries from some corners. That said, the songs are not wonderfully memorable, and the film’s status as a Christmas movie limits the times one might watch it. Nonetheless The Muppet Christmas Carol is worth watching for a variety of reasons- not least because it answers the question of what sort of children a frog and a pig might have together!

Video

Presented in the film’s original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 however the disc also includes a 1.33:1 full screen version as well.

The 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer is generally sharp and you’d expect this for a film of its age, I found blacks deep and bold, shadow detail was consistently good throughout most of the film and background detail can be seen. I found colors quite natural, however skin tones veered on the orange a few times. I also noticed some compression artefacts in this print that did obscure my overall enjoyment of the print as well as some film grain. Overall it’s a fairly decent transfer that serves the film well.

The full screen version is basically the same quality aside from the fact that it’s cropped to fit a standard TV screen, the full screen version of the film is slightly longer by the inclusion of an additional scene making it the extended version, see below in the extra features section of more information on that.

Audio

This film includes two audio tracks, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track as well as a French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English soundtrack. For the most part I found the dialogue clear and distortion free, the track had a ambience that immersed the viewer into the world of the Muppets especially during the music and song parts of the film, however the track felt rather front-heavy and didn’t make full use of the 5.1 sound space, I also found the lack of bass a little disappointing. This film could have benefited from the depth of a DTS track. Aside from this I found the track most pleasing and suited the film well.
Optional subtitles are also included in English for the hearing impaired as well as French.

Extras

Disney’s ability to include special features was hampered by their inclusion of two transfers to the DVD - both a widescreen and full screen transfer. Even more strangely, perhaps even stupidly, the included extra scene that turns this into an extended version of the film is available only on the full screen transfer! Disney seems to have thought that the same purists who don’t want their image shrunk want only the scenes from the original film.

A director’s feature-length audio commentary by Brian Henson is always welcome, and the included commentary is at least moderately interesting, although it’s hard to imagine who would want to sit through the whole movie again, yet would also get anything out of a commentary.

Following that is a featurette on Christmas traditions entitled Christmas Around the World and runs for 2 minutes 57 seconds and is introduced by Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat. This is little more than filler for the kids to watch- and they’d have to be pretty small kids at that.

However, there are two more features that are a little more worthwhile. The first is a gag reel that runs for 2 minutes 33 seconds and is also introduced by Gonzo and Rizzo the rat, it is full of hilarious hijinks from the set, which is naturally fairly amusing but hardly worth re-watching unless you only plan to pull the DVD out once a year.

The featurette on Gonzo entitled Pepe Profiles: Gonzo, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Weirdo runs for 5 minutes 28 seconds and is not only watch able, but hosted by Pepe, a Muppet whose appearance never fails to improve the viewing situation, and included more great bad jokes than anyone could want.

There are also several bonus trailers of upcoming Disney releases included on the disc, which are really only of interest to people who feel like loading up on Lady and the Tramp (1955). The following previews are included:
- "Lady and the Tramp" DVD promo spot which runs for 1 minute 4 seconds.
- "Disney's Movie Surfers" promo clip, this is a highlight clip that previews two movies The Wild and The Shaggy Dog and runs for 2 minutes 36 seconds.
- "The Muppet Show: Season 1" on DVD promo spot which runs for 1 minute 32 seconds.
- "The Muppet Wizard of Oz" on DVD promo spot which runs for 1 minute 34 seconds.
- "Radio Disney" promo spot that runs for 31 seconds.

The first four listed are start-up previews and play before the menu, these can be skipped by pressing the Menu button on your remote.

It’s a real shame Disney didn’t see fit to include real-life interviews with the figures behind the Muppets, but one supposes that maintaining the illusion that the Muppets are alive, or at least autonomous, is important to children- clearly the target audience of the DVD.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B-

 


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