20 Years of The Muppet Christmas Carol (and 20 Reasons to Love It)

It's 20 years to the day since The Muppet Christmas Carol was first released in cinemas. After mixed-to-positive reviews and modest box office, the film has steadily grown and gained legions of new fans, and now it's as much a part of the Christmas landscape as James Bond, Die Hard or It's A Wonderful Life.
I've already reviewed the film on my old blog here, and 2 years ago I devoted the first Movie Hour Christmas special to discussing it (here). But how do we explain its cult appeal? Why does it hold such a special place in people's hearts, to the point where it ranks highly among the many adaptations of Charles Dickens' work?

To mark the occasion, and to help us to get into the mood for Christmas, here are my Top 20 reasons why any sane person should love The Muppet Christmas Carol. Feel free to post your reasons in the comments below - maybe with a memory of when and where you first saw it.
So, in no particular order, and with varying degrees of flippancy:  
20. It's a proper Muppet movie. After Jim Henson's untimely death, there were doubts as to whether the spirit of the Muppets could be sustained. But these were swiftly laid to rest by a film that's every bit as fun, heartwarming and memorable as The Muppet Movie.
19. It's faithful to the story. Many children's adaptations skimp on the detail and/ or substance of classic stories - Oliver and Company being a good example when it comes to Dickens. But even with the addition of ice-skating penguins and a rubber chicken factory, the message of the original story shines through.

18. The Muppets have aged well. CGI can be impressive but it also dates very quickly. The Muppets still have an endearing physicality to them, so that even if you can occasionally see the wires, you'll be too engrossed to let that bother you.
17. The effects are pretty impressive. Whether it's Kermit walking in a full-length shot (on a rotating stage) or the opening pan over Victorian London, Brian Henson went the extra mile to make the world of the Muppets seamlessly believable.

16. The songs are great. 'Thankful Heart' is guaranteed to raise your spirits, 'One More Sleep' will really put you in the mood, and 'Marley and Marley' is both funny and spooky.
15. All the Muppets are properly cast. None of the puppet characters feel crowbarred in for the sake of it. Gonzo and Rizzo are the perfect choice for narrators, and Kermit is perfect as Bob Cratchett. Which brings us on to...

14. It gives us Kermit and Miss Piggy as a couple. And what resulted. It was always going to happen - even if exactly how is still up for grabs.
13. It's spooky when it needs to be. The Ghost of Christmas Future is so scary that even the narrators have to leave. It does look like a Ringwraith, so I don't blame them.

12. It keeps things simple. When Robert Zemeckis made his version in 2009, he threw in a whole bunch of stuff which clouded and confused the plot - everything from Marley's ghost dislocating his jaw to a levitating Bob Hoskins and the carriage from Sleepy Hollow. The Muppet Christmas Carol trusts the original story to do the hard work, and it really pays off.

11. "UNEMPLOYED!" Watch the film if you don't know what this means. It's very funny.
10. Michael Caine. Alastair Sim and George C. Scott both did their best, but Michael Caine is a worthy candidate for the best ever Scrooge. He gets every aspect of the character spot on - the grumpiness, the fear, the regret and the childlike joy. And on top of all that, he's a pretty good singer. Who knew?

9. It's very funny. Any of the scenes with Gonzo and Rizzo could feature here, especially the running gag about jelly beans and "light the lamp, not the rat!"

8. It's incredibly sweet. "No cheeses for us mices" is just too cute for words.
7. It has the confidence to be sad (when it's right). There's a number of sudden mood changes in the film - for instance, 'One More Sleep' is immediately followed by a shot of the carol singer shivering as he sleeps out in the cold. In other films this could be either mawkish or preachy, but in the Muppets' hands the point is made without laying on the guilt too thick (and he's okay in the end).

6. Beaker. Because here he's especially adorable.
5. It's not all that mawkish. Yes, the whole Tiny Tim business can be a little uncomfortable, but the film doesn't consciously lay on the schmaltz until we can no longer cope. It's sentimental, but if we cry it's an honest response to the story.

4. The humans and Muppets interact in a meaningful way. There isn't any sense of awkwardness between the two, since it doesn't feel like a human drama into which the Muppets just happened to have wandered. Or vice versa.
3. There's no big-name cameos to spoil the mood. Why would you want to hear Kate Winslet singing anyway?

2. There's nothing cynical about it. It wasn't made to sell a product, it wasn't made to make Disney look good, and it wasn't released in early-November to cynically milk the box office (looking at you, Zemeckis). Even now there's an innocence to the film, and that feels really special.
1. It's a proper family film. It's increasingly rare to find a film that genuinely has something for people of all ages. But whether you're a 90-year-old grandmother or a 4-year-old boy seeing for the first time, The Muppet Christmas Carol will work on some level, without fail.


Only 2 weeks 'til Christmas :) There's more great stuff coming up on the blog between now and New Year, so watch this space!