I’ve read Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” at least twenty times and I’ve seen nearly every film and television version of the story, from the first silent movie depictions to Disney’s most recent CGI-animated monstrosity. I enjoy the 1938 film with Gene Lockhart as the perfect Bob Cratchit, but my favorite classic version is the 1958 film “Scrooge” with Alistair Sim. It is a masterful portrayal of the tale. Every year I hate Sim’s selfish and sarcastic Scrooge at the beginning of the story, yet am somehow drawn to him and his cynical loneliness. I then laugh when he dances around and frightens Mrs. Dilbur after his conversion, and, finally, cry when he sincerely apologizes to his nephew Fred and Fred’s fiancee.
But the version most enjoyed my entire family is “The Muppet Christmas Carol” with Michael Caine as Scrooge, Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Fozzie Bear as Old “Fozziewig” and Gonzo as the narrator–Charles Dickens himself. You might be surprised to find out that, lyrics and musical numbers aside, much of the dialog and narration in the Muppet version is drawn word for word from the original published text.
Watching the Muppet “Carol” I heard, for the first time, the line that Scrooge speaks to Marley’s ghost, “..there’s more of gravy than of grave about you…” Many of the other film and television productions cut that line (and others) attempting to enhance the seriousness of the story. Consequently, some of us have forgotten (or perhaps never even knew) that Dickens wasn’t just an insightful and brilliant writer, he was funny. I believe that the reason the Muppet “Carol” is so successful in telling the true tale is that it portrays both the silliness and the seriousness–just as Dickens himself did. Watching the Muppet “Carol” we feel the hopeful joy of the Season and lament the sickness of greed and the tragedy of poverty. We see the dirt of old London and feel the cheer of a “Merry Christmas” between friends. The Muppets make us laugh and cry. Dickens himself would have been pleased.
“A Christmas Carol” has always fascinated me because it is the story of a character transformed–his cold, unhappy world suddenly filled with warmth and love. As a writer, I am in the business of telling the stories of characters who change and grow into better, happier, or at least, wiser, beings. And, since I want my writing to ring true, like Dickens’s, like life, I won’t forget that there are tears and laughter. Thank you, Muppets. Merry Christmas.