As we approach Christmas, let’s talk about A Christmas Carol; surely one of the most adapted works of fiction, up there with Dracula and The Bible. Charles Dickens’ novella has been reworked in everything from Blackadder’s Christmas Carol to Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, starring Matthew McConaughey. Let’s look at two cinematic adaptations of the classic Christmas tale; how to do it, and how not to do it.
Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, a cruel TV executive who’s visited by three ghosts and… you know the rest. That’s the thing about A Christmas Carol; everyone already knows the story so you need to deliver something new. The only innovation offered by Scrooged is the handy verb of its title.
Murray is excellent as ever, and there are enjoyable performances from Bobcat Goldthwait, Carol Kane and Karen “tollbooth” Allen. But this Scrooge is unconvincing in his transformation; he starts out wildly crueller than the original Ebenezer, and ends up making an awkwardly long speech about the magic of Christmas. It’s telling that his major revelation comes when he sees his own death, rather than the plight of the Tiny Tim character; here a cynically underdeveloped mute child.
Predictable, unfunny and soulless, Scrooged is a tacky ’80s comedy whose jokes fall dead as a doornail. When a film’s highlight is a split-second appearance from Miles Davis, there is a problem.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
The Muppets’ version of the Scrooge story opens with a dedication to Jim Henson, who had died two years previously. This gives the first second of The Muppet Christmas Carol more soul than the entirety of Scrooged. Henson’s son Brian takes the directorial strings, and it’s Michael Caine who gets Scrooged. Told you it was handy.
Caine is brilliantly cast, never acknowledging that his co-stars are made of felt and never being upstaged by the puppets, which cannot be said for the humans in the new Muppet films. Though the film faithfully follows Dickens’ book, the Muppets subvert the well-known story with plenty of Muppety humour.
Gonzo and Rizzo narrate the movie, providing snarky commentary on Dickens’ dialogue and interesting discussion of the omniscience of the storyteller; they interact with the actual drama, which results in some great slapstick.
They’re all here, with Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as his wife, Statler and Waldorf as the Marleys… and they all have infinitely bigger hearts than any of the humans in Scrooged. This isn’t just one of the best Dickens adaptations; it’s one of the best Christmas movies.