Last month, on the occasion of both Elf and Love Actually celebrating their 10th anniversaries, we set about the task of deciding which one was Christmas-ier. Now that we're well in the thick of Christmas season, we thought we'd tackle the same task for even more holiday classics. Today, it's the Christmas Carol adaptation The Muppet Christmas Carol versus the Christmas Carol adaptation Scrooged.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) is a faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens's tale of miserly old Ebenezer Scrooge learning the virtues of generosity and fraternal love, only it casts Muppets as some of the story's key characters (alongside real human actors like Michael Caine).
Scrooged (1988) is Richard Donner's meta take on the story, about a terrible television executive—who happens to be producing a live version of Scrooge's story on Christmas Eve —who actually becomes the subject of Dickens' ghostly hauntings himself.
Esther will argue for The Muppet Christmas Carol, while Joe will make the case for Scrooged.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol is probably the ultimate Christmas story—other than that one about the birth of Jesus—so today we debate two movies that play with Dickens' work. One is an updated, cynical, showbiz-y take on the tale. The other has Muppets. There's a clear winner here.
What's ingenious about The Muppet Christmas Carol is that—for the most part—it's true to its source material. In fact! The movie—which features Gonzo playing Dickens — uses a number of Dickens' original lines. Okay, okay, so Dickens didn't envision Bob Cratchit and his wife as a frog and pig, nor did he give Jacob Marley a brother "Robert" so that the character could be played by two crotchety puppets. But isn't the movie the better for it?
Now, Joe. I fear your inherent Muppet-related prejudice has gotten in the way of you seeing the true light, and a number of Wire staffers will tell you so. Our Abby Ohlheiser told me: "I watch this movie every year with my family and I'm actually finding it impossible to understand how anyone can't love it. I recommend immersive Muppet therapy." Elspeth Reeve loves the movie for all the reasons that Bill O'Reilly should hate it. (See, for instance, this piece she wrote last year.)
Muppets don't inherently go hand in hand with Christmas, but their jolly, let's-put-on-a-show attitude illustrates what's best about the season. Yes, it's a little ostentatious, but at its best its warm and inviting. And that's what the Muppets do for A Christmas Carol, they make the most classic piece of Christmas-related literature accessible to all: to those old enough to get the in-jokes, and to those so young they just like the idea of a wise-cracking rat palling along with a blue guy with a long nose. Also, Michael Caine plays Scrooge, and has there ever been a more perfect person to play Scrooge? No. There has not.
Joe, you are going to be on the wrong side of history here, ya Scrooge.
Okay, let's get a few things out of the way first. First of all, it's not fair to frame this debate around pro- and anti-Muppet stances. You know I'm on the less popular side of the national divide on that issue, and what is less in the spirit of Christmas than pressing the advantage of the majority in order to infringe upon the rights of the minority? That's what the War-on-Christmas crusaders want to do. So, yes, I feel like human adults should maybe check themselves when it comes to pieces of felt with human hands up their—I'm not even going to say "asses," not because it's crass but because Muppets aren't real and thus don't have asses—that have been pale shadows of their former selves for at least twenty years.
I'm not going to get into any of that.
Nor am I going to linger very long on my best argument against the quality ofThe Muppet Christmas Carol itself, which is that the Muppets are a terrible fit to portray this particular story. When your biggest star is forced to slum it in the thankless role of Martha Cratchit, perhaps your company is not the best fit, casting-wise.
But I'm here to talk about Scrooged and why it's the more Christmas-y movie. The best thing that Scrooged has going for it is that it sets itself in the cold, heartless 1980s, humanity's worst decade, and manages to force the Christmas spirit upon its greedy, yuppie soul. While The Muppet Christmas Carol keeps things set anachronistically in Dickensian times (when they didn't even have Muppets), Scrooged has the courage to take advantage of the timelessness of the story. It also has the courage to cast a woman in the Bob Cratchit role, but I guess maybe Alfre Woodard's agent was better than Miss Piggy's.
What Scrooged does is prove that no matter how much you stretch and bend Dickens's tale—toaster-wielding sadist ghosts; Robert Mitchum as a kind of Fezziwig figure; the Solid Gold dancers—you can't repress its central message of Christmas charity and generosity of spirit.
Also: Bill Murray. (That one's from The Wire's Philip Bump, so don't think I don't also have the support of the staff.)