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‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ (G)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 11, 1992

It seems Scrooge-like to say, but "The Muppet Christmas Carol" is unusually slow going -- maybe not for the children, but certainly for the older crowd. Unfortunately, G-rated movies don't exactly crowd Washington: Compare the number of theaters showing Disney's universally acclaimed "Aladdin" with those banking on "Home Alone 2."

So, if you haven't already seen the richly entertaining "Aladdin," you might as well take the kids to this. But bring caffeine tablets.

The dullness is surprising, given guest headliner Michael Caine's central presence and the usually bright material we've come to expect from the Muppet corner. Director Brian Henson, son of the late, great Muppet founder Jim Henson, is obviously dedicated to the show's going on. Yet the spark that usually animated that show is missing.

Adapted by Jerry Juhl from the well-known Charles Dickens story, "The Muppet Christmas Carol" is the story of miserly Scrooge (Caine), who cares not a fig for the seasonal joys of Christmas or people. Working in his repressive, money-lending office are Bob Cratchit (played by Kermit the Frog) and a host of nervous rodents who scratch feverishly with their quills whenever Scrooge looks their way.

Begrudgingly, Scrooge grants his employees the day off at Christmastime, mainly because no other businesses are open. When he goes home that night, Scrooge is subjected to a barrage of visions courtesy of the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Reminded of sadness in his past, the hatred he has aroused in the present, and faced with his death in the future, Scrooge comes out of the scary reveries wishing the whole world an extended happy season.

"The Muppet Christmas Carol" isn't terrible, by any means. But it's resoundingly moderate, with merely passable songs by Paul Williams, and only occasional real laughter. It's no particular fault of Caine's. He makes a perfectly adequate curmudgeon. When he tells Kermit to prepare the latest round of eviction notices, Kermit respectfully reminds him this is Christmas Eve. "Very well," he replies, "you may gift-wrap them."

But Scrooge's character evolution -- from nasty to humanity-hugging -- is insufficiently flavored with comic relief. Too much of that funny responsibility falls on the fuzzy shoulders of the Great Gonzo, who plays narrator "Charles Dickens," and his accident-prone sidekick, Rizzo the Rat, who keeps getting knocked off high ledges or falling into freezing wells.

As for Miss Piggy, she's relegated to a minor role as Kermit's wife; she only gets to take a couple of verbal swipes at Scrooge. You know the limelight-conscious actress can't possibly be happy with such an affront. If she ever complains to the Muppet Union, she should also demand a spate of funnier scripts.

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