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‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ (G)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 14, 1992

Michael Caine and those talking hairballs, the Muppets, join together for a needless but apparently unavoidable retelling of Charles "Chuck" Dickens's holiday classic (you know the one I mean). "The Muppet Christmas Carol," a sadly dull and unimaginative outing, finds the hand-held neo-Dickensians attempting performances opposite the Scroogey Caine, who does indeed look spooked to find himself in a scene with 14 rat puppets and a felt frog who recently took up method acting.

Kermit takes the supporting, if pivotal, role of Scrooge's kindly bookkeeper, Bob Cratchit, with Miss Piggy playing the porcine diva as the heretofore self-effacing Mrs. Cratchit. Quelle ham! Kermit (Steve Whitmire replaces the late Jim Henson as the noble amphibian) is upstaged by a nameless froggie newcomer who brings a traditional interpretation to his portrayal of Tiny Tim -- a tadpole on a crutch whose good cheer inspires Scrooge to change his miserly ways.

Caine, in a surprisingly sweet-natured turn as the old humbugger, never quite lives up to Dickens's ornery model. But then again, when you're playing opposite stuffed animals, it isn't easy being mean. Better to act as if you're performing opposite the Royal Shakespeare Company when you chirp insipid, inane and saccharine sentiments tunesmithed by Paul Williams, whose works include "We've Only Just Begun" and the theme to "The Love Boat."

Brian Henson, who took over for his late father, directed from a screenplay by Jerry Juhl, who co-wrote "The Muppet Movie" and "The Great Muppet Caper." Narrated by the Great Gonzo, who plays Dickens, and his sidekick Rizzo the Rat as himself, the story is more or less faithfully adapted from the original, rather bleak Victorian tale -- with occasional winter fun-type production numbers featuring cuddly bunnies, homeless mice and dancing penguins. Neither drama nor comedy, it's safe stuff, and most un-Muppetlike. So much for great expectations.

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