Thursday, December 13, 2007

Which Scrooge is the Best Scrooge?

As an avid fan of all things Christmas, I consider myself to be fairly well-versed in the various incarnations of Dickens' immortal A Christmas Carol. As a child, it was my family's tradition (along with hundreds of other Chicago-area families) to see it performed onstage at the Goodman Theater. My Mom almost always managed to get front row seats, making the experience that much more enthralling and forever burning much of the Dickensian dialogue into my brain, which I can now unleash at will.
Scrooge at the Goodman
But the Goodman rendition is just one Scrooge among many. IMDB states that the old humbug has been portrayed in 68 movies from 1910 to 2009, when Jim Carrey will crawl out of whatever cave he's been hiding in and do the honors for a new Disney version. Bill Murray, Scrooge McDuck, Alistair Sim, and The Fonz are just a few of the disparate and desperate actors who have previously taken a turn.

A few years ago, Kelsey Grammer starred in a made-for-TV musical version, based on the Alan Menken musical that used to run at Madison Square Garden every year. The music is pretty good, but the supporting cast is composed almost entirely of current and former stars of NBC TV shows. Frasier Crane as Scrooge is just a bit too distracting for me and Jason Alexander as Marley makes it even worse. I half-expected Niles to show up as Scrooge's nephew ("Care for some sherry, Scrooge?") or for Jerry Seinfeld to cameo as Tiny Tim ("What's the deal with these crutches?"). I didn't mind the presence of Jennifer Love Hewitt so much, but that's beside the point.

Yes, nearly every version of A Christmas Carol has some shortcomings, but perfection has been reached once--by the Muppets. That's right. The greatest interpretation of Dickens' work is The Muppet Christmas Carol. I still remember seeing this one at the movie theater way back in 1992 and I've seen it almost every year since. To put it simply, Michael Caine is The Man. Even if he wasn't surrounded by Muppets, he would still be the best Ebenezer Scrooge ever to grace the silver screen. He's completely believable as a "tight-fisted hand at the grind stone" at the beginning of the movie and you can practically see his heart melting as he journeys to his past, present and future. Caine's Cockney accent alone is worth the price of admission, but his ability to act convincingly and affectingly alongside Kermit and Gonzo borders on Oscar-worthy.

And unlike A Very Frasier Christmas Carol, the supporting cast in this version only adds to the experience. It's Bunsen Honeydew! (as a charity collector) It's Statler and Waldorf! (as the Marley Brothers) It's Fozzie! (as--wait for it--Fezziwig) Best of all, it's hilarious in the classic Muppet style, while still surprisingly true to the literary language of Dickens' original text.

Jacob Marley: Why do you doubt your senses?

Ebenezer Scrooge: Because a little thing can effect them. A slight disorder of the stomach can make them cheat. You may be a bit of undigested beef, a blob of mustard, a crumb of cheese. Yes. There's more of gravy than of grave about you.

Robert Marley: More of gravy than of grave?

Jacob Marley: What a terrible pun. Where'd you get those jokes?

Robert Marley: Leave comedy to the bears, Ebenezer.

The true testament to this film's success, however, lies in the fact that it makes me weep like an old woman. To be honest, it seems that this is a common problem for me when I watch Christmas movies. It used to just be a few tears at the end of It's A Wonderful Life, but now my usually stoic sensibilities evaporate far too easily and last weekend I found myself once again choking up at the sight of a coughing cloth frog on crutches.

But don't take my word for it, go out and rent it (or order it on NetFlix, you crazy kids with your crazy technology). You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll sing along:

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