Home > Reviews > Grudge Match Review: “Scrooged” vs. “The Muppet Christmas Carol” vs. “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” – Rounds 6 – 10

Grudge Match Review: “Scrooged” vs. “The Muppet Christmas Carol” vs. “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” – Rounds 6 – 10

<< Part I
Round 6: The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

Robert Hammond (uncredited), Robert Tygner (performer), and, yes, Jim Carrey as The Ghost of Christmas Future

Easily the ghost most people remember, and also the one where almost nobody seems to deviate from the tradition — not even Scrooged. The cloaked figure known as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (alternately, of Christmas Future) is often seen as the most dramatic of the spirits, revealing to Scrooge how the future could turn out if he doesn’t change his ways. There are differences in how each movie portrays the spirit, of course, but ultimately, the horrific aspect is the same, and it’s only a matter of how horrific and in what way.

Scrooged, for instance, keeps with the thematics, with the ghost having a heavy, ghoulish cloak with blue streaks and a TV screen for a face that flashes static and images from Frank’s life. Inside his cloak are hellish ghouls, moaning in agony. The visions of the future he shows Frank are abstract and look completely unlike anything else in the film, showing a bleak and sterile future, free from passion and compassion.

The Muppets keep it grim and faithful, but they are sure to make sure that families who show this to their children will not have tears by the end of the film. And, ultimately, that’s okay. It doesn’t break out into song, it doesn’t speak, and it certainly isn’t the most joyful spirit in the world, but we do need a Christmas Carol adaptation that is faithful without being both syrupy sweet and cheaply made. This spirit didn’t make that much of an impact on me as a viewer, but I get that I’m not necessarily the intended audience here.

Of course, it’s remarkably clear that Disney and Zemeckis were aiming for a much older audience with their collaboration on A Christmas Carol, as the ghost maintains his scary nature, multiplied by ten, with only Jim Carrey’s performance to keep things a bit lighter. Not nearly concerned with being grim and more concentrated with being terrifying, this ghost is seemingly the byproduct of merging the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Headless Horseman, with a hint of shrink ray. It seems as though the filmmakers were concerned that they didn’t have a big finale for the talky climax, and so the final spirit, who first appears as a living shadow, gains a red-eyed horse and a chariot of nightmares, shrinking Scrooge and chasing him the horrors of Christmas Yet to Come — and also the horrors of sewers and being the size of a rat. I guess that’s symbolism?

WINNER: Scrooged

Round 7: The Fiancee

Karen Allen as Claire Phillips; Meredith Braun and Robin Wright Penn as Belle

It seems as though the two Disney productions saw the romantic subplot of the Ghost of Christmas Past segment as mere footnotes in Scrooge’s life. Past this segment, neither of them address Belle, Scrooge’s long ago love, ever again, as if she had completely given up and moved on. Rightly so, I might add. Scrooge chose his profession and money over love, and though he presents it as a practical matter, you also get the sense that he’s lost interest in the girl and has substituted those things for her in his life.

The difference between the two is in personality. Meredith Braun’s singing Belle (ugh) almost seems content in the knowledge that she can move on, resigned to the fact that Scrooge just doesn’t love her any more. And that is, honestly, pretty sad. The Penn-played Belle, on the other hand, as with all things in this film, is more dramatic about the breakup, clearly hurt and angered by Scrooge’s selfishness, giving the story a reason to never address her again. There’s little doubt that once she stepped out the door, this Belle, though she may have wanted to go back at some point, was ready, herself, to move on.

Scrooged, however, hinges a great deal of the drama on its Belle parallel, Claire. She is what makes Murray’s version of Scrooge, Frank, so unique. Claire features not only in the flashbacks, but also the present, still as caring and in love with Frank as she ever was, and only held at bay due to his Scroogeyness. Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark) is great as the sweet Claire, a girl-next-door type that Frank, by some stroke of meet-cute luck, bumps into and clashes heads with. (Those aren’t metaphors — that’s how he got her nickname for him, “Lumpy,” which she continues to call him throughout the film.) When one of the spirits forces Frank to call her up after years of separation, it’s a symbol of the fact that Frank still holds on to some good from his past and yet he denies it, and when confronted with that goodness, that she still has some feeling for him shows that goodness hasn’t left him — it’s just very disappointed and waiting for a transformation.

WINNER: Scrooged

Round 8: The Presentation

The most dramatic differences between the films is obviously in the medium: live action versus puppetry versus motion capture animation. But while each one addresses the same basic story, each one is also very different in tone.

 Scrooged is obviously the most drastically different of the three. While it may not contain puppets or be presented through a newish animation format, the film is a sort of meta-movie, presenting you with a Scrooge-proxy who is leading the production of a straightforward, live presentation of the traditional Christmas Carol for TV while experiencing the same basic story himself. Somehow, unlike the later Bewitched film, this film makes the concept work by not necessarily drawing attention to it. The film is also decidedly more adult and sarcastic in nature. Not many Christmas Carol adaptations that mention the Kama Sutra or have Scrooge running from a disgruntled former employee drunkenly firing a shotgun at him.

The Muppets may be on a comeback recently, but they were still quite popular back in the early 90s. I remember watching The Muppet Show and Muppet Babies reruns on Nickelodeon back in the same time period, and I loved them both, despite the differences between the two. As the first collaboration between Disney and The Jim Henson Company, there are definite signs of Disneyfication. The songs, the sweetness, etc. It’s possible that they were going for sentiment, but I feel like the film lacks that distinct Muppet feel in some places, mostly signified by the too-sweet songs. It’s not that songs can’t be present — I actually like Kermit’s song, as it really fits him, and the Muppets are also the originators of the great “Rainbow Connection” — but the manic energy often associated with the brand is missing throughout a great deal of the film. Luckily, we do have Gonzo (as “Charles Dickens”) and Rizzo along for the ride as omnipresent narrators, and Gonzo, as we all know, is the best Muppet.

As for Disney’s second take on the story, the motion capture process has matured to the point where the eyes no longer feel dead. The character models are still just this side of being creepy, but, for the most part, they are stylized enough to not be too distracting, and some of the visuals truly do look brilliant, such as the glittering room of the Ghost of Christmas Present. The dramatic presentation and the serious take on the story is also quite satisfying, even with the moments of stereotypical Jim Carreyness. It’s dark, but family friendly, and is probably the most straightforward of the three adaptations if you want a traditional telling.

WINNER: Scrooged

Round 9: The Message

While Scrooged may be the more cynical of the three, that cynicism still has that undercurrent of genuine spirit of giving beneath. All the same, the spiritual journey that Frank goes on really does seem more like a personal one, and less of a universal one, possibly due to the fact that, while Scrooge in the original tale has a relatable problem of being greedy, Frank himself seems to be greedy only because he has the umbrella problem of being a jerk, as well, and his less than charitable nature is almost a byproduct of that.

Similarly, because of the much more jolly nature of Scrooge in The Muppet adaptation, the message comes across as genuine and meaningful, but likely less impactful due to the direction this version of the story took.

Here is a place where I felt far more moved by the more straightforward adaptation of the story. In spite of some of the film’s overall goofy nature and some of the visual theatrics, the universal theme of humility and empathy came across much better from Zemeckis’ version of the story, likely due to those fantastic scenes with the Ghost of Christmas Present.

WINNER: Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Round 10: The Final Verdict

So, which of the three is a better film? I would argue that none of them are cinematic masterpieces, to be honest, but they all have their merits and each of them show great skill in their production.

Scrooged may have won over in terms of the number of rounds it “won,” and it is a genuinely entertaining and imaginative reinterpretation of the Dickens story. Bill Murray, Alfre Woodard, and Karen Allen all put in great performances, though the supporting cast may be just a little too cartoonish, even for this adaptation. Nonetheless, it’s a holiday classic for a reason, and its wicked sense of humor lifts it above most other modernizations of classic stories in terms of entertainment value.

Though it didn’t “win” a single category, The Muppet Christmas Carol is also not without its merit and is overall an entertaining family film. Gonzo and Rizzo more than make up for the cuddly atmosphere, and Michael Caine, though not nearly the grouch you would expect, is nonetheless a decent enough family-friendly Scrooge. There are also some beautiful set designs and, as always, great puppetry on display. While the songs are a bit much in terms of sweetness, there are a few classics in there that will get stuck in your head and not necessarily drive you insane.

The biggest surprise in this grudge match, though, was Zemeckis’ motion capture film. I was fully expecting a buffoonish, catchphrase-spewing train wreck of CG-corpses brought scarily to life, and instead found myself drawn into the production. The models are still not perfect, with a weird glossy look to them, but they are much better than they were in The Polar Express. I just wish they had gone the same stylized route in the art design as the Zemeckis-produced Monster House did. At least the sets look quite nice, and Jim Carrey is a surprisingly strong Scrooge, even when he does get a chance to ham it up.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating for Scrooged: 3.5 / 5

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating for The Muppet Christmas Carol: 3 / 5

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating for Disney’s A Christmas Carol: 3.5 / 5

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