Disney has been slow to release the Muppets’ films to Blu-ray, but as you will read in our The Muppet Christmas Carol Blu-ray review, the wait has been worth it, as Disney delivers a Blu-ray release for The Muppet Christmas Carol‘s 20th anniversary that is more than just a cleaned up version of the last DVD release. While not laden with extras, the restored transfer, audio, and new material are all top notch, and this Blu-ray is a must-buy for anyone who loves Christmas or The Muppets.
Everyone knows the story of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There’s no point rehashing that. Before going into the meat of the review, it is worth noting that this is my favorite Christmas film. Not just because I love The Muppets, but because I think this is truly the most faithful adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Yet somehow, as it achieves an incredibly faithful adaptation, it veers off into its own directions with that unique breed of Muppets humor.
The excellence of The Muppet Christmas Carol is due to a number of reasons. The first is the excellent musical numbers throughout the film; these musical numbers are often sweeping in scope, taking place in multiple settings and involving a variety of Muppets, with minor characters stealing the spotlight. Although it’s not my favorite song, my favorite musical scene is the introduction of Scrooge at the beginning of the film; can you imagine the difficulty in shooting that scene as so many Muppets (including vegetables!) are involved and it tracks Scrooge as he walks through the town?! Second are the performances of the three main characters: Gonzo, Rizzo the Rat, and Michael Caine. Whether the viewer knows it or not, Gonzo and Rizzo are the stars of the movie, and they add to both the faithfulness of the adaptation (a number of Gonzo’s lines are directly pulled from the Dickens novella) and its irreverence. Finally, Brian Henson’s work as director is impeccable. Brian stepped up to the plate after his father’s passing and hit it out of the park, with a film that fires on all cylinders, transitions wonderfully, and is the perfect balance between storytelling and Muppet humor. Moreover, he accomplished the almost unthinkable: a fresh telling of the over-adapted A Christmas Carol. The younger Henson does a great job of carrying the torch.
The Muppet Christmas Carol is not perfect (I’m not overly enamored with the ethereal ghost of Christmas Past, which clearly could have been an actual Muppet given the effectiveness of Statler and Waldorf as ghosts), but it’s really close. The greatest criticism of it centers around a particular song. Or rather, the lack of that song. I’m talking about “When Love is Gone,” which is again absent from this release. For those unfamiliar with this song, watch this:
Brian Henson demanded that the song be restored to the laserdisc and VHS releases of the film, after Disney had removed the song due to it reportedly making kids restless during test screenings. The 2002 DVD release did not include the song, and the 2005 DVD release only contained the song on the P&S version of the DVD, not the widescreen version, further agitating purists, who had little use for any P&S versions of films.
Personally, I can see both sides of the coin here. Disney is justified in releasing the theatrical version of the film, and I often dislike revisionist filmmaking that attempts to insert or remove elements that were not present in the original release. However, my objections are usually predicated on a filmmaker wanting to tinker with the film years after the fact. In this case, Brian Henson always intended for that song to be present, and its absence was not a decision made by the creatives working on the film. It was a marketing decision. Marketing interfering with art makes me uneasy.
More importantly, the question to be asked is what the song adds to the film? This has me torn. Admittedly, I think I’m a little biased because I watched The Muppet Christmas Carol dozens of times before ever learning of the song. I thought it flowed fine without it, and I think Scrooge’s epiphany makes sense without the song. I also don’t find the song especially emotive. I know others would vehemently disagree on this point–some claim it’s the best song from the film, and tear up every time they see it.
Despite all of that, I think it does add something. It helps inform as to Scrooge’s change of heart, and allows the viewer to pinpoint with precision the turning point of the film. It would be an undeniably powerful narrative piece were it present. It also provides a companion to “When Love is Found,” making that song all the more poignant because it provides a sense of closure to the film. With all of this in mind, I think the song does belong in every release of the movie. If not as the de facto version of the movie, at least as a branching version that the viewer can elect to watch. I think Disney messed up in this regard.
Another inconsequential thing to note: when Disney originally announced this Blu-ray, it was called the “Chickens and Dickens Special Edition.” I liked that name better.
The transfer here is exceptional. The original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is well-rendered with an excellent 1080p transfer. The level of detail in faces and the texture of Muppets is incredible. I found myself almost distracted at times by this (in a good way) as I marveled at the quality of the Muppets rather than paying attention to the plot. Color is vibrant and really makes the film pop, although at times there is something to be desired from the contrast and black levels.
Disney’s decision not to heavy-handedly apply noise removal was a wise one. Noise is present throughout the film, but in a manner that enhances, giving the film a true cinematic quality, rather than distracting or leading the viewer to believe the print is “dirty.” In fact, the transfer here is wonderful, and a significant upgrade from the most recent DVD release.
The film’s sound is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix. This is really only effectively utilized for the musical numbers, which sound great. I didn’t notice much of anything on the rear channels (music or ambient sounds), but it’s an effective mix, nonetheless.
There are two audio commentaries on this release, which are the most interesting extras to be found. The first is Brian Henson’s commentary that provides an illuminating look into the filmmaking process. This is an extra that was also on the last DVD release, so nothing new there.
The second commentary is new, and is something else. Gonzo and Rizzo narrate this commentary, and attempt to provide some insights into the film, but really just spend the entire time making snarky comments and going off onto random tangents. They also make up a lot of “facts” about the movie. Some of my favorite parts of this commentary are when they contend that Michael Caine never blinks on screen, and then proceed to monitor him for a bit to see if they can catch him blinking; the “fact” that Statler and Waldorf have thin skin because they’re old, and thus are see-through (they later change the explanation for Statler and Waldorf being see-through ghosts to use of baby-powder); explanations of the stunt process for the film (we’re informed that Gonzo and Rizzo performed all their own stunt work); and their occasional forgetfulness of what happens in certain scenes.
This commentary track may not be for everyone, but if you’re a Muppets fan, you will probably enjoy the humor here. And if you’re not a Muppets fan…why are you buying this in the first place? Plenty of jokes miss the mark, but I found myself laughing plenty. It was an incredibly wise decision to make this commentary track little more than a series of jokes and gags. We listen to a normal commentary track once, if that. I suspect that we’ll listen to this commentary track many times for its humor.
The other big new extra is the Muppets Intermission. When the viewer pauses the film, Muppet rats come out to sing Christmas carols. There are five songs in this loop, and they’re pretty fun. I just wish there were a pause for the Intermission itself, because we usually pause to get up and do something else. This intermission makes me want to stay seated!
“Frogs, Pigs, and Humbug” is a 22-minute behind-the-scenes documentary hosted by Rizzo and Gonzo, with interviews by numerous individuals involved with the movie. It’s ported from the previous DVD release. It’s definitely worth watching if you haven’t seen it.
There’s a couple-minute long blooper reel that offers nothing impressive. “Christmas Around the World” is another short extra from the previous DVD; again, nothing special. Finally, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Weirdo” is a 5 minute featurette about Gonzo in his various roles. This is a new extra, but it’s definitely not new. I don’t know where it came from (does anyone?), but in any case, it’s here. It’s nothing special, and isn’t focused on this movie.
Overall, The Muppet Christmas Carol Blu-ray is a must-own for anyone who enjoys Christmas movies or is a fan of The Muppets. The absence of “When Love is Gone” is disappointing, and there could be a few more extras (given Disney’s recent treatment of non-Platinum releases, we should be thankful we even got a new commentary!), but the video transfer and new commentary track make up for this. I’m still holding out hope that Disney is working on an epic box set of all The Muppets films with hours of new special features, but for now, this is a solid release, and one that we’ll be watching multiple times this Christmas!
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(Note: the Blu-ray linked-to above and below is the Blu-ray and Digital Copy only. If you want the Blu-ray+DVD+Digital Copy, click here. If you just want the DVD, click here.)