The Muppet Christmas Carol may be to the Muppets what Room Service is to the Marx Brothers. Neither is particularly good, especially in relation to the rest of the Muppet or Marx Brothers movies, but they can still be enjoyed immensely if you are a big enough fan of the Muppets or the Marxes. The films share two significant factors that aided in their surprisingly low quality. Each comedy "troupe" (if you can accept Kermit & Co. as a troupe) had recently suffered from a terrible disruption in their respective commands. Muppet Christmas Carol was the first Muppet movie produced after the death of Jim Henson, while Room Service was the first Marx Bros. movie to be filmed (fully) after the death of producer Irving Thalberg (though, of course, Thalberg was not the Bros.' creator like Henson was the Muppets'). And, most importantly, each is notable for having not been written for their "troupe"; instead the "troupe" was rather ill fittingly dropped into pre-existing stories.
In the case of The Muppet Christmas Carol, that pre-existing story is of course Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas (umm, commonly known as simply A Christmas Carol). Unlike previous Muppet vehicles, such as The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan, this one focuses on a main character not played by a Muppet. Instead, Michael Caine portrays the lead, Ebenezer Scrooge, while the old favorites play minor supporting characters from Bob Crachit (Kermit) and his wife (Miss Piggy) to the narrators, Charles Dickens (Gonzo) and Rizzo the Rat (himself). Strangely the Christmas spirits aren't played by any of the star Muppets. In fact, only one of them is even technically a puppet: the Ghost of Christmas Present, which is a burly, redheaded body puppet (has an actor inside) with a Scottish accent. Amazingly enough, the two Muppets with the best role(s) are the curmudgeonly duo of Statler and Waldorf, who portray Scrooge's late business partners Jacob and Robert Marley (get it, Bob Marley?). And not only do they get to fill such a prominent, albeit short, part of the story, they get to play the part two-fold (Dickens' original has only one Marley), and they get to sing the most fun song in the film, "Marley and Marley" (songwriter Paul Williams was seriously robbed at Oscar time, as if both Aladdin and The Bodyguard needed two original song nominations each). Other people may favor Kermit or Piggy or Fozzie (here as Fezziwig, er "Fozziwig"), but I can never get enough of Statler and Waldorf (I really miss their film criticism, btw).
Then there are the jokes, of which Statler and Waldorf also get their share ("It's good to be heckling again." "It's good to be doing anything again!"). If you love bad puns as much as I do -- and if you're a fan of the Muppets you must -- then you can't deny that Muppet Christmas Carol has some of the greatest (er worst). When Scrooge tells the Ghost of Christmas Present, "You're a little absent-minded, spirit." The Ghost replies, "No, I'm a large absent-minded spirit." Bad puns (and some good ones) are what also unite the Muppets with the Marx Brothers Even when they're truly awful -- and every one uttered by Caine as Scrooge is embarrassingly bad -- they're still a lot of fun.
There is unfortunately one unwatchable moment in The Muppet Christmas Carol. When Scrooge is brought back by the Ghost of Christmas Past to view himself as a younger man in love, there's one of the least tolerable songs ever to grace the cinema, and it is performed by two of the least tolerable actors ever to grace the cinema (Raymond Coulthard and Meredith Braun, she of nostrils too big for the big screen). Not since the Marx Brothers films, which often featured musical duets that obnoxiously excluded Groucho and the boys, had there been a film moment that so irritatingly detracted from what its audience was there to see.
The Muppets and Christmas had already gone hand in hand for years before the making of Muppet Christmas Carol. The 1979 album John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Carol was a holiday staple for my family, and Emmit Otter's Jug Band Christmas was without a doubt my favorite holiday movie as a child (and as an adult, thanks to that rolling drum blooper on the DVD). Last year, Cinematical's Mark Beall presented a whole list, in fact, of Henson Christmas delights. The Muppet Christmas Carol isn't the best of the bunch and it isn't the worst of the bunch, but it will never fail to entertain me this time of year.