Christmas Movie Smackdown: ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ vs. ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’

To read more of Sharp’s Christmas Movie Smackdown, click here.

Adapting a beloved book into a film is a far trickier proposition than you’d think. Sure, the story is already all plotted out for you, and there’s a built-in fan base. But those same qualities can work against you. Stray too far from the source material and the fans will riot; remain too faithful and you might not have much of a movie on your hands. It’s a precarious balance to strike. For every Lord of the Rings trilogy, there’s, well, a Hobbit trilogy.

And, if the movie you’re adapting is specifically aimed at families, that compounds the headache even further: now, on top of everything else, you need to create material that’ll hold the goldfish-like attention of a five-year-old while still keeping parents engaged, too.

That, essentially, was the Kobiyashi Maru scenario faced by both The Muppet Christmas Carol and How the Grinch Stole Christmas — translating iconic yuletide tales into kid-friendly big screen features. Happily enough, they both passed with flying colours, albeit via very different means.

The Muppet Christmas Carol took a decidedly more conservative approach. Despite all of the signature Muppet flourishes present — skating penguins, talking vegetables, big musical numbers — it’s actually a relatively straightforward adaptation of Dickens’ novella (to the point that my eighth grade English teacher let us watch it in class when we studied the book). The great majority of Gonzo’s narration is taken directly from the original text, as are most of the characters’ lines. And Michael Caine brings real depth and gravitas to the role of Scrooge, providing the movie with a steady base for all the Muppet-y mayhem to play off. The result is a sweet, warmhearted take on a Christmas classic that crackles with the kind of infectious, slapdash energy that only Kermit and co. can provide.

The team behind The Grinch was faced with a far more complicated task: stretching a 64-page picture book (the text of which consists mainly of made-up words) into a feature-length film—one that has to supplant a much-loved TV cartoon adaptation in the public consciousness. Their solution? Dive deep into the Grinch’s untold backstory and give Jim Carrey free reign to indulge his most maniacal impulses. For the most part, the plan works: from beneath a fairly remarkable prosthetic makeup job, Carrey rages and sneers and contorts his way across the screen, forcing you to care about the tacked-on romantic subplot through his sheer will alone. But while all that effort adds up to an entertaining two hours, it isn’t enough to outrun the long shadow of the movie’s animated predecessor.

Nor, for the purposes of this competition, can it overcome the concise and well-balanced holiday fare that the Muppets deliver with practiced ease. Which is why the Grinch’s heart will be shrinking back down three sizes as we boot him from the bracket.

THE WINNER: The Muppet Christmas Carol

03A_xmas bracket