Michael Caine Approached The Muppet Christmas Carol Like A Royal Shakespeare Company Production

When you see a real actor performing with The Muppets, it is easy to think that would be a straightforward process. You show up and goof around with some puppets for a bit and don't have to take things too seriously. While this can work for a sketch on "The Muppet Show," it's not really the case when it comes to a real-life actor with a sizable role in a feature film. Sure, Steve Martin or Mel Brooks can come in for one scene in "The Muppet Movie" and do a schtick, but the weight of the story does not rest on them. Charles Durning as Doc Hopper and Austin Pendleton as Doc's sidekick, Max, cannot afford to be knowingly silly. They are ostensibly the antagonists of the movie, and if they do not play the film straight, there are no stakes to the picture. Therefore, there's no drama and no reason to care. The same goes for Charles Grodin in "The Great Muppet Caper."

Without question, though, no one understood this better than Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge in "The Muppet Christmas Carol." This was the first time that a human being was not only important to the film but they played the true lead of the picture, carrying the entirety of the emotional weight on their shoulders. This is an adaption of the classic Charles Dickens novel, and Scrooge is the character with arguably one of the most powerful and famous arcs in literary history. Michael Caine had to take "The Muppet Christmas Carol" as seriously as a heart attack to convey all that, and he knew from the beginning that was the only way the film would work.

'Completely straight and completely committed'

During this year's D23 Expo, there was a panel to celebrate the 30th anniversary of "The Muppet Christmas Carol," which also announced that the full, uncut film will finally be released this December on Disney+. Dalin Rowell of /Film attended the panel where director Brian Henson talked about the earliest conversation he had with Michael Caine about Scrooge, and even then, Caine knew exactly how to play the part:

"[H]e said, 'I think the only way I can play this is if I — I never will react to anything as if they're Muppets or if they're anything out of the usual.' He said, 'I'm going to play it like I'm playing opposite the Royal Shakespeare Company ... I'm going to play it completely straight and completely committed, and that, I think, will make the right Scrooge.'"

Henson was pleased as punch to hear that Caine had the same vision he had for the character, especially because Henson knew, "There's also the Michael Caine who would love to look down the camera and give it a little wink, just like The Muppets do." Caine understood that if he did that there'd be no reason to tell this story or a way to connect to the audience.

Michael Caine gives what I believe to be the best human performance in a Muppets movie and the greatest performance of Ebenezer Scrooge in any film adaptation of the novel. His bitterness towards humankind is palpable and upsetting. His heartbreak and regret come from someplace deep inside him that makes you reflect on your own mistakes. Those things make his newfound elation more earned than ever before. I believe he should've received an Oscar nomination for the performance, but we can settle for mesmerizing millions every Christmas for 30 years.