The fit between sentiment and satire is not always a comfortable one and the more dedicated fans of either the story or the Muppets may leave theaters dissatisfied. However, the film's overt appeal to both the season and the furry creatures' adult and juvenile fans should make this a steady performer at least for December. Its real fortunes, however, probably lie ahead in video.
Familiar Muppets ''play'' various characters, starting with the long-nosed Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens. Joined by wisecracking Rizzo the Rat, Gonzo's Dickens offers an explanatory narrative as he skulks around and about the story proper. The tale itself is centered around Caine's straightforward depiction of miserly Scrooge, a solid performance that is at its best during the more poignant moments with the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Yet to Come.
Those two spirits, along with their mate, Present, are the highpoint of the new creations. Past is a floating mass of veils headed by a porcelain face; Present an otherwise unexceptional rotund fellow who, delightfully, shrinks or grows to fit the available space; while Yet to Come is a statuesque, cowled fright.
Other characterizations by familiar Muppet personalities are more problematic: Kermit the Frog merges pretty well into Bob Cratchit, but Miss Piggy as Mrs. Cratchit is weirdly show biz.
All the Muppets, however, are very well-animated, and the sense of individualized personality extends through a large cast of supporting ''players'' and ''extras.'' The picturesque production design by Val Strazovec is extremely evocative and does an excellent job of accommodating both human and Muppet proportions, often simultaneously. The time travel effects are also top-notch.
The musical sequences are not standouts, what with the obvious limitations on dancing, but songs by Paul Williams do the trick of emphasizing mood.
THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL
Walt Disney Pictures presents from Jim Henson Prods.
Director Brian Henson
Producer Brian Henson, Martin G. Baker
Screenplay Jerry Juhl
Based on ''A Christmas Carol'' by Charles Dickens
Executive producer Frank Oz
Co-producer Jerry Juhl
Editor Michael Jablow, A.C.E.
Director of photography John Fenner
Production designer Val Strazovec
Score Miles Goodman
Songs Paul Williams
Scrooge ... Michael Caine
Muppet Cast ... Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, Frank Oz, David Rudman, Donald Austen, Rob Tygner, Karen Prell, William Todd Jones, Jessica Fox
Running time -- 85 minutes
MPAA Rating: G
(c) The Hollywood Reporter