This joint venture of the Henson and Disney empires, a somber variation on the Dickens standby, is more Henson than Disney, with Muppets sprinkled into a cast of humans but nary a cartoon to be seen.
The casting is strange all around. Caine, as Dickens's counter-Santa, Ebenezer Scrooge, is mostly in a colorlessly competent mode, coming alive only when he sings one of the Paul Williams songs that enliven the film. Oscar the Grouch, who would have made a better Scrooge, is nowhere to be seen, Muppet Gonzo plays Dickens, and the least appealing Muppet, Rizzo the Rat, hangs out with Gonzo, who narrates the story. That flannel Tracy and Hepburn, Kermit and Miss Piggy, play Bob and Emily Cratchit, Scrooge's head bookkeeper and his wife.
The direction, by Jim Henson's son Brian, and the script, by Jerry Juhl, display little of the hipness and irony associated with the Muppets, though Gonzo does address the audience at one point to wonder if the film might not be getting too scary for young audiences, whereupon Rizzo suggests, "That's all right. This is culture."
Given the pedantic, dense, dark nature of Dickens's story, there is little fun in this for children. Things look bad for The Muppet Tale of Two Cities. (G)