'Muppet Christmas Carol' suffers from loss of Henson


Alongside "Aladdin," three new family movies have been released on video that are worth noting:

"The Muppet Christmas Carol" (Jim Henson Video, $22.99, rated G) is the first Muppet feature since the death of creator Jim Henson, and the void is obvious. Gone are the witty zingers and the sense of cynicism toward convention. Charles Dickens' story would have been poked on all sides by Henson, while still managing to retain the warmth of the message and adding memorable original songs. Under the direction of his son, Brian Henson, the story is treated with kid gloves, as if the source material is too sacrosanct to needle. And there are no memorable tunes. Only the technical quality of the puppetry and special effects is up to standard. Michael Caine is Scrooge.

The first question that comes to mind when watching "Tom and Jerry: The Movie" (LIVE, $24.98, rated G), is: Why? Why take nonspeaking cartoon characters from 50 years ago who appeared as constantly warring combatants in dozens of shorts and put them in a full-length feature as speaking characters who are partnered in a common mission to save a runaway girl? Obviously the filmmakers were hoping to capitalize on the recognition factor of the famous cat and mouse. But the only audience this childlike story will appeal to will be no more familiar with Tom and Jerry than Droopy, who makes a cameo appearance here.

"Dennis the Menace" (Warner, $24.96, rated PG) has yet to translate well from the comic strip to TV or movies. The best that can be said about this effort is that writer/producer John Hughes managed to keep the movie from escalating into the same kind of noisy, chaotic comedy that characterized his "Home Alone" movies, even though "Dennis" turns into a carbon copy of the "Home Alone" set when the precocious kid must thwart a thief. Not unexpectedly, the best thing this movie has going for it is Walter Matthau as the grumpy Mr. Wilson and the innocent victim of Dennis' good intentions. He also has the film's two best scenes of visual humor, both when trying to shake off the effects of the Menace.

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