Who Is the Best Bob Cratchit?
“As good as gold. And better.”
It’s always interesting to me when a character transforms into more than just being a character and becomes, essentially, a mascot for an iconic group of fictional beings. For example, SpongeBob SquarePants is hardly just another NickToon now; he’s become synonymous with and representative of everything Nickelodeon. Early in the SpongeBob run, he had specific characteristics and quirks that made him unique, but also helped him mesh within the Bikini Bottom world of characters. Now, he’s more of a blank slate that aims for all four quadrants and has no edge so he can be broadly appealing for the company, as a whole. The same has become true of Bugs Bunny now (thanks to the Space Jam sequel), to the extent that the Looney Tunes can still represent Warner Brothers. But it’s perhaps best-associated with Mickey Mouse — representing Disney, writ large — and Kermit the Frog, the leader of the Muppets.
I wonder, then, how coincidental it can be that these are also the characters who tend to be ascribed to the character of Bob Cratchit when the inevitable take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol arrives for the respective menageries of figures. Yes, in Bah Humduck, Porky Pig takes on the pseudo-Cratchit role, but I’m only referring to direct adaptations of A Christmas Carol here. Porky’s character is based off Cratchit, but Mickey Mouse (in Mickey’s Christmas Carol) and Kermit the Frog (in The Muppet Christmas Carol) are literally portraying Bob Cratchit.
Ebenezer Scrooge, no doubt, is the main character/protagonist/introductory-antagonist of A Christmas Carol. Mickey and Kermit are the main characters of their respective friend groups. And yet, they don’t play Scrooge. (Respectively, those honors go to Scrooge McDuck and Michael Caine.) They may be too straight-edge to be tied to such a dastardly being. They may be impossible to view as being anything but sweet, kind, and generous. Whatever the reason, they become associated with the Cratchit character, who is sweet and is generous and, to be honest, is kind of a push-over.
I don’t really have any further insights on that particular subject. Just that it’s neat how Bob Cratchit can embrace some of the most popular fictional characters of all-time, even without being the main focus of the story. When I started thinking about this, though, I did begin to consider who the best Bob Cratchit actually is. Many times throughout history, the idea of “the best Scrooge” has received plenty of debate. But we never spend enough time considering who may be the best Bob Cratchit. (And forget about a debate over who’s the best Nephew Fred.) Hence why I have now written this article. It’s time to determine who’s the best Bob Cratchit.
There have been innumerable (that’s not true; it’s probably quite easy to count the number of Bob Cratchits we’ve had) Bob Cratchits in pop culture adaptations of the classic Dickensian holiday novella, but for the sake of this debate, there are clearly only three who have a real claim for the top position. Two have already been mentioned (Mickey and Kermit because they are rock steady in the roles and they are also present in the two best adaptations of the work). The third is Richard E. Grant in the 1999 version with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge because the acting is great and Grant is stellar. These are the only three I’ll be considering in this article because it’s so obvious they’d be the three finalists anyway if I were to actually go through each Cratchit.
There have been some other moderately interesting performances. They range from somewhat fun to downright terrible. But they’re at least worth a mention before I devote the rest of the piece to Mouse, Frog, and Grant. Michael York is Cratchit in Tim Curry’s 1997 animated version; Alfre Woodard is the analogous Cratchit in Bill Murray’s 1988 revamp, Scrooged; David Collings is Cratchit in Albert Finney’s 1970 musical version; Marcus Lamb takes on dual roles, including Cratchit, in the fantastical Dan Stevens-Christopher Plummer two-hander, 2017’s The Man Who Invented Christmas; David Warner is Cratchit in George C. Scott’s 1984 version; Mervyn Johns is Cratchit in Alastair Sims’ 1951 version; Rhys Ifans is Cratchit in Simon Callow’s 2001 animated version; Gene Lockhart is Cratchit in Reginald Owen’s 1938 version; Donald Calthrop is Cratchit in Seymour Hicks’ 1935 version; Gary Oldman is Cratchit in Jim Carrey’s and Robert Zemeckis’ 2009 animated version. (Oldman also portrays Jacob Marley and, horrifingly, Tiny Tim.)
That’s a lot of actors, but there’s a lot of versions, to be fair. Through them all, though, Cratchit is a constant. A take on Scrooge can be met with extreme reservation or intense jubilation, but Cratchit is always warm-hearted, trying his best, and wary of advocating for himself. To be a good Bob Cratchit is to be polite, unassuming, and anxious, but also a deep feeler who is unafraid to showcase all interior emotions, even if he’s afraid to express negativity along with them. So, to determine the best Bob Cratchit, we will assign point values for various categories to each rendition. Because nothing gets at the spirit of giving and the spirit of the holidays like turning art into math.
The Opening Scenes
Mickey’s Christmas Carol: The Disney special clocks in at a breezy twenty-six minutes, so there’s not a whole lot of time spent in the opening scenes. But Mickey makes his presence known instantly and immediately counters as a warm anecdote to the harsh, penny-tweezing Scrooge McDuck. There’s just not a whole lot for him to do. 3/5.
A Christmas Carol (1999): Richard E. Grant tosses thin streaks of his greasy, dark hair in front of his eyes like he’s an Emo Peter Parker who was forced to become a pauper to support his found family. Most of Grant’s time on screen is spent brooding, largely because this is the most threatening of the three Scrooges. With McDuck and Caine, you get the vibe that one could be fired or, at least, demoted. With Grant’s reaction to Stewart, you get the vibe that he could perhaps be murdered. 2/5.
The Muppet Christmas Carol: Kermit’s Cratchit finds the happy medium between the two aforementioned extremes. He’s impactful, but not overly dominant in the opening scenes, thanks in part to the fact that rats also work for Scrooge and they get some of the laugh lines. But what really gives Kermit the advantage here is that he gets a whole musical number on his way home. Typically, Scrooge is the one followed him, but Muppet Christmas Carol finds time for Scrooge’s commute and Bob’s commute. “One More Sleep ’til Christmas” also happens to be among the best in the Muppets oeuvre, so it’s a clear win for Kermit here. 5/5.
The Christmas Present Scenes
Mickey’s Christmas Carol: The other time you see Bob Cratchit comes as one of the vignettes during the Ghost of Christmas Present’s romp. Mickey’s tenure in this section is highly abbreviated with the only memorable moment coming courtesy of Mickey thinly carving a pea for Christmas Day dinner. It’s almost as duct-milkingly tragic as “the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.” 2/5.
A Christmas Carol (1999): The character most frequently jettisoned by Christmas Carol adaptations with missions of efficiency is Martha, one of the elder Cratchit children. One of the Cratchit storylines is whether or not Martha is coming home for the holiday, but neither Mouse nor Muppet has time for that. The 1999 version has one of the best depictions of Martha and Bob’s affinity for her and his longing for a full family Christmas. There’s even time for the present-day Cratchit to play games typically reserved for Nephew Fred’s party. It’s heartening to see Grant’s Cratchit come to life here because, without warmth in his performance, there’s no archetype, no projection for the audience to latch onto emotionally. 4/5.
The Muppet Christmas Carol: In the 1992 Muppet film, the Christmas Present scenes are largely dominated by Robin being, once again, obscenely saccharine and Miss Piggy continuing her usual “hi-ya” schtick. This means there’s not a lot of oxygen for Kermit to flex his legs as Cratchit. Anyone who’s seen The Muppet Show knows that Kermit can play the sweet doormat perfectly; there’s just too many bits for us to see that here. 2/5.
The Ending Scenes
Mickey’s Christmas Carol: Mickey and Grant truly slot on opposite sides of the spectrum here. When Scrooge turns up to promise healthcare for the children, a raise for Bob, and an entire set of toys and food for the holiday to the Cratchits, the entire family embraces it immediately. There’s a wee bit of surprise, sure, but it quickly fades away as Mickey and Minnie embrace and the kids are just happy to have toys. “I’m giving you a raise and making you my partner,” Scrooge tells Cratchit, who accepts it quite quickly. Better to accept it quickly while your boss may not be lucid, though. 3/5.
A Christmas Carol (1999): Grant is more rightfully suspicious of this potential lack of ludicity, though. While Mickey’s eyes go wide for two seconds and warm for the rest, Grant’s first instinct is to grab a fire poker out of self-defense and cast his eyes down out of fear that he might need to become the murderer. He thinks Scrooge has snapped and his life could be at stake, as a result. It’d be humorous if it didn’t also come with the connotation that Cratchit was little more than an abused animal to Scrooge. Fortunately, Grant provides the appropriate amount of concern. 4/5.
The Muppet Christmas Carol: To play Kermit, one has to be able to stammer when taken aback. There’s plenty of stuttering here when Caine’s Scrooge reveals his intentions and Kermit’s Cratchit can hardly believe the good fortune. Tiny Tim is often a driving catalyst of emotion in adaptations of the Dickens, but of these three, he is prominently featured as the entire heart of the story. The only downside with the ending reveal to the Cratchits is that Gonzo (sorry — Charles) and Rizzo get to do most of the euphoric celebrating as a result of Scrooge’s merciful, indirect sparing of Tiny Tim. Kermit’s reactions are more of a blip. 3/5.
Kindness: There’s no denying that Mickey slathers on the kindness more than any Bob Cratchit ever dared to. This is the Wayne Allwine Mickey, who comes long before the Chris Diamantopoulos version that is a desperate, manic idiot. This Mickey is purely kind and cheerful because Disney was wary for decades to give him a discerning trait. 5/5.
Benefit of the Doubt: This version of Cratchit is comprised solely of “benefit of the doubt.” This Cratchit sees the best in everyone and is demoralized to consider that anyone could be anything less than a perfect holiday symbol — even his boss. He’s grateful for coal shards and early December 26 start times, even more than he’s grateful for his own family, potentially. 5/5.
Legacy: In this category, I want to specify that I don’t mean this version of Cratchit’s legacy in media, Christmas Carol history, and holiday films. I’m referring to the legacy Cratchit would have in-universe for the people whose lives he touched. How would his kids remember him after he’s gone? The community? While Mickey’s Cratchit does have a solid relationship with Donald’s Fred, he’s pretty nondescript compared to the other characters. His children are practically clones of him. They may be influenced by Mickey, but how much of a difference does he actually make? We don’t see a whole lot of it. 3/5.
Kermit the Frog
Kindness: In other Muppet media, Kermit can have an edge or a slight bitterness to him, even if it’s outweighed by the cynicism of most other Muppets. In Muppet Christmas Carol, though, he’s purely kind. He serves as the necessary counterweight to Miss Piggy’s abrasion and treats everyone the way he wants to be treated. For him, it’s the emerald rule above all else. 5/5.
Benefit of the Doubt: There are a few brief moments when it seems like Kermit is about to gum Scrooge out, but those are largely usurped by the caustic nature of others. For the most part, Kermit puts his faith in the people he cares about. The people he doesn’t care about? He mostly pays them no attention. 3/5.
Legacy: Kermit’s Cratchit is clearly well-loved by those around him. Putting aside the ludicrous notion that his family would be comprised of female pigs and male frogs solely, those creatures adore him unabashedly. Wherever Kermit’s Cratchit goes, he’s respected and cherished. A valuable member of the community, this Cratchit would have a massive funeral and has a massive impact. 5/5.
Richard E. Grant
Kindness: While Grant’s Cratchit exudes kindness with his family, it’s not as prevalent with everyone else he encounters on a daily basis. For the most part, he keeps his head down and goes to where he’s most comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with this and he is polite to the people he encounters. He’s just not a bastion of Ted Lasso-esque kindness who spouts it off ceaselessly. That might just make him the most realistic Cratchit. 2/5.
Benefit of the Doubt: This is a Cratchit who is highly skeptical. He’s untrusting of the world because he knows the world is harsh and it has burned him before. Burned him arguably more than Scrooge seems to be singed when the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come dangles him above Hell. This is a more cynical Cratchit, for sure. 1/5.
Legacy: While Grant’s Cratchit is highly cynical, he puts on the opposite faces when he’s with his family. He smiles, plays, sings. Maybe his heart is not fully in it, but when he’s home, he forgets about all that he hates and instead focuses on what joy he can bring to his family. They only get one father, after all. I think this family would remember Cratchit fondly, even if the world would steamroll past his legacy without a care. That’s the world as it truly is and Cratchit recognizes it. Not every billionaire has a Scrooge-esque epiphany. 3/5.
The Best Bob Cratchit
If we add up the totals, we have the following numbers.
Mickey Cratchit: 21/30.
Richard E. Cratchit: 16/30.
Kermit the Cratchit: 23/30.
It’s Kermit. Kermit the Frog is the best Bob Cratchit! For years, I’ve felt that Mickey’s Christmas Carol is my favorite adaptation, but the past twelve months have had me thinking that The Muppet Christmas Carol might just be the best. I’ll always love them both, but it’s just interesting to consider, you know? And if Kermit is the best Bob Cratchit, maybe there’s a lot more that the Muppet version has that’s the best. Congratulations to Kermit, long live Bob Cratchit, and happy holidays to all!