The Muppet Christmas Carol
based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
In my house (by which I mean my own floating domicile, not my parents’ current residence), there are only two Christmas movies—Love Actually and The Muppet Christmas Carol. They are only eligible for viewing between the dates of December 1st and December 24th. (Christmas Day itself, naturally, is reserved for the Doctor Who Christmas special. My mother and I are, oddly enough for a Frenchwoman and her American daughter, raging Anglophiles.) And yet, while I’ve sat down and watched The Muppet Christmas Carol these past two years, I never thought to review it for the blog. I know Christmas is over, but the Muppets are forever.
The Muppet Christmas Carol finds the Muppets retelling Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas story. Gonzo, playing Charles Dickens, takes the reigns as Ebenezer Scrooge, the most tight-fisted, awful human being in all of Victorian London, declares his hatred for Christmas and all it stands for. On Christmas Eve, however, Scrooge is warned by the spirits of his hell-bound former partners, Jacob and Robert Marley, that he’s doomed to their fate unless he changes his ways. In order to do so, he is visited by three spirits—the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future—who show him the error of his ways. Also, it’s a musical.
While I grew up in a particularly pop-culture resistant bubble until around the age of fifteen, I knew and loved the Muppets. Of course, I only knew Muppet Treasure Island, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Muppets Tonight. (Oh, yeah, I watched Muppets Tonight when it was syndicated on Disney.) But I think that was a great introduction to them, since I think of them as an acting troupe unto themselves. Delightfully, the Muppets are credited as themselves here, which is the first sign that you’re in good hands. The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first Muppet film released after the death of Jim Henson, and I think people were waiting to see what would happen. Of course, a lot of the same crew (and Henson’s son Brian) were involved, but I can imagine (well, now; at the time I was getting the hang of crawling) it was odd to see Steven Whitmore take over the role of Kermit. I can’t comment, since I’ve only really known Whitmire’s Kermit, and I love him.
But the great strength of The Muppet Christmas Carol lies not in the Muppets themselves, although they’re fantastic as always—Gonzo, in particular, is a fantastic narrator, especially with Rizzo to play off of. (See? I have a hard time thinking of them as puppets!) Rather, it’s that it’s a pretty faithful and brilliant adaptation of the novel itself. Now, I’ve not read The Christmas Carol, a victim of my childhood campaign to steadfastly avoid any children’s classics that didn’t come from Disney, but if you took the Muppets out, you’d have a thoughtful, funny, and emotional adaptation of the story. The keystone here is Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge, giving it his all, utterly unaware that many people he plays against are made out of felt; there is no other Scrooge for me. If you buy or rent this on DVD, make sure you get the tenth anniversary edition that includes the song “When Love is Gone” in the fullscreen version. (Yeah, I know, fullscreen is of the devil. Also: suede, but that’s neither here nor there.) It’s a slow song sung by Scrooge’s beloved, Belle, as she realizes that Scrooge will always love money more than her, and watching Michael Caine fall apart as he realizes what he’s done is one of the best bits in the film. (The VHS version definitely has it, if that’s what you’re working with.)
Most of the songs in The Muppet Christmas Carol are holiday classics for me; “One More Sleep ‘Till Christmas” is light and joyful, showing Whitmire acquitting himself well as Kermit, and the Ghost of Christmas Present’s “It Feels Like Christmas” is Christmas for me. But those are childhood favorites of mine, and my favorite song as an adult has to be the opening song, “Scrooge”. We don’t see Scrooge’s face until the end, but everyone’s reactions to him in song form lets you know exactly who and what this guy is in two minutes or less. And the sequence also gives you a feel for the world of this film. While it’s clearly shot on a sound stage, this film has a remarkable sense of place and touch, aided by the fact that the Muppets have never shied away from showing that they’re made of felt and fur. The cinematography also holds up very well, twenty years later; it’s a really gorgeous film. While I won’t go near the Blu-Ray edition (No “When Love is Gone”? You are dead to me!), I imagine it looks great.
The film’s songwriter Paul Williams was recently interviewed on the Nerdist and talks a little bit about this film, as well as his work with the Muppets; check it out!
Bottom line: The Muppet Christmas Carol is a remarkably faithful adaptation of Dickens’ novella, albeit with the sweet, delightful humor and music of the Muppets. A Christmas classic.
I watched this at a friend’s house.