Christmas films will dominate screens every which way in the coming days. Sooz Kempner diverts from her seasonal routine to revisit the Muppets of Christmas past and see if they’re still a present worth having.
What and why: Ever wondered what the Muppets would make of Charles Dickens? I know you have. And you can because this is not just a Muppets Christmas movie, it is an adaptation of Dickens’ own Christmas special.
Will Scrooge stop being a dick? Will Tiny Tim snuff it? Will Miss Piggy kick the shit out of Bob Cratchit? All these questions will be answered as I rate or date 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol.
I should say that this isn’t my favourite Muppets movie. That mantle is held by the follow-up, Muppet Treasure Island. A rockin’ romp with Tim Curry as a magnificent Long John Silver, this is my annual Christmas Muppets watch, so I was chuffed to change things up a bit with a rewatch of The Muppet Christmas Carol.
After Jim Henson’s sudden death in 1990, The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first film put into production. Jim’s son Brian Henson was approached with the idea of bringing Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to Muppetty-life, and a Christmas staple was born. Loving tribute is paid to Jim Henson with the movie, which was the first Muppet movie adaptation of an existing story. A period piece with Gonzo playing Charles Dickens narrating his own tale? I’m in.
We open with beautiful sweeping shots of Victorian London with one of the many excellent original songs from the movie’s soundtrack (written by Paul Williams of We’ve Only Just Begun fame). The music in this film frickin’ poops Christmas from the off. You will literally be coated in Christmas from the first bars.
An adaptation of A Christmas Carol done Muppet-style would be forgiven for straying from the plot and getting real zany, but one of the biggest surprises is how closely Jim Henson Workshop sticks to the source material. This is as faithful an adaptation of Dickens as you could possibly expect from a bunch of puppets we’re super-familiar with. Bob Cratchit is Kermit, with Robin as Tiny Tim. Kermit’s married to Miss Piggy, natch, but even their antics don’t take you out of the authentic feel of the story.
So who is Ebenezer Scrooge in this family movie? None other than Michael Caine! He made the decision that he was going to play the role straight with no winks to camera or capering about.
As a result he delivers this truly bizarre performance that’s as bleak and drawn as a performance in an early 70s BBC play and somehow it works perfectly. It’s actually what holds everything in the film together and if they’d made the decision to have a Muppet Scrooge or even another actor giving a big cartoony performance, it wouldn’t have been nearly so classy.
“Will Scrooge stop being a dick? Will Tiny Tim snuff it? Will Miss Piggy kick the shit out of Bob Cratchit?”
Another perfect casting decision is Statler and Waldorf as the Marley brothers (yes, in this version of the story there are two Marleys because Statler without Waldorf would be unacceptable).
They proper roast Scrooge like pricks and the deadly serious performance from Caine as he’s roasted to fuck is hilarious, but also genuinely creepy.
The design of the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come is nothing short of spectacular. Christmas Past is a puppet but doesn’t look like a muppet. She’s haunting and ethereal like something out of a Kate Bush video.
Muppets movies are family films, but a lot of what’s presented is decidedly adult. We see Scrooge’s fiancée leave him and there’s nothing that panders to children in the scene. Maybe that’s part of the success of the Muppets: they never patronise kids.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is fucking terrifying. I remember being shit-scared of it when I was about eight, and it’s still petrifying to see as an adult.
At this point we’re barely in a Muppet movie. Rizzo and Gonzo eff off because even they don’t fancy Greek-chorusing the aftermath of Tiny Tim’s death. It’s played dead straight, we’re shown Tiny Tim’s empty chair with his hat and his crutch and Caine goes full-on RSC and it is legit harrowing! How did you do that, Muppets?
Given the impetus to change, Scrooge of course ends the movie a top guy and Tiny Tim lives and we end with Caine singing a cracking closing number with the ensemble in glorious technicolour.
Rated or dated: This movie is as Christmassy as mince pies, the Queen’s Speech and EastEnders misery (my personal highlight). It will now join Muppet Treasure Island in an annual Muppets Christmas double-bill, and I think you’d be a stupid-head if you didn’t do the same.
Sing with me, “There goes Mister Humbug, there goes Mister Grim! If they gave a prize for being mean the winner would be him!” RATED
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Funny Women Variety Award Winner 2012. ASDA Kate Bush.