Happy Christmas in July, folks! Let’s keep the reviews going! After the release of The Muppets Take Manhattan, Jim Henson continued to keep himself, his team, and his Muppets busy. They made 2 more theatrical movies, Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird (Ken Kwapis, 1985) and Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1986). (Again, I consider both of these Muppet movies, but I can’t review them since I haven’t seen them yet.) They created television shows such as Muppet Babies (Jim Henson, 1984-1991), The Storyteller (Jim Henson, 1988-1990), and The Jim Henson Hour (Jim Henson, 1989). Their TV specials included The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years (Peter Harris, 1986), A Muppet Family Christmas (Peter Harris and Eric Till, 1987), Sesame Street: 20 Years and Still Counting (Peter Harris, 1989), and The Muppets and Walt Disney World (Peter Harris, 1990). The latter was the first collaboration between Jim Henson’s company and the Walt Disney company. At the time, Henson was working on a deal to sell his company to Disney for $100 million. However, the very weekend that deal was going to go through, Henson passed away. He was only 53-years-old on May 16, 1990. As you can imagine, it was very hard and shocking for people all over the world to hear this – to this day people mourn over his passing.
The Jim Henson Company believed, however, that they should continue making more productions. After releasing The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson (Don Mischer, 1990), the Muppets, who stayed with the Jim Henson Company, promised they would keep making more Muppet stuff. They made some television shows such as Dinosaurs (Michael Jacobs and Bob Young, 1991-1994) and Dog City (Jim Henson Productions, 1992-1994), and they opened an amusement park movie at Walt Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Muppet*Vision 3-D (Jim Henson, 1991). (This was the last Muppet project Jim Henson worked on, but he passed before it came out of post-production.) But it was time to have Kermit and his friends make another appearance on the big screen. Enter The Muppet Christmas Carol! This film was unique for the Muppets at the time because it was the first time the Muppet characters were appearing as people other than themselves. They still embodied the spirit and personality of our favorite characters, but the idea was that they were playing other people. Kermit is playing the role of Bob Cratchit; Miss Piggy is his wife, Emily; et cetera. This is definitely a favorite of mine! As I said in my Top 10 Favorite Muppet Productions list, my family and I watch this every Christmas. The songs are great, the characters are wonderful, the adaptation is good – it is an overall great movie! It was made in the memory of Henson himself, as well as late Muppet performer Richard Hunt. Hunt, who passed away in 1992, performed a lot of the famous Muppet characters such as Scooter, Janice, Statler, Beaker, and Sweetums on The Muppet Show; Gladys the Cow, Don Music, and one of the heads of the Two-Headed Monster on Sesame Street; Junior Gorg on Fraggle Rock; and many others. But I’ve gone on long enough – let’s finally get on to the review!
STORY AND THEMES & MESSAGES: The story is…the story of A Christmas Carol. There aren’t too many differences between this film and the original Charles Dickens novel. The Muppets tell the classic story in a respectful and truthful way. There are some changes, of course. For example, Jacob Marley is joined by his brother Robert, allowing both Statler and Waldorf to be in the film. Ebenezer Scrooge didn’t worked for Fezziwig; he instead worked for Fozziwig, played by Fozzie Bear (a pun executed at just the right time). We never see Scrooge’s sister in the film. Rather than waiting to show his new redemptive spirit to Bob Cratchit the day after Christmas, Scrooge goes to Cratchit’s house on Christmas Day. The Ghost of Christmas Present isn’t grim like he was in the novel, but is jolly, cheerful, and joyous instead – he’s like Santa Claus. These changes don’t hurt or disrespect Dickens’ tale at all, though. The story and themes are still present, and the Muppets do not shy away from the dark elements.
There are a couple of scenes that could have been better, however. These are moments that are key moments in the story that could have been better in the film. The first is the Marley’s telling Scrooge about the 3 spirits. This is one of the most important scenes in the story because it sets the rest of the tale in motion. Jacob Marley tells Scrooge (1) that unless he changes his ways his fate will be much worse than Marley’s, and (2) 3 spirits will come to haunt him. This is a big and important scene, and should not be rushed. However, it is rushed in this movie. Jacob and Robert Marley get this information out in 36 seconds! The most important plot device of the story is rushed and jammed into 36 seconds! I love the “Marley and Marley” song, as you’ll see later, but it shouldn’t take the front seat to the plot! The other scene is probably more important than this one, and it shows Scrooge’s new perspective of life. It’s the scene where he walks in the cemetery and sees his name on a tombstone. I don’t know if I believe his breakdown. It sounds like an actor trying to be sad. I don’t know if I understand what led him to say these things to the ghost. One reason I feel this way is because I don’t think this scene is big enough. Think of other adaptations of A Christmas Carol. Usually we see Scrooge being forced into his casket 6 feet under. Here, he just cries and grabs ahold the ghost. I’m not saying that can’t be emotional, but it’s not that effective here. It’s just not big or powerful enough for me to be invested in his change. Those are really the only two scenes regarding the story that could have been better.
It is interesting to see the Muppets share a spotlight with someone here. In the earlier movies, the Muppets were the stars and live-action human actors would be in the background. Here, the focus is on a live-action human star, Michael Caine, and the Muppets are in the background. That’s not a bad thing, though. It works. In all honesty, I can’t think of a Muppet who could accurately play the role of Scrooge.
The world created in this movie is also something to admire. The filmmakers worked hard to make the audience believe live-action humans and Muppets could live together in this environment. It totally works! I love it! I love seeing them walk side by side together and live in the same neighborhoods. It’s a world where literally anything can happen. When all of the supernatural elements with the spirits take place, I believe that can happen in this world. It’s a great compliment to the hard work and attention to detail the filmmakers invested.
One of the messages I get from A Christmas Carol is redemption. It is never impossible for anyone to change. This story conveys that message so wonderfully and beautifully. It does not matter how a person may appear or how cruel they are – anyone and everyone can change. I also like the theme of gratefulness. Bob Cratchit and his family do not have much at all, but they’re still happy and content with life. We don’t ever hear Bob, Emily, Tiny Tim, or the other children complain about not having enough or wanting more. That’s quite uplifting and inspiring.
Another thing I love about this film and its story is that it is simple. It is easy to follow. The Muppets don’t try to tell the story of A Christmas Carol with big and flashy musical numbers or lights. The production is simple. The execution looks simple. There isn’t such thing as a simple Muppet movie due to everything that goes into making one, but the fact that it looks simple and genuine and pure causes me to get sucked into the Christmas spirit the film is trying to convey. This is something earlier Muppet Christmas specials used to do excellently: convey the spirit of Christmas through simplicity. I love it, and it works so well!
CHARACTERS: Since the Muppets are retelling a classic story, I thought it’d be best to talk about the characters they play.
1) Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge – A lot of people consider Caine to be one of the best Scrooges that ever came to film. I don’t know if that’s because they view him as a great actor or because he was one of the first Scrooges they saw. I think Caine makes a good Scrooge. He can convey the heartless side of him and his intimidating presence alright. However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think some of his performance was phoned in. There are a lot of times I watch him and think to myself, “He’s not trying.” I don’t know why that is – maybe he didn’t take the role or the film seriously since he was acting alongside Muppets. Maybe he didn’t want to be in a film that was viewed as a children’s film. I don’t know why, but I can’t buy him as Scrooge throughout a lot of the film. The other times, however, he does win me over. I often am able to look at the screen and say, “I don’t see Michael Caine. I see Scrooge.” He could have been better, but he’s not awful.
2) Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit – Kermit did capture me as a perfect Bob Cratchit. This had to have been the easiest casting choice for the filmmakers. Bob Cratchit actually does remind me of Kermit. They’re both so humble, honest, loving, truthful, reliable, and caring. I don’t know who else in the Muppet universe would have been more fit and more perfect as Bob Cratchit.
3) Miss Piggy as Emily Cratchit – Piggy must have enjoyed being able to play Kermit’s wife in this film! Of course, we do see Piggy in the role, so we’re still able to enjoy this character. I guess my only complaint is that she was not on screen very long. I know there probably isn’t anything that could have been done to extend the role if the filmmakers wanted to create a faithful adaptation of the story, but Miss Piggy is one of our favorite fictional leading ladies! I’d like to spend as much time with her as possible! Again, this isn’t a problem they could have fixed, and I am glad I got to see her. I just wish I could have seen more of her.
4) Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens – A lot of people think the casting of Gonzo as Charles Dickens was a wonderful attribution to the story because it’s one of things that makes this version one of the most faithful adaptations of the original novel. I feel the same way. I love that Gonzo recites the narration Dickens wrote. However, that’s not what I think of first when I see Charles Dickens in this movie. I see a more reserved Gonzo. At times he takes part in crazy stunts and silliness, but most of his time on screen is spent keeping order and balance of the story. He’s the storyteller, and he focuses more on being the serious and omniscient ruler of everything. I find that quite fascinating. Also, his pairing with Rizzo is amazing! The two bounce off of each other perfectly! I don’t want to talk about Rizzo much since he doesn’t play a character from the book, but just know I think he’s cool.
5) Robin the Frog as Tiny Tim – Robin is just a gem! I don’t know what all to say about him, but that’s just because he’s too good! Like Kermit as Bob Cratchit, I can’t see anyone else perfect for the role of Tiny Tim than Robin. He refuses to frown or look at the downside of life. He has so much joy and passion for life even though his life may soon come to an end. He is so inspiring and perfect for the role, it’s impossible to find a better Tiny Tim anywhere!
It’s also quite clever that there are quite a few Muppet cameos in this film. Rowlf is playing the piano at Fozziwig’s party. The Electric Mayhem is also playing at the party. We see the Swedish Chef for a brief moment, the baby band, the snowman from A Muppet Family Christmas, and we even see Sprocket from Fraggle Rock! He may be my favorite cameo.
SONGS AND MUSIC: The score was written by Miles Goodman, and the songs were written by Paul Williams. Williams, if you remember, co-wrote the songs for the first Muppet movie. The music in this film is absolutely perfect! I can’t think of another movie that has music that perfectly sounds like Christmas! It literally sounds like Christmas as soon as the music plays. And these songs left a permanent and memorable stamp in the history of Muppet songs! They all work so well! Let’s talk about them!
1) Scrooge: As you can guess by the title, this song introduces us to Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s a good introduction to his character. Since this film introduced a lot of people to the “Christmas Carol” story, this song introduced a lot of people to Scrooge. We hear how mean and nasty he is. What’s interesting is that the music can sound a bit intimidating, in the sense that you can tell this is a bad man, but it never gets too dark. The music is still somewhat enjoyable and pretty. Perhaps it indicates that this bad man will have redemption later…Maybe. Who knows? I don’t care. I love this song!
2) One More Sleep ’til Christmas: This song accurately expresses how all of us feel the night of Christmas Eve. Let’s face it, Christmas excites us all, and we anticipate that day the most on Christmas Eve. We can’t wait for the goodness and laughter and cheer and joy and everything that the blessed holiday engulfs. Kermit sings that so wonderfully here, and it gets us all excited for the holiday. I enjoy this song. It’s good.
3) Marley and Marley: THIS song is awesome! First of all, it has Statler and Waldorf singing! YES!! Second of all, this number is the darkest song in the film. You have ghosts talking about a man’s mortality and his upcoming death unless he changes. The tone makes this song great! The lyrics are also clever and memorable. I can sing these words all day long! “As freedom comes from giving love, so prison comes with hate!” “So have your fun, when life is done a nightmare waits for you!” Those lines stick with you! I also love how it fits the spirit of Jacob Marley’s character. Marley is warning Scrooge that he’ll end up dead and bound in chains like him if he doesn’t turn his life around. The Marleys tells him what kind of men they were and what consequences they faced in the afterlife. This song embodies that so perfectly, and I love it so much for that!
4) When Love is Gone: I don’t like this number. It’s not that I think it’s a bad song. I do think this number is actually clever; Scrooge’s former love is telling him their relationship is over because he put material things over her. What I don’t like is the singer. Why the crud is Meredith Braun singing this so pretty? She’s ending a relationship with someone she was in love with. Shouldn’t that make her sad? You wouldn’t know that looking at her, though, because she smiles throughout the entire song! Why the crud is she smiling?! Did she think Belle didn’t really like Scrooge? Was she secretly cheating on him and looking for an excuse to leave him? SHE SHOULD NOT BE GLAD ABOUT THIS!!! If it wasn’t for the performance of this song, I’d like it more. I do respect it, but Braun’s performance of it isolates me.
5) It Feels Like Christmas: If the rest of the music in the movie sounds like Christmas, this song sounds like Christmas is hugging you! I don’t know if I have ever heard of a song that sounds more like the wonderful holiday than this song! I love that this song celebrates Christmas and talks about the unbelievable impact the holiday has on all of us. It is a delightful and joyous song. It puts a smile on my face, and it gets me excited for Christmas!
6) Bless Us All: This song is a gem! Its smooth melody and humbling lyrics make this song so precious and beautiful. It has such an overwhelming amount of peace to it. What I find most interesting about the song is that it’s a prayer. The Muppets are praying for God’s blessing over their lives and their family. I love that! I love the seriousness and dignity they give this moment. I also love the simplicity to this musical number. If this song were written for a modern Christmas special, the filmmakers would have tried to make it flashy and spectacular, or they would have tried to make it super serious. Here, the filmmakers don’t go over the top. They create simple staging and let the song speak for itself. That is film at its best. I love this song!
7) Thankful Heart: “One More Sleep ’til Christmas” celebrated the anticipation of Christmas. “It Feels Like Christmas” celebrated the holiday and the impact it has. This number celebrates the themes and emotions of the Christmas season. This celebrates the wonderful feelings we all get around Christmas: gratefulness, joy, love, compassion – it’s just great! All in all, these songs in their own unique way helped us realize and remember why this time of year is so great. They embrace the holiday season so much, there is no way you can deny it is Christmas whenever you watch this film – no matter what time of year it is!
PUPPETRY: The puppetry in this film is pretty good. There aren’t too many scenes or moments that push the envelope or challenge the audience’s suspension of disbelief, but the puppetry is still very good. The characters move with humanistic grace as always, and we do have a scene with the rats that reminds me of the rat scat scene from The Muppets Take Manhattan. However, the places the puppetry really shines is the appearance of the 3 ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Past was achieved through green screen and water. She looks like something from another world, but I love her because of that. The Ghost of Christmas Present was performed the same way the gorgs from Fraggle Rock were: one performer was in the suit of the Muppet controlling the body, while Jerry Nelson performed his voice and controlled his mouth and face by radio control. I wish they made more Muppets like this nowadays – I don’t mind the technically advanced Muppets. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come…is something I have no idea how they achieved. I don’t dare guess how they made that one work, but the character looks great! These guys look fantastic!
COMEDY: For a lot of people, this film doesn’t feel like a traditional Muppet film because there isn’t as much comedy. Rather than make an outrageous version of A Christmas Carol where the Muppets’ personalities got in the way, the film has a serious and dramatic tone. That doesn’t “bother” me as much as it does other people since I grew up with this film and accepted what I was given early on. I do put quotations around “bother” because while I know people compare the amount of comedy in this film to the comedy in the other films, I don’t know anyone who hated the film because of it.
All of that being said, there is still some really good comedy in this film. Most of it comes from our narrators, Gonzo and Rizzo. I don’t know whose idea it was to pair these two together, but it works so wonderfully here! Their comic timing and execution is all too perfect! I love the moment where Rizzo jumps over Scrooge’s fence. I can still recite “Light the lamp, not the rat!” I love watching the two of them travel with Scrooge and the first ghost to the past. Most of the time these two are together, know that it’ll be a funny scene!
Gonzo and Rizzo aren’t the only ones to deliver the laughs, though. I like watching to Piggy’s reaction to Ebenezer Scrooge’s confrontation with Kermit toward the end of the film. Statler and Waldorf…What can I say? It’s frickin’ Statler and Waldorf – you know they’ll deliver! My favorite joke in the film, however, has got to be the joke with Sam the Eagle, who portrays Scrooge’s old schoolmaster. When he tells the boyhood Scrooge about business, he says, “It is the American way!” Gonzo whispers in his ear to correct him, only for Sam to respond with, “Oh. It is the British way!” That is hilarious! I don’t know why it look me until now to figure out that it’s almost the same joke I mentioned in my review of The Great Muppet Caper, but it is absolutely wonderful! When the movie needs to be funny, the filmmakers and the Muppets know just what to do, when to do it, and how to do it!
CONCLUSION: This is a fantastic and wonderful movie! I don’t know too many people who would disagree with me on that. It’s not the best adaptation to Charles Dickens’ classic tale, but it’s certainly a good one and one of the most memorable versions. It’s allows the spirit of Christmas to breathe throughout the entire film due to the simplicity the film achieved. The story is the same as the tale we all know and love. Our favorite characters do a marvelous job recreating and being faithful to the story. The songs are perfect. The puppetry has not lost its touch. The comedy is still memorable and enjoyable. I don’t know how it was perceived when it was first released in theaters, but being almost the same age as this film I can say I love this film just the way it is. There may be a few problems here and there, but I really would not want this film changed any other way. It’s the Christmas special we all get sucked into year after year, and thus it’ll live on forever. Thank you, you wonderful and blessed movie! Merry Christmas!