MOVIE REVIEWS: Muppets from Space (Tim Hill, 1999)

Muppets from Space

One month after Muppet Treasure Island, the Muppets brought a new show to television, Muppets Tonight (Jim Henson Productions, 1996-1998). It was a sort of updated version of The Muppet Show, but…it was bad. Very bad. It didn’t feel like a Muppet show, and the main Muppets we all know and love (Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, and Piggy) took a backseat to new Muppets who we can’t even name today…with the exception of a few. This introduced a dark time for the Muppets when their productions were…not very good. Mostly everything ranged from OK to HELP ME JESUS, HOW WAS THIS GREENLIT?!? I say most things because some of them were good. I hear Big Bag (Nina Elias-Bamberger, 1996-1998) was alright; I loved watching The Wubbulous World of Dr. Suess (1996-1997) as a kid; and Bear in the Big Blue House (Mitchell Kriegman, 1997-2007) was pretty popular among fans. But we also got Elmo Saves Christmas (Emily Squires, 1996) and Elmopalooza! (1998). But in the summer of 1999, it seemed as though the Muppets were due for another feature-length film. Enter Muppets from Space. This film came out during a time when a lot of sci-fi films were taking place. This was supposed to be the Muppets’ parody of that genre. By the sounds of that, this movie should be awesome, right?…Well, you’d think so. As a lot of you know, this movie is famous for being the worst Muppet movie ever made. Does it really deserve that title? Is it true? Well…let’s find out.

STORY: The story and the set-up are the most problematic elements of the movie. It just begs so many questions. First of all, who the crud wanted to know Gonzo’s species? Who was dying to know that? By the time this movie came out, Gonzo existed for over 30 years. That’s more than 30 years of us accepting him as a whatever. That’s his identity! That’s his character! We were all comfortable with that! We didn’t need to know his origins or his species! Second of all, this does, in all honesty, open the door for a mature set-up. Perhaps this could create some adult dialogue and situations with the Muppets. Gonzo wants to feel like he belong in a world where there’s only one of him – the conversations almost write themselves! So, what do we get here?…Gonzo is an alien…WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!?!? You choose to give us something a third grader could have thought of?!…I don’t even know what to say to that! Gonzo’s an alien. HUH?!?
As I said, this movie was supposed to be a parody to sci-fi movies. The problem with that is there doesn’t seem to be enough parody; and by enough, I mean none at all. This film seems to take itself way too seriously. We’re supposed to accept that Gonzo’s an alien. We’re supposed to believe there’s a government agency searching for Muppet extra terrestrials. Nothing in the film says that this is a parody or a joke. We’re just supposed to accept this story and that it exists within the Muppet universe.
It’s ironic that we’re supposed to take the story seriously because the script is a joke. The dialogue the characters speak is so strange. Listen to some of Edgar’s conversations with Rentro (Bobo the Bear). It’s too mature for children to understand, but it clashes with the story that is too juvenile for adults to take seriously. When Gonzo tells Kermit how he feels about being an alien, it sounds like a coming out speech. I can hear a closeted homosexual giving that same speech word for word.
I think the biggest problem is that this doesn’t feel like a Muppet movie. It feels like the Muppets attempting to make another kind of movie, a sci-fi/action-type of movie. There’s nothing wrong with those kinds of films, but it doesn’t feel very Muppety. If you’re going to make a movie for the Muppets, make a legitimate Muppet movie! Even though I have problems with Muppet Treasure Island, it still feels like a Muppet movie. This does not. The story takes itself too seriously – it is too absorbed in the genre it was supposed to parody – to feel like a classic Muppet movie.
Muppets from Space - Story

CHARACTERS AND CAMEOS: This should be interesting. In addition to talking about the main human stars and cameo guest stars, I’ll briefly address the new Muppets that appear in this film.
1) K. Edgar Singer – Edgar, like the story, is nothing new or interesting. He’s pretty dry. On paper, he’s as bland, boring, and dull as damp paper. However, Jeffrey Tambor’s portrayal of him makes this character so entertaining to watch! I love him! That is what a great actor or actress does: they take a person’s character out of the pages and breaths life into them! Tambor is not just a great comic, but he’s a wonderful actor as well. I love watching the choices he makes – the expressions he makes, both subtle and unsubtle. Tambor really does make this character and this movie a lot of fun!
Muppets from Space - K. Edgar Singer
2) General Luft – This character frustrates me. Not only is he boring, but he’s ignorant. Why wouldn’t he believe Singer’s reasonings that aliens are coming to earth? Even if he need more evidence, the proof he provided would have made me suspicious. I certainly would have thought, “Hmm. I should look into this more!” How in the world could the same message, “R U There,” show up all over the world as a practical joke? At least look into it more! Crud you, Luft! Crud you!
Muppets from Space - General Luft
This film does continue the Muppet film tradition of having celebrity cameo guest stars…As a whole, they don’t work well. In a traditional Muppet movie, you can have random celebrities show up for no reason. It’s a joke. It’s a funny joke. You can do that! Here, the story is too serious to have a joke like that work. Hollywood Hulk Hogan appearing out of nowhere doesn’t make sense! Kathy Griffin shows up just to be Animal’s new girl toy for the day. We’ve also got Ray Liotta, Josh Charles, Gary Owens (who lends a voice cameo), F. Murray Abraham, David Arquette, Andie MacDowell, Joshua Jackson and Katie Holmes from Dawson’s Creek, and Rob Schneider. You might call me crazy for this, but Schneider’s actually my favorite cameo in this movie. This is one of the few restrained and non-offensive roles he’s played. It’s actually rather nice to see him do something like this.
Muppets from Space - Rob Schneider
Some of the newer Muppets from Muppets Tonight appear in this film. We’ve got Johnny Fiama and Sal Minella, Dr. Phil Van Neuter, Bobo the Bear (as Rentro), and Pepé the King Prawn. All of these characters are played by Brian Henson and Bill Barretta. I won’t lie, I didn’t like any of the new characters on Muppets Tonight. They weren’t funny, they weren’t relatable, they weren’t interesting, they weren’t charming. For the most part they yelled and screamed all the time, and that was their character. The only new character on the show that had a full personality was Bobo – and even then, I didn’t like him on the show. I like him in everything else he’s in, including this movie, but that was not the show for him. The character I’m surprised by how big he became was Pepé. He had literally no personality on the show! How did he get such a big role in this movie?! How did people find him so likeable and fun?! I would have loved if people went that crazy over Clifford! Clifford was miscast as the host of Muppets Tonight, but I still love his character! He’s so cool! And Clifford originated on The Jim Henson Hour in 1989 – he existed while Jim Henson was alive! I wish we got more of Clifford today! He brings a different feel to the Muppets that they didn’t have before, a more urban coolness to him. I love it! I love him!…But I digress.
Muppets from Space - PepeMuppets from Space - Clifford

SONGS/MUSIC: The score composer of the film is Jamshied Sharifi. The song composer…is an unfulfilled role in this film. Yeah, there are no songs in this movie. Ain’t that strange! This Muppet movie does not have any songs in it! Why would the filmmakers produce and create a new Muppet film without including great Muppet songs! This goes back to what I said earlier: this film feels like the Muppets trying to make another kind of film, a sci-fi and adventure-type film. It doesn’t feel like a legitimate Muppet movie! What was the last Muppet production you saw that didn’t have any songs? Every straight-to-video production, television show, TV special, and movie the Muppets ever made all included songs. Muppet Babies had songs, and that was animated!
There are songs in this movie, but they’re not new and the Muppets don’t sing them. They’re neo-soul/funk/R&B songs from the 1970s. I don’t know how or why this genre of music fits with the sci-fi genre of film, but…I’m not going to lie, I like these songs! Your appreciation for the music in this movie is based on whether or not you like funk. Even though it doesn’t make sense to have this music in this Muppet sci-fi movie, I still love these songs! I love this tone and style the music is in. In fact, when I was a kid this film introduced me to great classics as “Flashlight,” “Brick House,” “Shining Star,” and the other songs that appear. I have a lot of fun listening to them. I actually can’t imagine a lot of the scenes in this movie without these songs.
I know there’s not much else to talk about and I can’t go through all of the songs in this movie, but here are notes on some of the musical moments.
1) Brick House: A lot of people have said that this is the best scene in the movie…Yeah, it is! If the Muppets were to live in the same house, this is pretty much how I’d imagine their mornings. This scene as a whole is the closest thing in this film to capturing the Muppet/Jim Henson spirit.

2) Celebration: This is the only time the Muppets sing in this film…unless you count Rizzo singing the Oscar Meyer Weiner song.

3) Shining Star: The Muppets have a music video! Not just a montage – a legit music video! That’s neat! I think the only other times we had ever seen a Muppet music video before this was on Sesame Street. That’s pretty cool.

PUPPETRY: The puppetry in this movie is really good if you pay close enough attention to it. In my opinion, it’s better than the puppetry in Muppet Treasure Island. The characters do simple human things that puppets cannot do on their own. Gonzo opens a drawer. Do you know how to get a puppet to do that while making it look simple and ordinary? Rizzo turns a key in the lawnmower. The Muppets open doors. There are penguins – full scaled penguins – diving into a bathtub. It looks so simple, but when you think about it you realize that the filmmakers and performers had to work very hard to make these actions look as realistic as possible. In the last Muppet movie, it sometimes looks like they’re trying to do something; the Muppets were trying to fight during the battle scene towards the end. Here, they’re just doing the actions as simple as anybody else can do it. I love that!
Muppets from Space - Puppetry

COMEDY: The comedy is OK. Often times, the jokes do not work. There are only 2 fourth wall jokes, and they’re not funny. You have to pay attention to them, or else you’ll miss them. However, when a joke does work it is very funny. Anytime the Muppets do or say anything that matches their unique spirit, the jokes are hilarious! Statler and Waldorf partake in their usual wise cracks, and they’re great! I like the silly and naive comments Fozzie makes (with the exception of him not knowing what scotch tape is). Sam’s short speech to the people on his front lawn is fantastic! And, of course, Bobo the Bear gives the funniest line in the movie!

It’s so odd and strange, but it’s so funny!
I can’t talk too much about the bad jokes because they don’t stand out as well as the good jokes. There are plenty of bad jokes, but the good ones are more memorable. As a whole, the comedy is OK. When something is done or said that matches the spirit of the Muppets, the jokes work well and they are absolutely funny!
Muppets from Space - Comedy

CONCLUSION: OK, so you see that this movie has a lot of problems. The story is crap, the writing is weird, there are no original songs in this film, and the comedy is hit and miss. But there are good things about the movie as well. The puppetry is impressive, some of the jokes are really funny, and the Muppets still act like the Muppets. As a whole, this movie is OK. It’s not their best work, but it’s far from their worst. Believe me, the Muppets would go on to do much worse than this film. At least in this film, our characters still seem like themselves despite a faulty script. So long as Kermit is still himself and the rest of the Muppets are still themselves, I’m in a good place. Despite the problems this movie has, I still like it! I enjoy it a lot! The good stuff is more than likeable, and the bad stuff is fun to make fun of. If you don’t like this movie, I can understand why; the story and script are just too strange for the Muppets. However, it’s also understandable why you may like this movie. The Muppets are still the Muppets. They’re still entertaining, they’re still loveable, and they’re still relatable. Take it for what it is.
Muppets from Space - Conclusion

MOVIE REVIEWS: Muppet Treasure Island (Brian Henson, 1996)

Muppet Treasure Island

It’s hard to talk about this film without comparing it to the last Muppet movie. I know they’re two different stories, but if you focus on the productions you’ll discover they’re almost the same movie. Both films were made by Walt Disney Pictures and Jim Henson Productions. They’re both based on novels written by English authors from the nineteenth century. The Muppets share the spotlight with a famous English actor. They both open the exact same way, with camera trucking backwards and zooming out of the sky as the credits role. Even the credits are the same – almost everyone from the last movie is back to reprise their role on this film. This movie has the same producers, director, production designer, director of photography, editor, writer – they’re all here! There’s certainly a lot to consider regarding this film, especially since it reminds me a lot of The Muppet Christmas Carol. If I can be honest now, I think the Christmas film is far better. I remember loving the mess out of this movie when I was in high school, but now I just see it as a good movie. It’s good, but not great or amazing. Even having that being said, I’d say this film is on the lesser side of good. It’s an enjoyable movie, but there are some elements that get in the way of the film being great.

STORY: The story is the Muppet’s version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale Treasure Island. Like the last film, the plot is based on one that had already existed for over 100 years. Unlike the last movie, this film isn’t as serious or dramatic. It does have a lot of darker themes and moments, but it doesn’t shy away from some lighthearted comedy. We’ll get to that later, of course. I’m not familiar with Stevenson’s story, but I understand this movie follows the book pretty closely.
There are 2 moments in the story that I do have to address, however. The first takes place after Blind Pew gives Billy Bones the black spot and leaves his tavern. I heard someone ask how come he didn’t come with his band of pirates the first time…Yeah, that’s a good question! Why didn’t Blind Pew have his gang with him the first time he went into the tavern instead of coming and leaving and coming again? Did he realize that by doing that, he gave Billy Bones a chance to run away? Unless he had a plan regarding that, I don’t know if he thought that all the way through. The second moment I wonder about is after Polly, Clueless Morgan, and Mad Monty broke out of the ship’s jail. Did anyone ever question how they got out? I’m pretty sure Captain Smollett did not intend to keep them in time-out for what they did. They didn’t break an expensive vase – they tortured 2 shipmates! I’m positive Smollett meant to keep them in jail for the rest of the voyage…And yet they’re walking and roaming as freely as they please after they get Mr. Arrow’s keys. No one questioned that? No one wondered why or how they got out? No one wondered if their release from jail had anything to do with Mr. Arrow’s disappearance?…No?…OK…
I think one of the biggest themes of this story is knowing what to value. Jim Hawkins valued honesty, purity, friends, family, and adventure. Because of that, he not only got what he wanted but he also gained more. He got the adventure he was longing for, and he got a much larger family. He and his new family also gained riches. They were able to row back home with a ship full of gold. Long John Silver, on the other hand, longed for the gold and riches. He was willing to kidnap a boy, take over the Hispaniola, and hang a frog and a pig over their death to get gold. Where did it get him? Jail. And when he broke out of that place, he nearly drowned and found himself on an island with no riches. If we value the purest and best things of life, the rewards will come to us. If we become selfish and greedy, however, we’ll be trapped and worse than we were before.
Muppet Treasure Island - Story

CHARACTERS: I know I won’t get to everybody. I’m only writing about those who played integral characters in the story.
1) Tim Curry as Long John Silver – A lot of people consider Curry to be the best live-action human star to perform in a Muppet movie…Yeah, that sounds about right! He’s over the top, he’s enjoyable, he’s entertaining, he sings, he has a soft spot that makes him loveable – he’s perfect for this movie! He basically is a live-action Muppet! What makes his character loveable is his connection with Jim. Yes, he uses him as a ploy to get the treasure, but he still genuinely likes Jim. He does care for him. He doesn’t want anything bad to happen to him. He protects him from harm. He respects him. He has fun with him. The two are friends, but Silver’s greed for treasure puts conflict between them. Curry conveys that so greatly. Throw in his always enjoyable over-the-top performance, and we are set!…By the way, did you ever notice he often rolls his eyes or looks up when he laughs? That’s hilarious!
Muppet Treasure Island - Long John Silver
2) Kermit the Frog as Captain Abraham Smollett – There’s not a lot I can say here. It’s Kermit acting like Kermit, but in a sea captain’s uniform. It’s not as charming as his performance as Bob Cratchit, but it works alright here. I think my favorite moment with Kermit comes toward the end of the movie when he fights Tim Curry. He has a tattoo on his chest – how is that not hilariously cool?!? I love it!
Muppet Treasure Island - Captain Abraham Smollett
3) Fozzie Bear as Squire Trelawney – Since I didn’t talk about Fozzie in the last review, I thought I should mention him here. He’s…OK. Fozzie’s here to not only give our main characters a boat to set sail on, but mostly to deliver comic relief. I do find the things Fozzie says and does funny. However, I do have to admit that there’s not much logic to his humor. If his company deals with boats, why doesn’t he know what the ocean is? He refers to it as “the big blue wet thing.” And…how in the world did the filmmakers come up with “Mr. Bimbo?!” Fozzie has a tiny man that lives in his finger named Mr. Bimbo. WHAT?!? What the crud sense does that make? The obvious joke here is that Fozzie is funny because he’s stupid. While Fozzie wasn’t always the “quickest” Muppet, he wasn’t stupid. That’s a lesser form of comedy geared toward children…So, is it wrong that I find some of this stuff funny?…I don’t know, but I laugh anyway. Fozzie’s character does get me to smile, even though there is not much sense to his humor.
Muppet Treasure Island - Squire Trelawney
4) Sam the Eagle as Mr. Samuel Arrow – This may be one of my favorite Muppet castings ever! It’s so perfect! Sam the Eagle is already a tight, pompous stick-in-the-mud who demands order and dignity, and that is exactly what he does in this role. His attention to detail and making sure that everything is done right is spot on! I love the humor we get from him! His early dialogue with Smollett is fantastic, but we’ll get to that later. It’s great to see Sam the Eagle in a bigger role in a movie. We didn’t get that in the other Muppet films, so it’s really good to see him take up more screen time here! I love it, and I love him!
Muppet Treasure Island - Samuel Arrow
5) Kevin Bishop as Jim Hawkins – Bishop actually makes a good Jim Hawkins in this film. We see how honest and virtuous he is. We sympathize with his yearning for adventure. We understand his character. I also like how natural Bishop is when connecting with the Muppets. He makes it look so realistic, like they are all normal, everyday people. He never winks to the camera or gives the impression that this isn’t real. It’s as if Bishop has always known these characters – these people, and the chemistry he has with them is genuine. I love that!
Muppet Treasure Island - Jim Hawkins

SONGS/MUSIC: The music in this movie is memorable, but it doesn’t stand out in comparison to other Muppet songs. First of all, the score is composed by Hans Zimmer. You heard me praise his talents and contributions to The Lion King, and he does a good job here. This score isn’t as impressive or grand as it was in the other movie, but it’s good. The songs are brought to us by pop songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil…Oh boy. I’m not upset because of Mann or Weil, I’ve never heard any of their songs outside of this movie. It’s just that…They’re pop songwriters. Modern pop music is hit and miss for me…More so of a miss. Every now and then I hear a good pop song, but more than often I hear pop songs that remind me why I’m not a fan of that particular genre. But this isn’t modern pop music – this is ’90s pop music! So that means these songs will be better!…Right?
1) Shiver My Timbers: This is the best song in the movie, in my opinion! It opens the movie perfectly! It begins the story epically! It sets the tone! I love how dark it is. This is clearly different from your typical Muppet song. We’re not in the Rainbow Connection anymore, folks. We are in Dead Man’s Chest burying and killing for doubloons! Yes, we still see snakes and crabs tell the story, but at one point we see skulls! There are singing skulls in this number! YES!!! I love it!

2) Something Better: Ah, yes. The Disney song of Jim Henson/Muppet movies. Here we have our lead character singing about how he wants more out of life…Yeah, Disney did that for the Muppets before they even bought them. Really, this song is OK. It sounds grand and we learn what Jim wants. If it didn’t sound like every other Disney “I Want” song, I think I’d like this number a lot more.

3) Sailing for Adventure: This is a fun, campy number. It’s enjoyable and funny. My only problem with it is that it can be too kiddy friendly. The lyrics serve as entertainment to the kids. They’re lighthearted, they’re silly, they’re simple, and they’re silly. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but the Muppets are not just kids’ entertainment. The Muppets are for everybody! When I hear this obviously kiddy song, I get annoyed. If you’re looking for a kiddy Muppet song, this number is for you.

4) Cabin Fever: …What in the world? I don’t know what to say…What does this number have to do with anything?! It comes out of nowhere and has nothing to do with anything! If you took this song out of the movie, what do you lose? The story still goes on, and we still understand and relate to these characters. It doesn’t match with the tone the film was originally going for. In fact, would you believe that this song and “Shiver My Timbers” were in the same movie? I don’t know that I do. As a stand alone song, it’s fun and silly – it’s OK. As a song in a musical version of Treasure Island…WHAT?!?

5) Professional Pirate: I feel the same way about this number that I feel about “Sailing for Adventure.” I do like this number more, though, because (1) it has a darker tone and (2) it features Tim Curry! Yeah, the other number did too, but for only one stanza. Here, Curry has an entire song, and he hams it up big time! I can deal!

6) Boom Shakalaka: I really like this number! I love how it builds and builds in production. Not only does the sound get bigger and bigger, but the visual grows more as well. It becomes quite the production number, and it’s kind of impressive how big it is! I enjoy it!

7) Love Led Us Here: I don’t like this song. At all. I can’t stand it. First of all, Kermit and Piggy are singing a pretty ballad about how love led them back to each other…as they are literally hanging over their deaths…HUH?!? That doesn’t work! It doesn’t match! What about the sequence of events prior to this moment said that this number was warranted? We don’t always need to force a love song in our movies if they don’t belong! Second of all, how come we keep cutting back from Kermit and Piggy hanging over a cliff to Long John Silver and the pirates burying themselves in treasure? What do those moments have to do with each other? Did love lead them to the gold? I DON’T GET IT!! Nope! I refuse to accept this song! I don’t like it!

PUPPETRY: The puppetry in this film is good. Unfortunately, there’s nothing groundbreaking or impressive like there was in the other Muppet films. We’re not seeing anything here that we haven’t seen before, and there’s nothing here to challenge our suspense of disbelief. This is something the other Muppet movies were so good at doing! Even The Muppet Christmas Carol gave us those incredible looking ghosts. This film doesn’t offer that much. Some of the Muppets made for this film can blink, but that’s about it…OK, Floyd could already do that, and so could a lot of the other Muppets. What’s the big deal. Along with that, I think I see a lot more rod in this movie than I’ve seen in any other Muppet movie. I can often spot the rods controlling the Muppets’ arms, and that keeps me from feeling as though these characters are alive and living. As a whole, I guess it’s not bad. I just wanted something that would continue to challenge us – something grand and amazing.

MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND, 1996, © Buena Vista Pictures /

MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND, 1996, © Buena Vista Pictures /

COMEDY: I’ve been hinting at the comedy, but let’s finally talk about it. The comedy is…OK. When a joke is legitimately funny, it’s great. I hinted at some of the early dialogue Mr. Arrow had with Smollett:
MR. ARROW: …Any man caught dawdling will be shot on sight.
SMOLLETT: Uh, I didn’t say that.
MR. ARROW: I was just paraphrasing.
I LOVE that stuff! It’s dark, it’s ironic, and it’s funny! I also think the roll call scene that takes place after “Sailing for Adventure” is hilarious! When will you ever hear a name like “Big Fat Ugly Bug Face Baby Eating O’Brien?” That is so awesome!
Where the comedy dies is when it gets juvenile. When the Muppets are just being themselves and/or serving the story, the humor is fine. But when they do something especially for the little ones in the audience, it gets annoying. A great example of that is whenever the Muppets refer to pop culture. Gonzo makes reference to the NBA. Polly Lobster mentions Disney Land…or World. Piggy talks about the shopping channel – it doesn’t make sense. A lot of kids’ movies were doing this in the ’90s, making reference to modern pop culture if the story took place hundreds of years ago. It was clever in Aladdin (Ron Clements and John Musker, 1992) because it was unique and different. But when EVERYBODY started doing this in their children’s movies, it got old.
I’m torn here. The comedy isn’t bad. Even some of the juvenile jokes can get a laugh, like the stuff with Fozzie. But the Muppets should not focus on being merely for kids. When they do, their humor is awkward and bad. When they make a joke that supports the story or is consistent with the Muppet spirit, it’s great! It’s a treat to watch and listen to. So, yeah, the humor is OK overall.
Muppet Treasure Island - Comedy

CONCLUSION: I do like this film. It’s a nice movie. I do like the darker elements and themes that are explored in this film, and I love the Muppets. I love it when they do something that is consistent to the Jim Henson/Muppet spirit. Tim Curry is a perfect collaborator for the Muppets, and Kevin Bishop helps suspend our disbelief. But the songs can be too childish, the puppetry isn’t as sophisticated or adult as it has been in the past Muppet movies, and the comedy is lacking. If this film hadn’t relied on childish antics, it’d be a better film. As it is, it’s still entertaining. It’s fun, and it’s enjoyable. I just like other Muppet movies more. And, yes, The Muppet Christmas Carol is a much better movie. If you like this film better than the Christmas Carol, that’s fine. However, the Christmas film is better than this film. That film knew when to provide comedy and when to let a moment be dark. The songs supported the film and the story, and there was advanced puppetry along with the characters we all know and love. It was a more focused movie. This one kind of felt cluttered. As a whole, though, it’s nice. It’s a nice movie. I just have my own reservations about it.
Muppet Treasure Island - Conclusion

MOVIE REVIEWS: The Muppet Christmas Carol (Brian Henson, 1992)

The Muppet Christmas Carol 00

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!
The Muppet Christmas Carol - Story

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.
The Muppet Christmas Carol - Scrooge
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.
The Muppet Christmas Carol - 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.
The Muppet Christmas Carol - Emily Cratchit
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.
The Muppet Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens and Rizzo
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!
The Muppet Christmas Carol - Tiny Tim

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.
The Muppet Christmas Carol - Sprocket

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!
The Muppet Christmas Carol - Puppetry 01The Muppet Christmas Carol - Puppetry 02The Muppet Christmas Carol - Puppetry 03

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!
The Muppet Christmas Carol - Comedy 02The Muppet Christmas Carol - Comedy 03

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!
The Muppet Christmas Carol - Conclusion