Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Holiday Film Reviews presents a special guest post from Victoria Willis,  a long time friend of mine and co-editor of  Geek Rock: An Exploration of Music and Subculture.  You can follow her as @Technopoesis  on Twitter.   Thanks very much, Vickie for sharing your review of  The Muppet Christmas Carol!    -- RigbyMel 


I have a confession to make. I had never seen The Muppets Christmas Carol prior to watching it for this blog post.

I’ve seen other versions of A Christmas Carol.  Scrooged is a particular favorite. And, of course,  I love Charles Dickens’ novella. I love that it’s one of THE Christmas tales, and I love how it is essentially a ghost story. I love that it almost single-handedly revived (and created) traditions for a holiday that was a lot less warmly loved prior to 1843 than it is today. I love that it embodies Christmas spirit. And I love how it defines Christmas spirit and  how it emphasizes giving and charity and joyousness and community and fellowship. It’s not just that Charles Dickens is the man (cause he is), but he’s the man that’s pretty clearly against The Man, and A Christmas Carol is a lovely introduction to  Dickens’ many works.

So, I clearly went into The Muppets Christmas Carol with great expectations (ha ha ha).  How does The Muppets Christmas Carol hold up to such a scrumptious piece of literature?


First, in a twist, Dickens narrates the tale, as played by Gonzo the Great, with the help of Rizzo the Rat. They are excellent narrators, occasionally breaking the fourth wall and engaging in hi-jinks to follow the story that they are also telling. These are playful narrators, delighting in storytelling and stories at the same time; a process, really, that just underscores how creativity, and storytelling, isn't always linear.

Michael Caine is a formidable Ebenezer Scrooge. I hesitate to say that I prefer his Scrooge to Bill Murray’s, but I think I do. It’s a difficult role to play, Scrooge; it’s difficult to portray the embodiment of callousness and penny pinching and heartlessness. It’s certainly much harder to be callous and penny pinching and heartless to a bunch of adorable Muppets.  Caine’s “Humbugs” sound like what I hear when I read Dickens.

For Kermit the Frog, it’s not easy being mean, and he’s a fantastic Bob Crachit, gentle and kind and courageous.  Miss Piggy plays his wife, and her indignation is classic Piggy. With Robin the Frog as Tiny Tim, it’s a dynamic foundation for the Cratchit family, and a heart-wrenching one as well. Tiny Tim always gets me, and it’s easy to see how Scrooge’s heart is melted by this family.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future are as weird, strange, and downright creepy as ghosts tend to be. 

The Ghost of Christmas Past is ethereal, young, and fleeting, and the effects actually hold up pretty well.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is stern in Dickens, but the jolly Muppets version infuses an almost Buddha (albeit a goofy Buddha) quality to the present.

And the Ghost of Christmas Future, who, while not a skeleton, is a cloaked figure so scary that Gonzo and Rizzo take a break from narrating to hide, and return later, after that ghost has departed. Each ghost does its duty, and shows Scrooge the things he needs to see.

There are a few things that make The Muppets Christmas Carol truly special. First, is how close it is to the original. For the most part, it’s unswerving. 

There are a couple of tweaks, such as the addition of Jacob Marley’s brother, Robert, to allow Statler and Waldorf to play the role(s). The Ghost of Christmas Present is upbeat and rather goofy, which is appropriate for the age of the intended audience. Second, surprisingly (to me, watching for the first time) is the music, which is genuinely sing-able and charming. It’s easy to forget just how endearing singing Muppets are, and how sing-able Muppets’ songs can be. And, third, of course, the Muppets themselves, whose shenanigans and comedy contribute to the story, and make it a wonderful introduction to this traditional Christmas tale for young audiences and less young audiences alike.

The Muppets Christmas Carol makes it easy to be a Scrooge. And by “Scrooge,” I mean, of course, a generous, grateful, joyous, merry, kind, attentive, compassionate kind of person. When all is said and done, what other kind of Scrooge is there?

A Grinch, on the other hand, well, that’s another matter entirely.

No comments: