Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Carol of the Muppets

The Muppet Christmas Carol
Director: Brian Henson
Cast: Michael Caine, Steven Mackintosh, the Muppets  
Released: December 11, 1992

I remember going to see this film as a kid with my dad and older brother, but the projector broke and they weren't able to show it. They either let people get a refund or go see another movie that was showing around the same time. We went to see Aladdin which was starting just a few minutes later. We did eventually see this one, probably the next weekend.

In my review of Scrooged, I mention that this is my favorite version of A Christmas Carol. Now, to be fair, I really haven't seen many renditions of the Dickens classic. And there's been A LOT of them, both theatrical and TV adaptations. I think the only other version I've seen is Mickey's Christmas Carol where Scrooge McDuck plays Scrooge (who else would play him??) Even if I did see all 100 (I may be exaggerating a little there, but not much!) adaptations of A Christmas Carol, this one would still remain my favorite because of the nostalgia factor, and, c'mon, who doesn't love the Muppets? Not only is it my favorite version of A Christmas Carol, it's also my favorite Muppet movie.

The movie breaks the fourth wall with Gonzo as Charles Dickens talking to the audience and narrating the story. He even says, "Hello and welcome to The Muppet Christmas Carol", acknowledging that this is a story within a story. I watched the commentary with the director, Brian Henson (who, as you probably guessed, is the son of Jim Henson) and he said they took much of the dialogue from the novel, so this retelling is pretty faithful to the original. Gonzo/Dickens is joined by Rizzo the Rat who plays "himself" and is there to be the comic sidekick and to ask "Charles Dickens" any questions the audience might have. He is the only Muppet (well, maybe besides Animal) who plays himself. The other Muppets are characters from the novel, the main ones being Kermit as Bob Cratchit and Miss Piggy as his wife, Emily.

Ebenezer Scrooge is not played by a Muppet, he is played by Michael Caine. It amused me that in this world real humans and Muppets interacted together, as did real animals and muppet animals (and when I say muppet animals, I do not mean the likes of Kermit or Miss Piggy even though they are technically a frog and a pig, respectively, I am talking about the likes of Muppets that don't talk and act like their real life counterpart, much like the Muppet cat that attacks Rizzo. It only meows and walks on all four legs, instead of two like the other humanoid Muppets). In the commentary, Henson said when they created the sets, they built it up a level because they needed the puppeteers to hide underground and control the puppets. There were both floors and open spaces on the set.  Since they also had real actors, they had to choreograph where they could walk, as they obviously couldn't walk in an open space where the Muppets were. There are a few shots where Michael Caine walks with Muppets on either side of him and he did that by walking on a wooden plank.

There is a scene that made me laugh very hard, even though it's not suppose to be funny. A Muppet named Mr. Applegate has come to talk to Mr. Scrooge about falling behind on his payment on his mortgage and Scrooge picks him up and throws him out the door. It was a terrible thing to do, but it just made me laugh because it's just Michael Caine picking up a Muppet and throwing it out the door. Maybe I'm just easily amused. On second thought, even though it does show us what a horrible person Scrooge is, maybe it was suppose to be funny.

Scrooge is a curmudgeon who doesn't care about anyone. His nephew, Fred (Steven Mackintosh), stops by to invite him to Christmas dinner, but he refuses. Two charity collectors (played by Dr. Bunsen and my personal favorite Muppet, Beaker) come to ask him for money to give to the poor and homeless and he refuses to give them anything (even though he has the means to give) and basically tells them it would be better if they just died to "decrease the surplus population". ("Oh dear, oh dear!") He also almost doesn't let Kermit/Bob Cratchit and the rest of his employees get a day off on Christmas. When he tells Kermit/Bob he'll see him tomorrow at 8, Kermit/Bob says, "Tomorrow is Christmas" and Scrooge replies with "8:30 then." He does reluctantly let his employees have the whole day off when Kermit/Bob tells him no other business will be open that day.

That night, on Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of his former business partners, Jacob and Robert Marley, played by the two old geezer Muppets, Statler and Waldforf (yeah, I had to look up their names) who are always heckling and jeering other Muppets. They tell Scrooge (through song, as this IS a musical!) that he will be visited by three ghosts that night and the first one will arrive at the strike of one. I laughed when Scrooge says, "Can't I meet them all at once to get it over with?"

The Ghost of Christmas Past is a creepy child apparition with red hair and blue eyes and has a flowing white gown. Obviously, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is suppose to be the scariest, but honestly, if I saw this ghost, it would haunt my nightmares forever. Even though she is a child and suppose to represent innocence and childlike wonder, she is hella creepy. Henson said she was a puppet that they submerged in a tank of baby oil (and later, water) to get that flowing effect. She takes Scrooge on a journey to the past and they come upon the school he attended as a young boy. He tries to say hello to his old chums (I was surprised he actually had friends as a child), but she tells him they can neither see nor hear him. It made me laugh when we see the busts of famous scholars such as Dante, Shakespeare, Moliere, and Aristotle and they all have Muppet features. All the students are real boys and the headmaster is played by the Muppet Sam the Eagle. There's a funny fourth wall-breaking moment where the Headmaster is telling the young Scrooge that he needs to work and study hard and will become a man of business and that "It is the American way". Gonzo (for some unknown logic the people in Scrooge's past can't see him, but they can see and hear the narrator of the story), takes him aside, calls him "Sam" and whispers something to him. The Headmaster corrects himself and says, "It is the British way!"

Even as a young lad, we see that Scrooge had no interest in playing with other kids his age and didn't care about Christmas and just wanted to study and read all the time. The creepy child ghost next takes Scrooge to a Christmas party thrown by his then employee, Mr. Fozziwig (played, of course, by Fozzie Bear. The real name of the character from the novel is Mr. Fezziwig, so they lucked out with the similar names!) he attended as a young man. This is the only scene Animal is in. He screams at everyone to be quiet when Mr. Fozziwig is trying to make a speech. A young Jacob and Robert Marley are there as well and they heckle their boss. We also see Rowlf the dog (playing the piano, of course) and the Swedish Chef make cameos in this scene. At this time, Scrooge is a young man and this is where he meets and falls in love with a young woman named Belle (played by a real woman; would be a bit unsettling if she was played by a Muppet!) Scrooge begs Christmas Past not to show him the next Christmas he spent with Belle because that was the one where he chose money over her. Scrooge starts crying and begs her not to show him anymore. Still crying, he finds himself back in his bedroom and the first ghost is gone.

The Ghost of Christmas Present was obviously a human inside a Muppet costume. He starts out as a giant, but then shrinks so he is the same height as Scrooge and is able to walk alongside him. He's very jolly with a red beard. Think Santa Claus mixed with Hagrid. He shows Scrooge how his family and employees are spending Christmas. They first go to Fred's home where and his wife, Clara, are having a Christmas party. They are playing a yes or no game where everyone is trying to guess of the thing Fred is thinking of. The clues have been narrowed down to it's an "unwanted creature" but it's not a mouse, rat, leech, or cockroach. Clara excitedly says she knows the answer and that it's "Ebenezer Scrooge". You feel really bad for Scrooge in this scene as his face falls. He begs Christmas Present not to show him anymore, but he is next taken to the Cratchit home where he will hear more of people talking badly about him (mainly Miss Piggy/Emily). Scrooge sees the meager Christmas meal Kermit/Bob and Miss Piggy/Emily are having with their children (twin girls who are pigs, an older boy frog and a younger boy frog with crutches who is obviously Tiny Tim). Kermit/Bob raises his glass as a toast to his employer and calls him "the founder of the feast." This does not make Miss Piggy/Emily happy and she rips into her husband's employer.

The last ghost to visit Scrooge is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, or the Ghost of Christmas Future. He takes Scrooge on a bleak journey to the future where he is dead and nobody is too upset about it. He's not the only one who has died, though. He visits the Cratchit home where Tiny Tim has died and Kermit/Bob returns home after putting flowers on his grave on the hill that overlooks the river because he loved watching the ducks on the river. It is a pretty bleak moment for a Muppet movie! The entire segment with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is bleak and even Gonzo/Dickens and Rizzo tell the audience they can't be part of the narration anymore because it's gotten to be too scary and tell the audience, "See you at the finale." I do love the moment when Scrooge has woken the next morning and everything has gone back to normal and Gonzo/Dickens and Rizzo return and Rizzo says, "We're back!" and Gonzo/Dickens adds, "We promised we would be!"

Ebenezer Scrooge is now a changed man. He declares, "I will live my live in the past, the present, and the future" and "I'm as light as a feather! I'm as happy as an angel! I'm as merry as a schoolboy!" He also decides to buy the biggest turkey (which is twice as big as Tiny Tim, which, if you think of it, isn't that big since Tiny Tim is a little frog!) for the Cratchit family AND to give Kermit/Bob a raise. On the way there, he sees the two charity collectors and gives them money. In return, Beaker gives him his red scarf and that got me a little teary eyed. Also, on his way to the Cratchit home, Scrooge makes a couple of stops along the way to give gifts to Fred and Clara, Mr. Fozziwig (who they made look older by adding a white wig) and his old school headmaster. He even gives cheese to the mice who live in the walls of the buildings. While this is going on, he is singing a catchy merry little tune that all the other Muppets walking along with him are also singing. The film has a handful of songs, and the first ("Scrooge") and the last one are my favorite and the most catchy. The movie ends with Scrooge and every Muppet in town all around the Cratchit dinner table ready to eat the turkey (good thing they got a huge turkey!) and Tiny Tim saying, "God bless us" and Scrooge agreeing and saying, "God bless us, everyone!"

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