‘Come in and know me better man!’ This Christmas marks the 30th anniversary of the release of The Muppet Christmas Carol. If you haven’t seen it, what kind of Muppet shaped rock have you been living under?
As a child I loved The Muppets and thought they were real, I still do! Otherwise how was Kermit able to blow out the candle in his opening number in the film ‘One More Sleep ‘til Christmas’? When I went to bed I used to flick on and off the lights in my bedroom hoping to see my teddies come to life. I sometimes pretended they did. Muppets brought so much happiness to my childhood and, according to my mother, kept my three brothers and I very still for haircuts so for that she is also very grateful.
A Christmas Carol is a warming social commentary, and Dickens’ biographer Michael Slater highlights how Dickens penned the now holiday classic as a way to, ‘help open the hearts of the prosperous and powerful towards the poor and powerless…’ Dickens wrote the novella in just six weeks due to being under massive financial strain in 1843. The Man Who Invented Christmas starring Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens and Christopher Plummer as Scrooge chronicles this time in the author’s life. Fun fact — it was shot in Dublin and Wicklow in 2017. So give it a watch to see how many Dublin streets and faces you can recognise. There’ll be a few!
The Muppet Christmas Carol was Brian Henson’s directorial debut at the age of 29 and only two years after the passing of his father and the father of Muppets, Jim Henson. It was a massive undertaking, but the young Henson rose to the challenge and then some. Although the ratio of Muppets to humans favours the former, the film is still one of the truest adaptations of the classic. This is all thanks to the narrating chops of Gonzo who plays Charles Dickens. The majority of Gonzo’s lines are direct quotes from the original novella, allowing the story to move along with great authenticity but also humour, with Rizzo the rat as his trusty sidekick. In an interview on Good Morning America in 1992, Gonzo was asked of the authenticity of the adaptation, of which he said, ‘Well, our script is so close to the original that kids will be able to come and see the movie and be able to do a book report later.’
Arguably one of the greatest Christmas films of all time, with none other than Get Carter’s Michael Caine in the role of the Christmas loathing Ebenezer Scrooge, the film hits all the right marks. But this wasn’t Caine’s first time working with a Muppet. A few years previous, he had been directed by none other than Frank Oz (aka Miss Piggy) in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Caine speaks so fondly about his experience of working on the film. It always fills my heart with joy when someone can disprove the adage ‘never meet your heroes.’ In an interview with GQ, Caine commented that ‘puppeteers, compared to actors, are much nicer, gentler, kinder people. They’re really the loveliest of people. I’d never worked with a cast where every single person was lovely. You always get a couple of actors who think too much of themselves. But these were all kind, gentle, loving people and I had the best time.’
The film is so detailed, loving and charming, while also having a darkness that isn’t found in today’s children’s tv shows and films. But this darkness is fine because Gonza and Rizzo hold our hand throughout the dark and scary moments — that’s what Muppets do and have always done. During my research for the film I found myself watching the full memorial service of Jim Henson, and I am all the better for it. Listening to Henson’s nearest and dearest friends, family and Muppets honour, sing and eulogise him solidified the lasting impact this one man has had on so many generations of children and adults. The Muppet chorus of ‘Just One Person’ from the service would make even Scrooge’s eyes flood. Unlike Scrooge, when the Muppets of past, present and future visited that cathedral to pay their respects in 1990 they brought and inspired so much joy even though it was a sad moment in time for them.
To celebrate the anniversary of The Muppet Christmas Carol, Disney+ have found and re-released the long lost edit of the film which included the song ‘When Love is Gone’, which is sung by Scrooge and Belle. Until now an unexplained reprise of the song played during the closing credits and seemed a bit jarring. With the song now back in its rightful place, the reprise at the end finally makes sense. Keep the tradition of watching The Muppet Christmas Carol at Christmas alive, and if it’s not your tradition, well then I highly encourage you to start it.
Merry Christmas everyone!