Illustration by Adeline Pericart
Throughout December we’ll be adding more Christmas films we love – so keep an eye on the website and feel free to add any of your own…
The Muppet Christmas Carol
After a lengthy absence from cinema screens – having last been seen in The Muppets Take Manhattan in 1984 – many feared that their return 8 years later would be doomed to mediocrity. However, The Muppet Christmas Carol can stand proud as a wonderful addition to the canon of both Muppet and Christmas films. Indeed, as Gonzo once said to a cow: ‘Wow, you have got a great pair of legs! In fact, she’s got two great pairs of legs!’
The Muppets’ creator Jim Henson had died in 1990 and many of the cast had undergone changes with different hands up their arses and different faces behind their voices. If truth be told this only really comes to the fore with the two curmudgeonly hecklers Waldorf and Statler – purveyors of cranky quips about the performances on The Muppet Show TV series:
Statler: ‘I know what’s wrong, with this show, it’s the theatre!’
Waldorf: ‘What’s wrong with it?
Statler: ‘The seats face the stage!’
Originally voiced by Richard Hunt and Jim Henson. Jerry Nelson and Dave Goelz’s performances in The Muppet Christmas Carol lack the cantankerous guffawing range of the original duo. But they are given a great line when Statler criticises Scrooge and adds that ‘It’s good to be heckling again.’ Waldorf goes on that, ‘It’s good to be doing anything again!’ Otherwise the performances are spot on. Indeed Steve Whitmire does a great job with Kermit as Bob Cratchit, matching the original voice with style and also making the performance his own.
The Muppet Christmas Carol moves away from the traditional Muppet films and has them more as supporting characters in order to preserve the original Dickens’ tale’s integrity. Rizzo and Gonzo do a great job of pushing the story along as they narrate on screen in tandem with events. Michael Caine puts in a terrific central performance as Ebeneezer Scrooge and treats the whole thing with a fine balance of gravitas and theatrical campness. And who can resist Caine singing! – ‘every night will end; And every day will start; With a grateful prayer; And a thankful heart; With an open smile and with open doors; I will bid you welcome; What is mine is yours’.
I watched The Muppet Christmas Carol with children recently and, apart from the kicking and screaming and constant demand for sweets (that was me of course), it was a thrill to see how the kids responded to the Muppets – reminding me of my own youth in the company of these anarchic all-singing, all-dancing, all-joking puppets – and the great thing about The Muppet Christmas Carol is its array of singing vegetables, skating penguins and oddball collection of characters all harnessed together to retell a classic Christmas tale of redemption.
There’s a nice reference to the book in the film’s closing sequence, which brings back memories of Statler and Waldorf’s comment on the educational aspect of the TV show when Statler asked, ‘Do you think this show is educational?’ To which Waldorf replied, ‘Yes. It’ll drive people to read books.’