Gabby: This time round our gang of lovable misfit superheroes take a detour and talk about one of Jeremy’s favourite Christmas movies. And that movie is…
Jeremy: A Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s a Christmas Carol. With Muppets. Look, people, not all of these opening blurbs can be winners.
Brett, did you see this in theaters back in the day? I wish I had.
Brett: I didn’t. I wasn’t able to see it until the VHS tape came out the next year. Which means I thought “When Love Is Gone” was always in the movie.
Since the first DVD only had the home video version, it’s kind of a shock when I watched the theatrical cut. Belle is telling Scrooge to suck it and then she turns and leaves and Rizzo is crying.
Jeremy: That came as a surprise to me, too. I popped my DVD in for the first time, choose the theatrical version, got to Scrooge and Belle’s breakup, and went, “What? Oh, thank God…”
I dig the songs in this movie, but not that one…
Gabby: I owned this movie on VHS. I was only 3 when that video was released so I am guessing I might have come to it a few years later. I never upgraded to a DVD and I think it might be time I did as I no longer own a TV. I do have a video player though. Go figure.
I haven’t seen this movie in quite a long time so I like having a reason to come back to it. Even though it being the Christmas season is a reason in itself.
Brett: I should say now, A Christmas Carol is my favorite Christmas story of all time. I only know of two versions I don’t have. I don’t have the Kelsey Grammar version and I don’t have the Jim Carrey version.
Jeremy: Wait… a Kelsey Grammer version? Really?
Brett: Made in about 2002, I think. My favorite version is the Alistair Sim version. It fleshes the character of Scrooge out more than any other. It spends considerably more time in the past than any other version I can think of.
Jeremy: I’ve avoided the Jim Carrey version like the plague. Where does the Muppet version stand in your personal rankings?
Brett: I would put George C. Scott as #2 and Muppets at #3. The American Christmas Carol which has Fonzie as scrooge is tied with Albert Finney’s Scrooge.
I also have at least four different audiobooks of it. I may have a problem.
Jeremy: It’s my number one for sure. If it counts, the Doctor Who version is my second. Then, it’s pretty much everything else after that. I certainly love this story in most of its forms, though.
Brett: I don’t think I’ve seen the Doctor Who version. We probably own it.
Jeremy: You should watch it. It’s on Hulu and Netflix. Michael Gambon is Scrooge and there’s an absolutely astonishing riff on the ghosts. The whole thing really is just a riff, but a brilliant one. And romantic and bittersweet in a way I love.
Anyway, we should really get to THIS version of A Christmas Carol.
Gabby: I am with Brett, A Christmas Carol is my favourite Christmas story. It really is magical and never ages. It will remain timeless. You are right to avoid the Carey version. This year I watched that for the first time, I was not too pleased with it. I did also watch the 1984 version which was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t afraid to go really dark. Unlike the 1938 candy cane version, also new to me. What can I say I was on a Christmas Carol kick?
I am also with Brett on the Brian Desmond Hurst film being my favourite. I will add that I am a massive musicals fan. Which probably is a surprise to no one. I would actually like to see you Jeremy sing a number from this film.
Jeremy: That’s never going to happen. I’m a Scrooge before Christmas Morning, heart-two-sizes-too-small kind of guy.
Gabby: I am also a fan of the Muppets. So with all three things combined, I think I am pretty much going to be on board with this movie. The film has a large fan base here. It is somewhat a cult classic. It has a number of screenings every year at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square. They have it as a sing-a-long. I think I definitely want to go to one of these next year. It is also one of the best cinemas ever, which is also independent, so as a lifetime member I say everyone go support this cinema.
Brett: Michael Caine has kind of a thankless task here. If he’s a good Scrooge, people don’t notice because of all the Muppets. If he’s bad, people just say he can’t even be a good Scrooge even with all the Muppets.
As it is, he actually gives a really good performance here. There are moments where I think he may even outdo George C. Scott.
Jeremy: I never thought of the role as thankless. Michael Caine is a fantastic Scrooge. If you’ve watched this movie as many times as I have, you notice how many strong, deliberate choices he makes that aren’t too showy. He always takes the role seriously and delivers every line honestly, while simultaneously knowing he’s setting up a gag for a bunch of rats in Hawaiian shirts. That’s a balancing act if there’s ever been one.
This movie never forgets that it’s Scrooge’s story, and the actual tale is told well around the jokes and songs. I’m amazed how well all the elements fit together, especially since this was Brian Henson’s first film, made in the shadow of his father’s death.
Gabby: There a moments that really give a balance to all the fun, silly business with rats in Hawaiian shirts. When Scrooge hears himself being insulted by his family members, Caine’s crestfallen face is so touching. He has reactions like that throughout the whole film, that are so earnest and easy to connect to. We want Scrooge to be won over.
Jeremy: Yeah, his Scrooge has a sense of mirth from the start, which you don’t always see but makes perfect sense. I really like how
Caine’s Scrooge instantly warms to the life he could have had, and how quickly he realizes his mistakes.
Brett: How do we feel about casting Muppets as members of the story? Kermit as Bob Cratchit, rather than making a new Bob Muppet. I think if they hadn’t cast the known characters, the movie doesn’t sell with audiences. I think everyone is cast well. Kermit makes a good Bob, Fozzy makes a good Fezziwig and so on. It works the way they cast everyone.
Gabby: As Brett kicked off the casting of the Muppets, what do you think of Gonzo as Dickens? Dickens used to love performing by reading out his works to the public. Often standing in London town center. A lot of the time as a call to the rich to take action and give to the poor but also as to connect with his readers. So keeping the narrator as Dickens I think is a lovely element I find. I personally find Kermit to be a perfect Cratchit. He is that (frog) to which we aspire. The one with the heart of gold, hard working and somehow always able to see the rainbow in the darkest of places. He is the heart and soul of the Muppets, so Kermit in that role makes perfect sense to me.
Jeremy: It’s interesting that you can take just about any property with a large cast of characters and slot them easily into these roles.
I’m biased. The Muppets are among my favorite things.
And I’m even more biased with Gonzo. He’s the Muppet I connect with the most. They really pushed him front and center in the 90s after Jim Henson’s passing. I feel guilty for enjoying that so much.
Having Gonzo and Rizzo be the chorus is a really smart move, because it allows a lot of the jokes to play around the story. All the casting choices are spot on, but Kermit as Cratchit and Statler and Waldorf as the Marley Brothers are the two choices that really stick out for me because of their utter brilliance. Once you think about them in those roles, how could you not make this film?
Gabby: Can I also add how dynamic it is to see the set up of a Muppet Victorian England? The film is filled with all this background hustle and bustle behind the main action which is actually some of the best in terms of adaptions of this story. Funnily, you really get placed in a time and place. It carries you into the story. It feels real. So despite the fact as puppets and people are singing, I am in their world very quickly. This may be nostalgia talking as I watched this a lot as a kid.
Brett: I am not, as a rule, overly found of musicals, but for some reason when felt is singing I don’t find it to be a problem.
Jeremy: I love the heightened reality of shooting exterior scenes on sound stages. You can only do it with certain kinds of stories – even within stories that feature the fantastic – but it creates such a sense of atmosphere, a feeling like anything could happen. The production design and costumes deserve a lot of praise. You can really see the craft that went into them on the Blu-Ray.
And while we have already established the size of my heart, I do enjoy the songs in this movie quite a bit. Paul Williams’ lyrics are both playful and sincere. They don’t feel saccharine at all.
Gabby: Am I the only one who is a bit freaked out by the Ghost of Christmas past? The Ghost of Christmas Present in this version is truly charming.
Brett: I actually really love the puppet work on Christmas Past. Christmas Present bugs me a little in this version because he’s only charming.
Christmas Present has a real darkness to him and he doesn’t veil his teasing like Christmas Past does. Christmas Present comes right out and tells Scrooge he’s a dildo.
Gabby: Oh yes, Christmas Present really has a dark side normally. Terrifying in the 1984 version.
Jeremy: It works for me. He is the Muppet version, after all. It also makes the “decrease the surplus population” bit a real sucker punch in a way I like.
Gabby: The Ghost of Yet to Come scared the bejesus out of me as a child.
Jeremy: That’s an experience I wish I had. I was already in my early teens when this came out on VHS.
Gabby: On that subject, can we talk about the music in more detail? The score when that spirit shows up is very effective. Or should I say when they are in the graveyard. In addition to that, I was slightly worried that It would be pure nostalgia that filtered my viewing. However, there is a lot that makes this film rich and enjoyable. I will definitely come back to it next year.
Jeremy: It works. And to sum up my closing thoughts, since we’re running a little long, nothing in this movie is phoned in, which it certainly could’ve been. Michael Caine is one heck of a Scrooge. Few actors have ever acted WITH the Muppets so well. The entire film is made with love and care.
A Muppet Christmas Carol is a great telling of this story. The songs and jokes never get in the way. This may not be the definitive version of A Christmas Carol, but it’s the version I connect with the most, because it has all those wonderful moments that Dickens created… plus blue weirdos and Statler and Waldorf telling Scrooge to leave comedy to the bears. This isn’t just my favorite Christmas movies. It’s one of my favorite movies, period – which I only get to watch at this time of the year.