Unpopped: The Muppet Christmas Carol

Unpopped, the column in which I, Mel Dale, will be sifting through the unpopped kernels of cinema (aka films I haven’t seen).  I’ll watch one of these movies that has eluded me and comment on it here.  I may or may not like the film I watch, but I’ll be sure to provide my honest and fair opinion.  Suggest new films for me to watch in the comments section every week or hit me up on Twitter (@mel_dale) and suggest a movie title using the hashtag #unpopped.  I’ll do my best to pick from your suggestions and look forward to all the new stories and worlds I’ll get to enjoy because of it.

Muppet Christmas Carol still

I love the Muppets… a lot.  The struggles of Kermit the Frog and his rag-tag ensemble of friends and performers mean more to me than they do for most. The lessons inherent in the Muppet’s numerous adventures have undoubtedly influenced the kind of man I am and endeavor to become.  So, to say I’ve never seen, or for that matter completely ignored, a feature length Muppet film is a really big deal for me. With The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets From Space (the three Brian Henson films) the sad truth is for years now, I have deliberately made it a point to avoid seeing them.  Why?  Well, perhaps that deserves a little explanation.

All of my love for the Muppets is the direct result of the masterful work of Jim Henson and the incredible team of puppeteers, writers and musicians he surrounded himself with.  Jim Henson had a truly unique storytelling voice that stemmed from his own moral code and his vision of what entertainment for people of all ages should be.  His work always had that “special something” and managed to identify a truth in all of us we hadn’t noticed before.  The Muppets, even when compared to the rest of his stellar creations, endure today as the purest embodiment of Henson’s entertainment ideology.  After Henson’s death in 1990, I feared the Muppets without him would forever lack that “special something” that made them so great.  In an effort to leave my beloved Muppets unadulterated by inferior works, I avoided all of the subsequent Muppet endeavors after Henson’s passing.  It wasn’t until The Muppets (2011) that I finally broke my rule of avoidance, and in doing so, learned that the Muppets really could, in the hands of the right creative team, live on without Jim Henson’s direct involvement.  With a new hope that my Muppet friends had stories out there I hadn’t seen and might love, I bought The Muppet Christmas Carol on Blu-ray, the first of the three Brian Henson Muppet films made, and watched it for the very first time.

What Works:

Brian Henson brings a lot of fresh perspective to the Muppet franchise and created a film that branches out artistically in ways the Muppets never have before.  The overall tone of The Muppet Christmas Carol was much more serious than the previous Muppet movies, which was a change I was surprised to have enjoyed.  There are several moments in the film where the Muppet characters are pulling off really dramatic scenes full of a wide array of emotions which the Muppets deliver incredibly well, thanks to the work of the amazing puppeteers behind them.  Jim Henson’s long time writing companion and Muppets veteran, Jerry Juhl, wrote the script for The Muppet Christmas Carol and managed to breath some much-appreciated new life into Charles Dickens well trod source material.  One of Juhl’s story devices that I really enjoyed is the running gag of Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens with omnipotent storyteller powers.  Accompanied by Rizzo the Rat, Gonzo follows along narrating the story while cracking up the audience the entire time.  These little comedy interludes are my absolute favorite part of the whole film and are the one aspect of The Muppet Christmas Carol that truly felt in line with the Muppet legacy.  Paul Williams, another Muppets veteran, wrote the numerous musical interludes for the film, which fit really well into their scenes and stick in your head long after the film is over.  Oh, and this little known actor, Michael Caine (maybe you’ve heard of  him?), shows up from time to time and is really incredible as Ebenezer Scrooge, though he’s incredible in everything, so this comes as no surprise.

What Doesn’t Work:

Maybe I’m alone on this, but I’m really over the story of A Christmas Carol being adapted again, and again, and again.  It is such a well-known story to me that even when it is presented by my beloved Muppets, A Christmas Carol still manages to feel stale and uninteresting.  The cast and crew of The Muppet Christmas Carol all work hard to pull you into the story, and they’re successful for the most part, but on occasion I still found myself outside of the moment awaiting the next two or three plot points I knew were coming up next in this very popular tale.  The central character of the story was played amazingly by Michael Caine, a human, which logically led to his love interest and nephew also being played by human actors.  With those leading roles already filled by human actors, the Muppets themselves were left in supporting roles, seemingly in the background of their own production.  With exception of Kermit, Gonzo, and Rizzo, most of the other Muppet characters only appear once in the film, almost feeling like cameos instead of actual roles.  Even worse, with exception to Rizzo the Rat, who played himself in the movie, and a really small cameo by Lew Zealand (the guy with the boomerang fish), every other Muppet is playing a character from A Christmas Carol.  None of the Muppet performers really break from their Dickens character roles, leaving their unique personalities and character voices entirely out of this “Muppet” film.  Despite the astonishing number of Muppets on screen, it could be said that none of them actually appear in their film, which was really disappointing for me as a fan.

Final Thoughts:

Having only watched the film once, it’s really hard for me to say whether or not I like The Muppet Christmas Carol.  I can say that I didn’t love it, which is a first for me and the Muppets.  I do really want to rewatch it though, if only to try and convince myself that everything is ok and that every Muppet film is great.  There are a lot of things that I really enjoyed about it but, in the end, The Muppet Christmas Carol left me wanting to watch The Muppet Movie or The Muppet Show so I could actually see the characters I had hoped to enjoy while watching this Muppet movie.

For the time being, I think I’ll be sticking with A Muppet Family Christmas as my Muppet holiday production of choice.  If you’ve never seen it, and are a fan of the Muppets, Sesame Street or the Fraggles, I highly recommend checking A Muppet Family Christmas out.  Because it was originally created as a TV special, the music licenses for all of the popular holiday songs featured in A Muppet Family Christmas were not acquired for home video distribution which means a complete copy of the TV special isn’t available, legitimately at least, on DVD or Blu-ray.  However, you can watch it in its entirety on YouTube here (and you really should, trust me).  Let me know what you thought of The Muppet Christmas Carol in the comments section below, or what you might have thought about any of the Muppet’s other awesome productions.

Also, just a little something worth noting, especially for anyone already familiar with The Muppet Christmas Carol and is considering buying the newly released Disney Blu-ray.  One of the major musical numbers from the beginning of the film, “The Love is Gone,” is not included in this release of the film.  Although the song was not present in the theatrical release of the film, Brian Henson insisted that it be included in the home video release of the film on VHS, which may or may not have been how your were introduced to the film.  For any purist out there, the full-length cut of the film is featured on the Kermit’s 50th Anniversary Edition DVD release of the film, but, even then the full cut is only accessible if you choose to watch the film in fullscreen.

by Mel Dale

Muppet Christmas Carol poster

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5 thoughts on “Unpopped: The Muppet Christmas Carol

  1. This is such a classic for us – we watch it multiple times every holiday season – can’t believe you hadn’t seen it before! Glad you enjoyed it though. I love Marley and Marley! haha

    Like

    1. I’m happy to hear the Muppets are a regular part of your holiday traditions. I’m like that with A Muppet Family Christmas. I watch it several times a year, and I cry like a big baby every single time Jim shows up at the end. It’s really is my favorite holiday special.

      Can I ask, what are your thoughts on the other two Brian Henson Muppet movies (Muppet Treasure Island, and Muppets From Space)?

      Like

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