Gonzo: Hello! Welcome to the Muppet Christmas Carol! I am here to tell the story.
Rizzo the Rat: And I am here for the food.
When you look back on your formative years, it is easy to pinpoint the people that have had a profound and lasting impact on you as a child and that have shaped you into the person you have become today. Parents, siblings and other relatives are obvious choices of course, but I’m talking here about those outside of your close family. People that were both directly involved in your life, like my 5th Year Higher English teacher, Ms McCusker, and those you just watched and looked up to from afar, like Brian Laudrup, my all-time favourite footballer.
Sometimes, though, we have been encouraged, helped, shaped, and inspired by people, and we had absolutely no idea of it at the time. One person to have such an impact on my life is Jim Henson. I look back now and I see just how many things he helmed and helped to create that literally defined my childhood: ‘Sesame Street’, ‘Fraggle Rock’, ‘The Muppet Show’, ‘The Story Teller’, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ – the 1990 live action movie, ‘Labyrinth’, ‘The Dark Crystal’, and even ruddy ‘Star Wars’.
Sadly, Jim passed away before I even reached my 5th birthday. ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ was the first major production undertaken after Jim’s untimely death, but it a truly wonderful testament to his memory and legacy.
I first saw this movie when I was 8 years old and remember it being, along with ‘Jurassic Park’, one of the first occasions I was completely and utterly transfixed watching a movie; that I totally forgot where I was, and I was immersed in this world that was put before my eyes. I was petrified at the scary moments, hysterical at the comical moments, and overjoyed at the happy moments. And little has changed in the 19 years that have succeeded that first viewing.
There is literally nothing you can fault about this movie.
The cast (if you can call them that) are on top form – all the Muppets are so perfectly assigned to their various characters from the novel, you’d think Dickens actually had Kermit in mind when writing the part of Bob Cratchit, and Robin as Tiny Tim. Michael Caine is astounding as Ebenezer Scrooge, and his transition from the most cold-hearted covetous old sinner in London to “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew” is beautifully captured.
All of the music will have you singing along whether you want to or not (well, except the duff number that Belle sings half-way through which, thankfully, is cut out on most DVD versions…), and it is impossible not to be smiling from ear to ear by the time The Ghost of Christmas Present has finished his big number, “It Feels Like Christmas”.
I know I’m gushing, but perhaps the following story will illustrate how highly I regard this film and how big an impact it had on me…
When I was in lower Secondary School (about 12 or 13 years old) we were asked to write 1 book report a month for our part of our English class assignment. I hated reading at that age, so any way I could get around it was a bonus. Like doing a book report of a story that my sister told me, or a book we had listened to on cassette as children. Anyway, at Christmas I had the sensational idea to write a report on Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, having never read the book, but knowing the Muppets version so well I thought it would be an absolute cakewalk. That was until I had my report handed back to me by my teaching asking why my version of the book had TWO Marley brothers in it…
‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’, whilst not telling the novel verbatim, IS still very true to Dickens’ novel, more so in tone than actual prose. Still, Gonzo does deliver large chunks from the book in his role as the narrator, which adds a certain gravitas to the otherwise very playful portrayal of the story. One thing I always thought was genius is when the story builds to its crescendo – its most vital and brilliant moment – that Gonzo and his companion Rizzo leave the story completely to leave the viewer to focus entirely on Scrooge’s eventual salvation and redemption.
In fact, the emotional impact of the movie is not just exclusive to this part of the film. I am still a little overcome when Scrooge gnashes his teeth at the first spirit and utters a choked “Leave me!”, and also during the entirety of Kermit’s “meetings and partings” speech at a Cratchit Christmas Dinner far into the future.
To my mind, it is the greatest piece of work The Jim Henson Company have ever produced, and not just one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made, but one of the greatest movies ever made, full stop. A flawless family film. And well worthy of the silver medal in our ’12 Films of Christmas’ mini-blog.
Altogether now: “The love we foooound! The love we foooound!…”