The Muppet Christmas Carol: Brave Steps to Embrace the Spirit of Yet to Come

It’s funny how Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, commonly known as A Christmas Carol, has endured through the years as a cherished holiday classic. There have been no less than 135 adaptations over the years! With all the Victorian-era low class suffering, selfishness utterings of BAH-HUMBUG, and g-g-g-ghosts, it does beg the question – why?

Without a doubt, A Christmas Carol is DARK!  Even the 1983 Disney cartoon version was downright terrifying! It took my highly impressionable 5-year-old brain quite some time to shake off that image of Scrooge McDuck being dragged towards the depths of Hell! 

So how to make it accessible to the entire family while retaining its resonant themes? 

Why, just ADD MUPPETS! 

Muppet Past, Present and Future

Directed by Brian Henson, son of Muppets creator Jim Henson, The Muppet Christmas Carol is the fourth movie in the theatrical film franchise and the first in the wake of the elder Henson’s death.

Appropriately, Brian was taking what his father established so well in the past – zany, endearing, memorable characters interacting with the “real world” – and applying it to the present, while launching the Muppets into a bold new direction for the future.  

This adaptation is surprisingly faithful to the source material. 

The Marley Brothers. That’s right, two Marleys. Whatever it takes to get our Statler and Waldorf fix.

A quick Dickens recap: It is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly miser known for being so tight fisted with his wealth that not even the sufferings of those under and around him loosens his greed, least of all Christmas! It is only after the visits of his former (former as in DEAD. *gulp*) business partner, Jacob Marley, and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and “Yet to Come,” that Scrooge is given the perspective needed in order to transform into a kinder, gentler man.

The Gang’s All Here

The Muppets, of course, receive top billing in the cast list. The always reliable Kermit the Frog acts as our moral center as Bob Cratchit, who works under Scrooge for so little, yet his household is rich with laughter and joy. Miss Piggie is his wife. Their sons (including Tiny Tim, of course) are frogs and daughters are pigs… the sheer mechanics of it all is mind boggling. Just… yeah, leave it alone. 

The role of Jacob Marley has been split into two to make use of our favorite pun-spewing old guys, Statler and Waldorf. Other appearances you can expect are Beaker and Dr. Bunson, Sam the Eagle, Fozzie the Bear as Scrooge’s mentor, Fezziwig, oh excuse me, FOZZIEwig (I can’t blame the screenwriters for grabbing hold of that low hanging fruit of wordplay).  

The most inspired is Gonzo as Charles Dickens.  As our narrator, he is the one that drives our perspective. This movie also marks the first of many team-ups between Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat! And for that, we are thankful.

What the Dickens! The first ever Gonzo-Rizzo collaboration!

The Straight Man

Several human actors weave in and out of the story. It’s Michael Caine in the pivotal role of Scrooge that really sells us, particularly with his choice to treat his Muppet co-stars as legitimate beings.

At a recent D23 Expo panel celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Muppet Christmas Carol, Brian Henson recounted one of the earliest conversations he had with Caine about the approach to the role.

Said Henson: “[Caine] said, ‘I think the only way I can play this is I – I will never react to anything as if they’re Muppets or if they’re anything unusual.’ He said, ‘I’m going to play it like I am playing opposite the Royal Theatre Company… I’m going to play it completely straight, and completely committed, and that, I think, will make the right Scrooge.'”

It’s About Time (And Identity)

At the end of Scrooge’s ghostly journey, he desperately tries to convince the Spirit of Yet to Come that he has come out of it a better man and escape judgment.

Scrooge: I, I will honor Christmas and try to keep it all year! I will live my life in the past, present, and future. I will not shut out the lessons the spirits have taught me!

Using that as a launch point, this edition of Silver Screen Self Care will deal with our relationship with time and identity. What does it look like to live our lives in the context of past, present, and future?

THE PAST

Are you haunted by your past? A mistake? Trauma? All sorts of normal acts of living can serve as a trigger for these ghosts to emerge uninvited. Don’t fight it, process it! Seek guidance of a professional therapist.

It’s especially not uncommon to have complications that stem from circumstances we don’t choose. My review of On the Rocks deals with this very thing and may be a helpful guide to exploring family of origin issues. Also: Bill Murray. End of plug!

Interact with others who have shared (or differing!) experiences. Everyone carries a unique perspective. These can be valuable and help provide a reframing, and vice versa! What kind of support groups are in your community?

Taking steps to properly process our past is key to powering positive transformation in…

THE PRESENT

The lessons from our past can inform our present.

I found myself quite taken with the concepts of time as presented in Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom. The book serves as a vehicle for Albom’s former sociology professor, Morrie, to dispense wisdom over the last days of his life.

Morrie would likely take issue with Scrooge’s penchant for being so inward focused, that he misses what’s around him. According to Morrie, the secret to living well in the present is to be, well, present.

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half asleep even when they are busy doing things they think are important,” Morrie told Albom. “This is because they are chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to the community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

You may be in a bit of a rut. You may find yourself asking, “Is this who I am? Who I will always be?” No! Because there is always…

THE “YET TO COME”

Note that in A Christmas Carol, it’s the “Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come,” not future. There’s an important distinction here in my mind. When I read the word “yet,” I think of statements such as, “we aren’t finished yet.” There are still so many variables that have yet to come into play.

The future looks scary. But it doesn’t have to be.

It’s never too late to make changes for the better. It may not be instantaneous like in the movies. It’s a process.

And less chance of anyone getting hurt by Miss Piggie!

Ebenezer Scrooge: Bob Cratchit, I've had my fill of this.
Miss Piggy (Mrs. Cratchit): And I've had my fill of you, Mr. Scrooge.
Ebenezer Scrooge: ... and therefore, Bob Cratchit...
Miss Piggy: And therefore you can leave this house at once.
Ebenezer Scrooge: ... and therefore I'm about to RAISE YOUR SALARY.
Miss Piggie: Ooh, and I'm about to raise you above the pavement! ... pardon?
Kermit the Frog (Bob Cratchit): Pardon?

Take heart, friends!

Now Back To That Question

So back to that question posed at the beginning: Why? Why has such a dark tale endured since the mid 1800s and continue to enchant us every holiday season anew?

Perhaps because it is a story of second chances, redemption and the power of kindness. Something we all yearn for.

That latter theme – kindness – has been baked into the Muppet DNA since the beginning. For this reason, I believe The Muppet Christmas Carol to be THE most accessible adaptation for families and one of the best adaptations period!

Where to Watch

The Muppet Christmas Carol is currently streaming on Disney+. Be sure to watch the extended version that reentegrates the originally deleted song, “When Love is Gone,” into the proceedings. It’s an integral piece that explains how Scrooge’s love for money has replaced the true love of his life. You can find it in the extras section.

Were you touched by A Christmas Carol? What is your favorite adaptation? Please share in the comments below!

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Director: Brian Henson

Screenwriter: Jerry Juhl

Cast: Michal Caine, Frank Oz, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, Steven McKintosh

Music and lyrics: Paul Williams

Rated: G

Runtime: 85 Minutes

Comments

  1. Graham Crosby

    Great post and a great film. I teach A Christmas Carol to GCSE students every year and it’s generally always enjoyed by my students. I think the redemption and the simple happy ending are what make it so good.

    1. Post
      Author
  2. Unwanted Life

    I hadn’t really thought about a Christmas Carol being dark before, I guess because it’s always been a kids Christmas movie to me. But when you really look it is, it does have a darkness. It also tells us that rich people have to be scared to death to do the right thing, which seems pretty spot on. Happy Christmas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *