Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Muppets' Christmas Carol

1992 brought another wacky family-friendly comedy group bringing a take on Dicken's Christmas tale: the Muppets. Now, we saw Mr. Magoo do this by almost ignoring his traditional antics and just doing the story straight. Disney we saw do the opposite with Mickey Mouse, letting their antics overwhelm the story.

So, what about the Muppets?

To be honest, I think they found the right balance.

Their version opens with a snowy version of Dickens' London. Except most of the inhabitants are Muppets, including Dickens himself, portrayed by Gonzo. Accompanying him is Rizzo the Rat. Gonzo introduces the story and Scrooge, leading into the first song sequence, "Scrooge," as seen above. Scrooge himself is played superbly by Michael Caine.

As you can see, this one surprisingly shows the poor of London out in the street, however their effectiveness is lessened by the fact that they are Muppets. However, a later scene shows a rabbit who'd been singing at Scrooge's door shivering as he tries to sleep outside. (Later, he is the boy who Scrooge has buy a turkey for the Cratchits.) Thus, perhaps this does well at showing the victims of lack of generosity, but portraying them as non-human creatures makes the viewers connect with them a little less.

Bob Cratchit is portrayed by Kermit the Frog, and a group of rats assist him in book-keeping. (A humorous exchange occurs when they complain about how cold it is, and Scrooge shouts, "How would the staff like to spend Christmas UNEMPLOYED?" Suddenly, all of the rats have island dress added to their attire and sing "This is our island in the sun!") Fred arrives (played by actor Steven Mackintosh) and asks Scrooge to come to dinner. During his visit, Dr. Honeydew and Beaker arrive, asking for charity donations. Eventually, the day ends, Bob convincing Scrooge to let the staff have Christmas off.

Arriving home, Scrooge sees his knocker turn into the faces of his dead partners, Jacob and Robert Marley (played by Statler and Waldorf). They later visit him, informing him that he will be visited by the three ghosts.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is effectively portrayed by a digital effect, making a small, wraithlike white creature with a child's face. She flies Scrooge out the window (Gonzo and Rizzo coming along for the ride), showing him his boyhood school. Fan is not shown, instead we see his graduation and eventual turn at Fozziwig's (Fozzie the Bear) Rubber Chicken Factory. It is here that we meet Belle, and later, we see her decide to leave Scrooge.

Belle's departure was highlighted with the song "The Love Is Gone." Disney, the distributor, decided to have the song cut because they felt it was too dreary for a children's film. It was reinstated for the VHS release, and was available on the first two DVD releases. (Since the edit of the film with the song was made for the VHS, it was only available in fullscreen, so the latter DVD contained two versions.) When the film was re-released this year on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital copy, the extended version was unavailable, which is too bad, as it is a fine song and makes for a great point for the film.

Next up is the Ghost of Christmas Present, an original Muppet, who shows Scrooge the next day's joviality, greatly highlighting Dickens' theme of loving your fellow man.

We see the Cratchit home. Mrs. Cratchit and the children are portrayed by Ms. Piggy and child versions of herself and Kermit, Robin portraying a very charming Tiny Tim.

We also see Fred's Christmas Party, but no Ignorance and Want, one of the few omissions of the film, and a reminder that this film was developed with children in mind.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come arrives, and I can recall how scary he was. Simply a shrouded figure with skeletal hands, even Gonzo and Rizzo dip out for a moment, promising to return for the finale. We go through Old Joe's, the discussion of Scrooge's death by his business partners, the Cratchits' loss of Tiny Tim, and Scrooge seeing his own tombstone before Christmas morning. One of the darker touches is that Scrooge and the Ghost walk through portals that open in a swirling motion in space, making them look like vortexes or wormholes.

Scrooge decides to make a bold new start, and after sending the boy to get a turkey, he heads out and meets Dr. Honeydew and Beaker, and gives them a large donation. Beaker is so moved by this, he gives Scrooge his scarf, giving Scrooge extra determination to stay on the right side of life. He sings through London, buying gifts for his staff, old friends, Fred and his wife and even some of the people he meets on the street before heading to the Cratchits' with to raise Bob's salary and promises to help the family.

About to enjoy a Christmas dinner, Tiny Tim says "God Bless Us Everyone!" and all sing "The Love We Found," the response to "The Love Is Gone," which makes that song's deletion all the worse.

At the very end, Gonzo comments to Rizzo that if he liked the story, he should read the book.

With the omissions and changes for the Muppets to tell the story, I feel this version managed to get the heart of Dickens' story right while still allowing the Muppets to be the Muppets. It is still one of my favorite versions.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

I had to wonder how Kermit and Miss Piggy ended up having both frog and pig children, rather than some weird hybrids.