I am here to tell the story... And I am here for the food.
December 22, 2015 9:17 AM   Subscribe

‘We had to put Charles Dickens in the movie. Who’s the least likely character to be Charles Dickens? Gonzo!’ How we made: The Muppet Christmas Carol
posted by fearfulsymmetry (60 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Mother always taught me: "Never eat singing food."
posted by blue_beetle at 9:28 AM on December 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's the Penguin's Christmas Skating Party!
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:30 AM on December 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is my favorite Christmas movie and will never be topped.
posted by Think_Long at 9:35 AM on December 22, 2015 [17 favorites]


The best Christmas story is A Christmas Carol, and the best version of A Christmas Carol is The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Also, this is great not just for the insights into the making of the movie, but for the insights from Dave Goelz on the development of Gonzo.
posted by branduno at 9:42 AM on December 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


Best Christmas movie, and only Christmas media that my family has any sort of tradition about.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:44 AM on December 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


We watch this every year along with Elf, but every year I hope that Disney will release the uncut version on blu... here's the song When Love is Gone, if your version doesn't have it. Only the laserdisc had it widescreen, as far as I know.

Here's a story about why it was cut.
posted by Huck500 at 9:48 AM on December 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


The Holiday Movie Club will be watching The Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Day.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:50 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I met Michael Caine to talk about playing Scrooge, one of the first things he said was: “I’m going to play this movie like I’m working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me.” I said: “Yes, bang on!” He was intimidating to start with, but he’s a delight.

This is a big part of what makes the movie so great. It really adds to the world-building and I think the set is fantastic; the different sizes and winding lanes really capture the feel of Dickensian London as opposed to mimicking the actual city and they work really well because the Muppets are all different sizes and it creates this really busy, chaotic, lived-in city. Scrooge really makes this movie; there are a number of absolutely fantastic moments and two of my favorites are just the way he reacts to things. When he says "How can we endure it?" I get chills and that's a moment that I think of throughout the year. I actually find myself saying this sometimes, in very much this way, when I don't know how I can possibly cope.

The other is the moment where (SPOILER ALERT) Beaker gives him that scarf. Oh my gracious, it is one of the most amazingly touching things I've ever seen. His thankfulness, and his humility, and his realization in that moment that people will give him things out of love and kindness and gratitude instead of because they owe him and that he still has so much to learn is one of the most lovely and moving things I've seen.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:52 AM on December 22, 2015 [24 favorites]


Why The Muppet Christmas Carol's Deleted Song Was Cut, But Really Should Have Stayed

Pretty sure this is wrong because the real answer is "It was cut because it is super, super boring and the producers realized that making children listen to it would undermine the entire point of the film by making them empathize with Scrooge before his transformation because that song is so dumb and boring that it is basically a criminal offense."

I really hate that song.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:55 AM on December 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


Gah I forgot they deleted "When Love is Gone" from the re releases. The complete version is all I know, and it's perfect and miserable, just like the holidays.
posted by Think_Long at 9:55 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I HATE THAT BORING SONG, too. I'm glad that I know about it and the purpose it serves and can know about it without having to watch it every time I watch the film.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:56 AM on December 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I have the standard format DVD with "When Love Is Gone", but I got the new edition when it came out a year or two ago not just for the widescreen, but because it cut out "When Love Is Gone".
posted by branduno at 9:58 AM on December 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Please sir, I want some cheeeeese.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:58 AM on December 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


Just watched the DVD of this with Brian Henson's commentary for the first time yesterday. (It has the deleted song, yay!) He said that one of their biggest goofs was creating gift baskets for the mice bookkeepers of ... COAL. Apparently this traumatized children who were afraid of getting coal in their stockings.

I like to think that they picked this particular story because Fozziwig is so similar to Fezziwig.

My tradition now is to first watch Patrick Stewart's version, then this one.
posted by Melismata at 9:58 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think this is also the movie that most just absolutely NAILS the spirits. They're all great but one thing that sticks out to me is when the Ghost of Christmas Present is visiting the mouses* in their little hole and he shrinks down to fit. He's still larger than they are, just as he is with Scrooge, because he's larger than life, but while Scrooge can only look in on them and not really be there, the Ghost of Christmas Present is actually present in the room; he's just as much a part of the celebration for the mouses as he is for everyone else.

*It's even worse for mouses
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:02 AM on December 22, 2015 [12 favorites]


I was glad as a kid that they cut When Love is Gone because I found it super boring (we'd fast forward past it on VHS), but as an adult it seems weird because they reprise it at the end with no context in the cut versions.
posted by terretu at 10:04 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


he's just as much a part of the celebration for the mouses as he is for everyone else.

AND THEN HE DIES.

I don't watch Game of Thrones, but from context I'm pretty sure I'm correct by saying this is the Red Wedding of muppet movies.
posted by Think_Long at 10:07 AM on December 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


The muppets are great, as always, but I don't think enough credit is given to Michael Caine's performance. His portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge somewhat downplays the meanness of the character, focusing instead on the deep, unrelenting sadness at the heart of this loneliest of men. His Scrooge elicits more pity than scorn, and I think it puts the viewer squarely in his corner by the time the Future ghost starts really laying on the horror show imagery near the end.

It's funny that three of the best versions of this story (Muppets, Scrooge starring Albert Finney, and Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol) are musicals in which the main actor can't sing for shit. Jim Backus was doing a funny cartoon voice, of course, but his off-key croaking is pretty much on a par with Caine and Finney, who were no doubt trying their best to belt out those tunes. But the songs are all so great that it doesn't even matter.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:08 AM on December 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


He doesn't die, he just grows old and then sort of fades but he lives on in all of our hearts.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:10 AM on December 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've always had a soft spot for the Alastair Sim version of the story, but I've not seen it for years as, though it gets shown often during the season on British tv, it now always seems to be the horrible colourised version of the film. You really want it in it's original crackly black and white version.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:24 AM on December 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


My family's tradition is to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve (because after all, there's only one more sleep 'til Christmas). An essential part of this tradition is to fast-forward through "When Love Is Gone" because, yes, it is a boring song and I'm sorry but that actress' singing voice is terrible. Even so, we still watch it every year and we've memorized so much of it that it turns into a sort of Christmasy RHPS.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 10:35 AM on December 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I just love this movie, and I love (in a terribly sad way) that it was Brian's first directing effort. He couldn't have done a better job, and I don't think Jim could have done a better job (except Kermit's voice, but I've learned to live with the change), and it's an excellent tribute to his father's legacy.
posted by xingcat at 10:36 AM on December 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


The best Christmas story is A Christmas Carol, and the best version of A Christmas Carol is The Muppet Christmas Carol.

It isn't even the best Muppets Christmas. (OPEN THE VAULT, DISNEY.)
posted by entropicamericana at 10:36 AM on December 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Even the vegetables don't like him!

In middle school, my best friend and I were deeply in love with Scrooge's nephew - who was also in the TV movie of Return of the Native which we watched in 11th grade. That was a delicious realization!
posted by ChuraChura at 10:37 AM on December 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh my God yes, Scrooge's nephew was so hot.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 10:37 AM on December 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


The best Christmas story is A Christmas Carol, and the best version of A Christmas Carol is The Muppet Christmas Carol.

The Albert Finney Scrooge Atom Eyes just mentioned is actually the best Christmas movie, but as renditions of A Christmas Carol go, I rate this one a close second. We watch both every year.
posted by brennen at 10:39 AM on December 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Top 100 Christmas Movies of All Time: A Definitive Ranking

1. Muppet Christmas Carol
2. Die Hard
3. Gremlins
4. (Mood-dependent tie) Elf
4. (Mood-dependent tie) Bad Santa
...
15. Chelsea
...
99. Star Wars Holiday Special
100. It's a Wonderful Life
posted by dersins at 10:47 AM on December 22, 2015


No Trading Places? :(
posted by Melismata at 10:50 AM on December 22, 2015


No love for "The Ref" on Christmas movies, huh, dersins? It's a favorite of mine.

I've seen all of those Christmas Carol versions, but for me, the best one is still Bill Murray in "Scrooged."
posted by Thistledown at 10:51 AM on December 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Despite the Santa suit, Trading Places is clearly a New Year's movie. (Top 2, with The Apartment.)
posted by dersins at 10:52 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Muppet Christmas Carol is a fun tradition, but the cutest Jim Henson Christmas tradition is Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas.
posted by charred husk at 10:59 AM on December 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Nope, the best Muppets Christmas show is A Muppet Family Christmas
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:59 AM on December 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


The muppet (related) holiday movie in our house is "Christmas Eve on Sesame Street."
How DOES Santa fit down that teeny tiny chimney?
Clearly he sneaks in with the relatives on Thanksgiving, and hides in the Laundry Room until Christmas.
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:07 AM on December 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


The bit from Dave Goelz, about owning Waldorf after Jim Henson died. I cried real tears.
posted by zenhob at 11:27 AM on December 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I had recently come across this write up, and so we (Myself, Mrs. Mosley and our six year old daughter) watched this for the very first time on Sunday night and loved it. The most striking thing to me was what Atom Eyes said, which is that Caine doesn't overdo it on the meanness.

The other thing, from a pure film making and puppetry standpoint, was realizing that Kermit walking to his house was realized with a "snow" covered roller for the ground and mobile buildings. God I love stuff like that. Movie magic.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 11:28 AM on December 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


No cheeses for us meeces
posted by JenThePro at 11:41 AM on December 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


Light the lamp not the rat light the lamp not the rat!!
posted by Flannery Culp at 11:57 AM on December 22, 2015 [21 favorites]


This is my all-time favorite version of Carol, and I always cry. Followed closely by Patrick Stewart's dramatic reading, then the TNT movie with Stewart.
posted by JawnBigboote at 11:59 AM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Who’s the least likely character to be Charles Dickens? Gonzo!

In 1992 I was six. As long as I can remember, I have pictured Charles Dickens as Gonzo.

Bob Cratchit was a natural role for Kermit, the caring person who looked after people. He was almost playing himself.

I love how "he was almost playing himself" seems like a completely natural thing to say about, not the actor doing the voice for Kermit, but Kermit.

In conclusion, the Muppets, man.
posted by officer_fred at 12:38 PM on December 22, 2015 [18 favorites]


I'd put the Alistair Sim "Christmas Carol" slightly above the Muppet's, but I do like them both quite a bit and think that both of those films are relatively faithful to the spirit of the original and would be enjoyed by Dickens - more than most of the rest.

My preference for the Sim version is based on its faithfulness to the text, and on Sim's Scrooge, and some of the nice little bits that are added, that to me just feel right. For instance when Scrooge is in the restaurant and asks for more bread. The waiter responds "Ha'penny extra, sir." and Scrooge replies "No more bread." This shows Scrooge as being very much his own victim. Also the weird joyousness of the ending is great fun.
posted by Death and Gravity at 1:11 PM on December 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


[Tosses dimes from balcony]
posted by clavdivs at 2:16 PM on December 22, 2015


Muppet Christmas Carol is a fun tradition, but the cutest Jim Henson Christmas tradition is Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas


Yes!


I am slightly ashamed to admit that the Riverbottom Nightmare Band kind of rocks, though.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:17 PM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mr hippybear* and I had one winter where we watched together every version of Christmas Carol that we could find on our satellite service. I think the final number we watched was 29.

Muppet Christmas Carol remains my favorite. Partially because Muppets, partially because Caine, but mostly because it is just really excellent all around.

(He still resolutely prefers the Sim version, but there's no accounting for taste.)
posted by hippybear at 2:29 PM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had the great good fortune to catch a free (!!!) screening of A Muppet Christmas Carol at the Bloor Hot Docs theatre here in Toronto on Sunday. Thanks for this post.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:13 PM on December 22, 2015


No love for Rich Little's Christmas Carol? Tragic.

In my house, Christmas Muppets were represented by Emmet Otter.
posted by davelog at 3:25 PM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is a testament to either Dickens' words, or the skill of the muppeteers, or most likely both, that two pieces of felt discussing the site of Tiny Tim's grave can still make me choke up.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:12 PM on December 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yeah, definitely I'm in the Alastair Sim and Muppet Family Christmas camp myself, but I cherish this one too, in part because it's the movie I've seen in the earliest stage of production. I was in a preview audience in southern California and many of the special effects still weren't done; in particular, I remember that instead of the shots of the Ghost of Christmas Past taking Scrooge back in time they just showed us storyboard art because the effects hadn't been completed yet. It was a really interesting glimpse into the moviemaking process for me as a small child who hadn't done much thinking about special effects and how they're done.

The test audience loved the film. It was one of the most engaged audiences I can recall being a part of. And they had us fill in a survey at the end which was really exciting since it felt like maybe we could influence the final cut of the movie, as obviously there was still work being done. So now I find out that if I'd only been super-negative about "When Love is Gone" there's a good chance I could have gotten it excised from the movie!

Lots of great songs and great performances. It's truly a classic.
posted by town of cats at 4:46 PM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


The seemless mix of traditional Dickens with the Muppets' bizarre humor is so natural in this movie. Caine has just spent the past half hour being serious and solemn towards everyone and then "Know it? My first job was here. It's Fozziewig's Old Rubber Chicken Factory!". Said with the same tone. As if it's perfectly normal.
posted by downtohisturtles at 8:15 PM on December 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


I like the 1951 Alistair Sim version, but I have a soft spot for the 1938 Reginald Owen version as well. I recently got a chance to see the 1935 Seymour Hicks "first talkie" version. I was pleased to see some of the scenes not usually shown depicted like the lighthouse and the ship at sea.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:08 PM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Atom Eyes, I'm so glad I'm not the only one who has praise for the Mister Magoo version, which is really surprisingly good. But the Muppet version is tops on my list. Thanks for a great post, fearfulsymmetry.
posted by rednikki at 10:16 PM on December 22, 2015


I popped into local supermarket on my way to work this morning and was very pleased to hear the music only version of 'When Love Is Found/It Feels Like Christmas' playing. Now I'm listening to the OST at work. This is the Christmas movie of my heart.
posted by halcyonday at 2:06 AM on December 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


My highly-sensitive 7 year old daughter just saw this, and was terrified. She still doesn't want to talk about it. Sigh. I guess we will not be revisiting this version in our house any time soon.
posted by ElleElle at 8:01 AM on December 23, 2015


Just show her the horrific uncanny valley Jim Carrey Disney version... she'll be begging for the Muppets by the time it's over.
posted by hippybear at 8:09 AM on December 23, 2015


I do agree that "When Love is Gone" is a boring-ass song, but the music is one of the reasons I love Muppet Christmas Carol so very much. The lyrics are perfect, and the tunes are so catchy!

It is
the season of the heart, a special time of caring
The ways of love made clear



Let us learn to love each other
Lead us to the light
Let us hear the voice of reason, singing in the night
Let us run from anger and catch us when we fall
Teach us in our dreams and please, yes please
Bless us one and all



Mr. Freedom has been known to play and sing along to "A Thankful Heart" in the middle of summer.
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:07 AM on December 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


And those songs were, of course, written by Paul Williams, who likes to say he was the only Muppet Show guest star "whose Muppet was life size".
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:21 AM on December 23, 2015


Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas

Yes! Mrs. Example and I have watched it more times than I can count, and to this very day anything being high up or above us will prompt this:

"Look at the birds up in the trees."

"We're not birds. We're a jug band!"
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:03 PM on December 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just took a short cut through a graveyard... not one ghost, very disappointed
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:42 AM on December 24, 2015


Just watched this with my family, as is tradition. It's definitely my favorite version of A Christmas Carol. It's a combination of three things that really shouldn't work together: Muppets, the words of Charles Dickens (more words than most versions due to Gonzo the Narrator) and Michael Caine.

After watching it I usually re-read the original Dickens and I'm always surprised how much of it is used unchanged in the muppet version. And watching with a kid, I'm struck by how little they "lightened" the story -- lines like "If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population" and "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart" are included verbatim. Instead of changing them they use Gonzo and Rizzo's reactions to lighten the mood.

Despite that, Michael Caine somehow makes the character likable, sad and broken rather than truly cruel.

I've seen it both with and without "When Love is Gone" -- I do miss it a bit, but I understand why it was cut. It's a long song from the POV of a character who doesn't appear in the rest of the film, and it probably drags for kids.

More importantly, it's a pretty sad movie to begin with*, and this song prolongs one of the saddest moments in the film and brings more attention to the one thing Scrooge doesn't get back -- there's no aged version of Belle waiting for him on Christmas morning, she's just gone forever.

* I mean, seriously, in a kid's movie full of muppets we have starving mice who have no cheese, then Scrooge saying people who are happy at Christmas should be killed, along with the poor, and literally throwing a poor person out of the building, then his dead friends visit and tell him what it's like to live in Hell, then we see a young version of Scrooge lose the love of his life, and then a giant happy ghost shows him a charming little handicapped frog, and then the giant happy ghost dies of old age, and then a silent, faceless spectre of death shows him lots of people being happy that Scrooge is dead, and then we watch the little handicapped frog's parents cry as they make plans for his funeral while his unused cane sits in the background, and then Scrooge looks upon his own grave and screams to God to stop this horrible future from happening...

in short, I'm amazed this film got made at all, but I'm very glad it did. And since my version of Christmas isn't all happy, this is a movie that always cheers me up...
posted by mmoncur at 10:28 PM on December 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


FanFare thread.
posted by Pendragon at 2:39 PM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is a great movie, and certainly a top five version of A Christmas Carol. I would like to put in a word for the George C. Scott version, though, which is quite good as well.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:17 PM on December 26, 2015


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