A marriage between The Muppets and Charles Dickens’ literary classic, “A Christmas Carol,” might at first seem like an ill fit. What business do Kermit the Frog and Victorian London have in the same movie? But the end result — The Muppet Christmas Carol — has become one of the most celebrated entries in the Muppet canon, despite the absence of creator Jim Henson, who passed away in 1990, two years prior to the film’s release.
Charged with taking over his father’s company and, eventually, the director’s chair for this movie, Brian Henson managed to rally the family of artists that Jim had built up over the years to create a rich film that has a pretty interesting backstory in its own right. We’ll have more on that backstory and the pressures involved in following his legendary father’s story on Monday when we run an interview with Brian Henson, but for now, take a look at these facts about the film — some of which came from our chat with Henson.
The film employed a unique narrative structure to honor the source material.
There is obviously no Dickens character in A Christmas Carol, so the filmmakers decided to create a stand-in narrator in order to take full advantage of the source material. Talking to us, Brian Henson explained that this addition to the story was part of what made this version so unique:
“That happened early on when Jerry Juhl was so in love with the book… His feeling was, look, the Dickens dialogue is absolutely fantastic, as we all know from all the movies and stage shows, but the Dickens prose, when Dickens describes a scene or describes a character, it’s so, so good. He said, ‘I want to put a character in that is Charles Dickens.’ Then we thought, ‘Who’s the least likely?’ in order to make it funny… Gonzo was basically the least-likely choice to play Charles Dickens, and then we put Rizzo with him just as his ridiculous little sidekick. Then, pretty much almost everything that Gonzo says is straight out of the book. Probably 95% of his dialogue is Dickens prose, and maybe 5% are little asides and quips that we threw in there.”
Sure, there weren’t any puppets strolling down the cobblestone streets of Victorian England, but because of this dedication to the source material, it is one of the most faithful adaptations of the novel.
The Ghost of Christmas Past used a watery trick.
In order to nail the effervescent nature of the Ghost of Christmas Past, the filmmakers submerged the puppet in a water tank and filmed her underwater to get the flow of the robes and hair just right. They had originally used oil to get the right look without damaging the puppet, but it wasn’t as cost effective. Henson explained the process in the DVD commentary:
“The way we did this character is extraordinarily complicated. This puppet here, the Ghost of Christmas Past, was actually a rod puppet that was performed in a tank of oil. Her fabric and her costume were all floating in oil. That was the intention, but we had a hard time keeping the oil clean and it actually costs an enormous amount of money to get that much baby oil, so we only did the oil once, and the rest of the times we used water. But it still moves beautifully in the water. We wanted a character that was very beautiful, but also so of ethereal, and sort of not playing by the rules of physics. So the character we shot in the tank of water and moving it from the tank of water and eventually adding it in digitally to the scene.”
They definitely accomplished the right look with the beautiful, yet kinda creepy, child-like ghost.
There’s a “Rainbow Connection” connection.
Paul Williams, who had worked with Jim Henson previously on The Muppet Movie and gave the world the gift of “The Rainbow Connection” — take a break and go watch it if you want your day to instantly improve — returned after a long hiatus from Muppet projects to create the score and write many wonderful songs for The Muppet Christmas Carol.
Muppet casting is key.
Before some critical casting changes, The Muppet Christmas Carol could have been a very different film. In the early stages of the production, the plan was to have Scooter play the Ghost of Christmas Past and Gonzo be the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. While this would have been hilarious, some of the effectiveness probably would have been lost in this version. Henson explained that they decided to create completely separate Muppets to play the three ghosts in order to maintain the right tone for the film.