Christmas is a time for getting together with your loved ones and doing things that have meaning to you, like singing carols and making cookies and punching someone at toy store on Christmas Eve so you can get the last Wobblebot or whatever off the shelf and keep the next morning from turning into a chaotic mess of tears and shouting. Also, movies. It’s always great to sit around and watch Christmas movies, preferably with a fire raging in the fireplace and the tree up in the corner, hopefully a safe distance from the raging fire, for reasons related to the aforementioned tears and shouting. And there are so many of them. You have an almost endless supply of choices.
One that I watch every year is The Muppet Christmas Carol, released in 1992. I had it on VHS as a kid and I’ve tracked it down in other forms over the years. This year it’s on HBO Go. I really recommend you watch it if you haven’t, especially if you have kids or can borrow some. It’s adorable, and funny (like, legitimately funny in parts), and it captures the spirit of the season about as well as any movie can. I could talk about it for an hour. But since finding each of you, individually, to discuss it would be pretty inefficient, I guess I’ll just write about it. That seems simpler.
Let’s talk about The Muppet Christmas Carol.
1. The plot of The Muppet Christmas Carol is the same as any version of the original story written by Charles Dickens, in its broad strokes. Scrooge is a cheap uncaring creep, Scrooge is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve, Scrooge wakes up a new man and starts throwing money and turkeys around town on Christmas morning. (I mean, spoilers, but…) The fun of it all is in the execution. And seeing Michael Caine interact with Muppets. Michael Caine shouts at so many Muppets. We’ll get to that in a bit, but it’s important to have a baseline from which to begin. That’s all we’re doing in point number one.
2. This brings us to Gonzo. The film is narrated by Gonzo, as Charles Dickens, who pops up on screen periodically to explain what’s happening and why, and who is accompanied by Rizzo the Rat. Rizzo is the best. His purpose in the film is to serve as a kind of Greek chorus, pointing out the absurdity of the more absurd moments and repeatedly questioning Gonzo’s claimed identity. He also gets injured. A lot. He flies over fences and gets lit on fire and at one point Gonzo smashes him into a window and wipes him back and forth to clean off a layer of grime, as though a Dickensian street rat is a squeegee. The two of them make a really fun comedy team and it turns the whole familiar story maybe 30 degrees to the left, just enough to make it original. More films should be narrated by Gonzo and Rizzo. Like, the next John Wick movie, maybe. I’m barely kidding.
3. As we discussed earlier, Michael Caine plays Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol, which raises two important questions: One: Why would we let anyone other than Michael Caine play Scrooge? Two: We should not. Admittedly that second thing is not a question. But it’s still important. He just so good.
A big part of that is the way he plays the role. He’s dead serious throughout. Director Brian Henson explained it in an interview with The Guardian: “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.’”
It’s important here to note that Scrooge’s bookkeepers, the castmembers he is treating like the Royal Shakespeare Company, in addition to Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, are played by wiseass mischievous rats. And it’s also important to note this from a recent GQ interview with Caine, which is just fun and I want you to see it.
Have your grandkids seen it?
Oh yeah, yeah. They’ve seen it. They loved it. They can’t believe it was their grandpa—and me singing! People say to me, Have you ever sung? I say, Yes, I sang in a movie. They say, Who with? I say, Kermit the Frog.
4. The film replaces Jacob Marley with “the Marleys,” plural, which one can only assume was an excuse to have Statler and Waldorf roast Scrooge. A great decision, regardless.
5. Spirits in The Muppet Christmas Carol, ranked:
- Present – Big fat forgetful guy who loves food. These kinds of dudes are my people.
- Past – Creepy partially translucent young girl who insists on making you go back and relive your biggest regrets. No thanks.
- Future – Faceless reaper who shows you your own grave instead of cool future stuff like flying cars and Roombas. Come on, guy.
You will never change my mind on this.