Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Christmas Favorites: The Muppet Christmas Carol

Ok, ok, ok. So, out of all of the A Christmas Carol movie versions, this one is hands down my absolute favorite. And I know what you're thinking. "But it isn't true to the book! Isn't that kind of a big deal for you?"

Well, normally, yes. I'm usually a pretty big stickler for movie adaptations staying true to their source material. But I'm giving this one a pass for two reasons: 1) its target audience is little kids. Come on. How faithful can you expect it to be? And b) while it may not be true to the letter of the book, it's certainly true to the spirit of it. I can't think of any other version of this story that will give me the warm fuzzies like this one does. So, let's dive right in, shall we?
The first Muppet film made after the death of the amazing Jim Henson was a very big deal. Would the franchise be able to survive without his visionary genius behind it? I think this is proof that it most certainly could. And were he alive, I think he would have been proud of what his son Brian was able to accomplish with this film. I love positively, absolutely everything about it.

Most versions don't include any sort of narration, or, if they do, very little. I find that rather sad because a lot of the magic of the story isn't so much the plot itself as it is Dickens's fantastic way with words. In this version, Dickens himself is actually a character, tour-guiding you through the story personally. Of course, Dickens in this case is the Great Gonzo, but that really only makes it better. As he tells the story to Rizzo, we see the other Muppet characters assume roles in the story, something the Muppets had never done before. Kermit and Piggy are Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit, with nephew Robin as Tiny Tim. There's Fozzie Bear as Fezziwig (or Fozziwig, in this case), Sam the Eagle as Scrooge's schoolmaster, and Statler and Waldorf as Scrooge's former business partners Jacob and Robert Marley. (See what they did there?) Several other new Muppets were created for the various roles of the three Spirits of Christmas. All of the performances are, of course, brilliant. It's hard to make a piece of felt emote to the point where we get misty-eyed, but the Muppeteer performers manage to pull it off big time.

But Muppeteers aside, the best performance in this entire film is Michael Caine's Scrooge. As far as I'm concerned, he is Scrooge. There will never be a better one in my opinion.  Playing the role of Scrooge is already a monumental task. Playing opposite Muppets and interacting with them as though they were as real as you or I is a monumental task. Being able to do both and do them well is nothing short of genius at work. It's a testament to the acting abilities of a Hollywood legend and I'm glad he did.
Hats off to you, sir!
But perhaps the one thing that makes this my favorite version of this movie is the music. After all, what's a Muppet film without a good soundtrack, amiright? There isn't a bad song in this movie. Seriously. The soundtrack of this film alone will put you in the holiday spirit. You're already heard one of them if you've been following my 25 Days of Crazy Christmas Songs series. It's got a Broadway quality to it. The songs are fun, catchy, touching, and very well written and performed.

There is one gripe I have about the film, and it really has nothing to do with the film itself, but rather what the editors did to it after its theatrical release. The scene in which Belle and Scrooge call off their engagement originally had a song called "When Love is Gone". It was included in the initial print of VHS tapes, but was cut out of later prints and the DVD version. Most of us 90s kids who were fans of the movie just the way it was were sorely disappointed. The reasoning behind the cut was that younger kids found it boring, but those of us who were old enough to truly appreciate the film for what it was have been petitioning Disney (who was the distributor at the time and currently owns the rights to the Muppets) to put it back in subsequent releases. Thus far, our cries have fallen on deaf ears. It's a real shame because its absence leaves a huge (and rather obvious) jump cut right in the middle of the film, and makes the end-of-movie reprise sounds out of place. (Sound Familiar?) If you can get your hands on an original uncut VHS, by all means do so. If not, well, then, enjoy this.

Seeing as how that's my only problem with this movie, I say again and again and a thousand times again, if you haven't seen it, definitely do. With warmth, wit, a good dose of humor, and a nod to Someone who "made lame beggars walk and blind men see", it's sure to become a holiday classic in your family.


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