Monday, December 19, 2022

How the (Muppets) Christmas Carol Saves Christmas

As is well documented I am not a big fan of the so-called holiday season. I could go into it but I'm trying to avoid things that needlessly raise my blood pressure as well as my urge to burn things so let me tell you about my favorite Christmas movie: The Muppets Christmas Carol.

And yes, The Nightmare Before Christmas is an extremely close second, but only because I usually watch that one on Halloween. 


I actually love The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens in all its various iterations. For me it's more of a cautionary horror story with Christmas as more of a backdrop. Scrooge needs to learn to change his ways and Christmas is the best time to show him what is truly worth living for (More on that later) but remember Scrooge was a jerk all year, not just at Christmas. 

The Muppets portrayal is my favorite Scrooge, and that's saying something considering other titans who have taken the role like Alistair Sim, Sir Patrick Stewart, and Scrooge McDuck to name a few. Muppets Christmas Carol has Michael Caine, the charming British actor that stole our hearts as Alfred Pennyworth in the Nolan Batman franchise. Here not only does he portray a great Scrooge, despite seemingly to be absolutely delightful in real life, but he plays a hard no-nonsenses Scrooge around the Muppets. He has no problem flinging some poor Muppet man out his door while he's begging for an extension on his mortgage or nailing Bean Bunny with a Christmas wreath. 

Juxtapose this with Tim Curry in Muppet Treasure Island (Seriously why aren't they making more Muppet movies based on classic literature?!). In it you can tell Curry is having a wonderful time playing with the Muppets, and it's a joy to watch, but he's also the villain and any tone of threat from him is completely lost as he hams it up. 

Tiny Frog

Here's the part of the film that for me seals the deal and warms my own Scroogy heart: Tiny Tim. I will argue that the lynch pin in Scrooge's conversion is when he sees the Cratchit's youngest son and how hard he has it in life yet never lets his hardships get him down. As opposed to Scrooges, Tiny Tims for me are hit-and-miss, as they are usually healthy looking kids handed a crutch and a flat cap and told to smile (Except in Scrooged where Tiny Tim is emotionally traumatized and doesn't talk, an interesting take since the film takes place in contemporary times).

Here Tiny Tim is played by Robin the Frog (Bet you didn't know he had a name--read a book!) who is physically smaller than most of the other Muppets, including his three siblings who were made for the film. Tim's size and the persistent cough make him look especially vulnerable, but the part that guts me is when he starts coughing. Now of course in this film Bob Cratchit is Kermit the Frog and thus of course his wife Emily is the Supermodel of the World Miss Piggy. They didn't really change Piggy's personality in the film, making her just as loud and extra as she usually is (She wears her purple satin gloves with her poor Londoner dress and threatens to punch Scrooge off her porch--note to self, make fan post about Miss Piggy) but when Tiny Tim starts to cough she immediately softens and helps him to his chair. There's something about the loud boisterous takes no-nonsense character softening so fast for another character that breaks my heart because it shows how much the character loves them to let down their guards and show genuine love. This happens twice, first when Tiny Tim comes home and gets overexcited about Christmas dinner and second after his adorable song (We haven't even talked about the music in this thing which is pure FIRE). Before this, we see Scrooge kind of getting into the spirit of Christmas with the Ghost of Christmas Present but that was more of seeing the fun he'd been missing out on, but seeing Tiny Tim and hearing his song Caine visibly softens as he realizes that a majority of this child's suffering has been caused by him treating Bob Cratchit like garbage. 

The real icing on the emotional cake that is the Tiny Tim scene is when he asks the Ghost if Tiny Tim will live, to which the Ghost replies "...If these shadows remain unaltered, the child will die. But if he's going to die then he better do it-and decrease the surplus population!" Here the Ghost throws Scrooge's words right back in his face, making the miser realize that this child is one of the people he so callously dismissed and condemned to death earlier that day. 

The emotions reach their lowest with the Ghost of Christmas Future where they show the family mourning the loss of Tiny Tim. Miss Piggy is actually shown crying in this scene. Now I've watched every Muppet thing ever created and I don't think in any other time in history Miss Piggy has ever once cried over anything, so there's a gut punch if ever there was one. All the light and happiness that used to be in this household is dimmed and Scrooge gets to see exactly where his actions will lead him if he stays on his course. The tombstone scene is nothing compared to seeing Miss Piggy cry. 

Carols from The Christmas Carol

Okay now that I'm out of my emotions and have stopped crying over a frog puppet let me end this with one last note about the music: It's amazing. The Muppets are famous for their big bombastic musical numbers culminating in kick lines, but here the songs are different. They're still fun but they're more subtle, honoring Christmas and the story without distracting from the flow. A number like Cabin Fever from Muppets Treasure Island or Happiness Hotel from The Great Muppet Caper just wouldn't work in the story of the Christmas Carol. 

I don't have the vocabulary to describe why I love the songs so much, so what I will do is post my favorite Muppets Christmas Carol songs below and hopefully the songs themselves can be enough to get my point across. 


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