12 Days of XMas: The Muppet Christmas Carol
The older I get, the more holiday traditions I seem to lose track of. There’s that one where my father and I would set up a tent on Christmas Eve and “camp” out in the backyard and tell stories, gone. My mother no longer composes the whimsical and, frankly, grotesque letters I’d recite for Santa Claus. And, if last year is any indicator, I might not even wait until Christmas to open presents anymore. While many of my rituals fade into Christmas’ past, I’ll be damned if I lose The Muppet Christmas Carol.
By my estimation, I have seen the film on, at least, twenty-three different occasions — once for every Christmas season. You would think that one would tire of a film by its twelfth play through, let alone its twentieth, but I’m happy to say it is as fresh as ever. Of course, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the most adored Christmas stories and there are no shortages of adaptations; yet, Brian Henson (director and son of Jim Henson) and his team may have crafted the most memorable iteration of this whimsical fable.
I’m sure you know it well. The holiday season is upon 19th century London and everywhere you go it feels like Christmas. The streets are full of felt creatures and humans mingling heartily; that is, until a harsh wind blows and chills the air, Ebenezer Scrooge, Mr. Humbug himself played by Michael Caine, has entered the scene. The old miser slinks around town, nose firmly in the air, as the townsfolk disparage his name. He does not, will not, partake in the festivities surrounding the season; in fact, he believes it to be a sign of vulnerability — weakness, which is one thing he would never allow said of himself. His entire world is his businesses. With only one more sleep ‘til Christmas, Scrooge is delivered an omen and visited by the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future. Through their prodding, he is granted the opportunity to, simply, be better.
Yes, this is a Muppet world and that’s a fact definitely not lost on the film. The Henson creatures absorb themselves into the story with their own particular brand of absurd comedy; hijinks are aplenty and the fourth wall is a fickle friend. The music is a wonderful blend of catchy and heartfelt, and the puppets themselves are charismatic and full of life. It is such a realized universe that introducing a human element could prove intrusive; however, the soul of this story lies in the very human portrayal of Scrooge by Caine. Surrounded by puppets, Caine manages to ground the crazy antics with a sober presence. Certainly, The Muppet Christmas Carol doesn’t lose itself to melancholy (its target audience is of tinier proportions, after all), but it doesn’t give easy answers either.
In its most fragile moment, we find an elderly Scrooge, broken and full of regret, as he watches himself lose the great love of his life, Belle. They both sing “When Love is Gone”, which is only seen in the extended cut of the film and it’s a travesty to ever see the film without it. There is no catharsis to his heartbreak. It’s a lost fragment, something Scrooge can never make whole again. It is here that Scrooge becomes vulnerable. Yet, there isn’t a mean bone in this story. It approaches his tragedy with gentleness and embraces the wonder of being gooey and overly sentimental. The Muppet Christmas Carol is unapologetically enamored with the concept that a broken person can be remade through pure acts of kindness — when love is found. What could be a better way to cap off such a spiteful year than by watching this?
As the years go by, the more my holiday season is threatened by cynicism, I go back to The Muppet Christmas Carol. This little film opens my heart. It never ceases to amuse or bring the holidays to life. Sure, I’m not prowling my parents’ house anymore as a regular present fiend, but that doesn’t mean its optimism is lost on my adult mind. In fact, I’d probably be a heartless little humbug myself if it wasn’t for this holiday excursion. No doubt about it, The Muppet Christmas Carol is a direct link to my love for the holidays. It’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.