Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Muppet Christmas Carol (25 Days of Shitmas Day #17)

There are so many times in my adult life where I am looked at strangely  because I exclaim about the virtues of docile things. Why is this so strange to some? It’s probably because I am a fiercely self-proclaimed horror nerd. My entire career is based around the horror industry in one way or another and when I start to wax whimsically about the love I have for things non-horror related, people can sometimes be dumbfounded. But kids, that is why I’m here today. I want to tell you about my love and affection for the Muppets, moreover, I want to tell you about my love for The Muppet Christmas Carol.

I have memories of being 4 years old-my mother had this vhs tape she used to tape Saturday morning cartoons and Saturday Night Live for me. Yes, even at that age I watched SNL, never mind that I didn’t fully understand all the jokes yet. On this tape after one particularly funny episode of SNL she had taped The Great Muppet Caper off of CBS. Christ, I must’ve watched that twice a week, no exaggeration. I was in love with Kermit The Frog. It really foreshadows my adulthood wherein I am enamored of scrawny, nerdy boys. Anyways, I watched that movie til the tape damn near wore out. I loved the sass of Miss Piggy and her love affair with Kermit, once again foreshadowing my adulthood. Over the years I would find myself clamoring for everything Muppets- all the flicks and especially the Muppet Babies cartoon. Like most children of the 80s I suppose, the Muppets were for me. By the time I hit age 11, Jim Henson and crew would release the film that would trump all other Muppet films for me; The Muppet Christmas Carol.

For those who have never heard of this film, it is a re-telling of the classic Charles Dickens book, A Christmas Carol. However, in Muppets fashion, most of the characters are played by Muppets. Michael Caine stars as the titular character, now as an adult I find it hard to separate Scrooge from his role in De Palma’s Dressed To Kill,  but I digress. Kermit stars as Bob Kratchit and his nephew Robin plays Tiny Tim, Miss Piggy of course stars as Emily, Bob’s wife. You may be asking yourself “Why is she referring to them as if they’re real people, real actors?”  Well kids, because to me they are. And I’ll bet without even knowing it they are to you too.

From the beginning of the film we are re-introduced to the crass humor the Muppets have been known for since The Muppet Show. The narrator is played by Gonzo with Rizzo as his sidekick. One of the better buddy pairings in any film if you ask me. They play off of each other amazingly.

The film  itself plays as part musical part comedy as we are taken into Charles Dickens 1800s London. Let’s be fair, it is quite softened in this film- no plague, no Jack The Ripper, BUT the Henson crew does stay honest to the despair and poverty of the time. There are destitute Muppets everywhere and Caine’s  Ebenezer Scrooge is the jack off we all know him to be. Too bitter to even give the bookkeeper mice more coal for the fire. Kermit, er, I mean Bob Kratchit even has to beg to get Christmas day off! Sheesh! It follows the story as it is in the book. Ebenezer Scrooge is a rich asshole who would rather line his pockets than help out his fellow man. On Christmas Eve he is visited by three ghosts- one of the past, one of the present and one of the future. All of this in order to get him to correct his ways before it’s too late.

We are taken on a journey through Scrooge’s past; we see him as an orphaned child away at boarding school. Probably the greatest part of this sequence isn’t us feeling an emotion for the youthful Ebenezer, but Sam the Eagle accidentally referring to something being “The American way” and then being corrected to say “It is the British way!” Did I mention this film is set in Britain? Well, it is. It’s a Charles Dickens novel for Chrissakes! We also find out that Scrooge once had a love, and he screwed that up. He also learned everything he knows from two shrewd businessmen named Jacob and Robert Marley, expertly played by Statler and Waldorf aka The Hecklers.

When we see Scrooge’s present life, we get to see how everyone around him seems to be able to find the joy in the small things in life. Not having money affects them, but nowhere near as much as having money affects Scrooge’s life. It’s a sad state of affairs in the Kratchit home, Tiny Tim is a cripple and very sick and he needs better doctor’s care than he is getting. Despite that the Kratchit family is fun and festive. Scrooge’s nephew Fred has a happy life even though he is poor because he’s in love and has good friends. Little by little Scrooge sees that perhaps money is not the ultimate happiness in life.

The last act is a bit more dark, as we see the proposed death of Scrooge. People aren’t sad, hell they’re rejoicing and scalping his home for all it’s worth. A Grim Reaper like ghost even shows Scrooge his grave. This is enough for Scrooge and by the time he wakes up from these “dreams” he is a changed man. He immediately starts righting all the wrongs he can. Most poignantly he comes to the Kratchits home with a feast and announces that not only is Bob getting a raise but that he is paying off the mortgage on their home. Scrooge is no longer a dick, in fact he cheerfully sings us to the credits with all of the Muppets.

All in all what can I say about why this film does it for me? Maybe it’s pure nostalgia. I can’t argue that it’s the best Muppet film ever, but it is for me. I have memories for as long back as I can remember of watching this on Thanksgiving to prepare myself for the Christmas season. It takes me back to a time and a place where somehow life wasn’t as complicated. And this tale of a rich old jerk finding redemption by being shown what’s  been in front of his face the whole time resounds in me now as an adult. I get all goosey when the credits begin, and I cry, yes I cry when Scrooge finally does his good deeds, I ain’t ashamed. You want a film that can take you back to your childhood while accommodating your adult sensibilities? I highly recommend this one. The Muppets deserve your love, they already have too much of mine.

- Kristy Jett
Executive Director of Service & Sass at Fright Rags
and The Person You Benefit From Knowing 


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