15th December: The Muppet Christmas Carol

Image: Disney

The Reel Time Christmas Movie Advent Calendar is exactly what it says on the tin: a classic festive countdown, except instead of chocolate behind the windows it’s my ramblings on a host of Christmas films. In true advent calendar style, films will not be announced in advance, but revealed at 6pm each day. Get involved by shouting abuse at me on Twitter and Facebook, or even just reading and sharing. I hope this can bring a little cheer at the end of a miserable year. Enjoy! 

Director: Brian Henson

Writer: Jerry Juhl

Starring: Michael Caine, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, Frank Oz, Steven Mackintosh

Until today I had never seen a Muppet movie. I had never seen a Muppet TV show. I had never experienced Muppet related fun at all. What a sad little life, Andrew.

Today, I feel like my world has been irrevocably changed for the better by my discovering of The Muppets. I had heard of them, of course, and was always gently amused when they popped up in a charity comedy skit or TV advert, but I had never properly engaged with Kermit and co. before. The Muppet Christmas Carol, regarded by many as a top-tier festive film, has now rectified that, and given me some much-needed joy.

We pretty much all know the basic story of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and those that don’t can look it up very quickly, so I won’t waste your time describing it. What you do need to know is that just about from the first frame, I knew I loved the Muppets and I loved this film. Its whole aesthetic – the Victorian England that feels at once obviously like a movie set and also just perfect for this film, the nonchalant mixture of ‘real people’ and all manner of crazy creatures – is just delightful.

Shortly after we start observing this world, a cartful of melons starts talking. Imagine that. Melons! Talking! It is all just so wonderfully silly, and sincere in its aims to entertain and educate a family audience. The Muppet Christmas Carol feels like a stroke of genius because it is the perfect marriage of two superficially very different materials. There’s a classic tale of goodness, regret and giving, and then there’s a bunch of comical puppets who delight in simply making people laugh with funny voices.

The common thread is one of earnest goodness and an open heart. This version of Dickens’ story has a wonderfully grouchy Michael Caine being shown the selflessness and love that is possible to find in the world, and who better to show that to him than a world of puppets who exist to entertain without a single ounce of self-importance.

There’s some lovely jokes all the way through, starting with the opening credits introducing the amusing idea that the individual Muppets are playing roles in this telling as if they are the actors, but Rizzo the Rat is just himself, because they had nowhere else to put him. Then there’s the songs, which are hummable and straightforward. For what is on paper such a bizarre idea, The Muppet Christmas Carol is very simple all the way through. It plays the story straight, letting the message come to the fore, and adds some colourful embellishments. That’s all the film is, but it’s really all it needs to be in order to bring a smile to this cold and bitter world.

There are, of course, many, many adaptations of A Christmas Carol, met with varying levels of praise and boredom. I will be getting to one or two of them later in this Christmas Movie Advent Calendar, but the Muppet version is going to take some beating.

Where it Ranks

Despite how much I have raved about it, I don’t think Brian Henson’s film is the best on this list. It is noteworthy for the pure, infectious joy it brings, something to really be cherished in a Christmas film. In fact, if this ranking was based just on how well the films capture the essence of the Christmas spirit then The Muppet Christmas Carol would likely be near the very top. As it is, however, this sits in the midst of a group of films that take a familiar format and execute it very well along with Klaus and Black Christmas. There’s merit to them all, so I have to go on what captured my imagination the most. In what would make a spectacular double-bill, I will nestle this next to Black Christmas.

  1. Die Hard
  2. Happiest Season
  3. Klaus
  4. Arthur Christmas
  5. Black Christmas
  6. The Muppet Christmas Carol
  7. Elf
  8. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  9. Love Actually
  10. Gremlins
  11. Home Alone
  12. Krampus
  13. Nativity!
  14. The Holiday
  15. The Santa Clause

Andrew Young

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