Tomorrow is Christmas, and that means its time for watching all the Christmas movies. I’ve talked about It’s a Wonderful Life, and the true meaning of the movie, and last year I talked about A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. In that post I used pictures from A Muppet Christmas Carol, and now I’m going to explain why the Muppet edition of Charles Dickens’ opus is the best film adaptation of the novel:
4. It Sticks to the Story
There are various adaptations of the story in both plays and movies, almost all of which focus on giving Scrooge a more tragic background than what is depicted in the story: his mother died giving birth to him, alienating his father; his sister (the only person he loved) died giving birth to his nephew; etc. I can understand why some of these were added, but at the same time I hate these editions because they give Scrooge excuses to be evil and end up making the Ghosts look like tormentors rather than the guiding spirits they’re meant to be. Scrooge turning into a callous, greedy recluse is almost understandable when his life has been going from one abuse to the next without respite, and the Ghost of Christmas past making him relive these horrible events seems to serve no purpose other than to torment him. After all he couldn’t not kill his mother when he was born, or save his sister from dying, or whatever addition the adaptation throws in.
In the original story Scrooge ends up alone and hated by the entire city because that’s what he chose. It happened in degrees, each decision he makes carries him further into the darkness and eventually his desire for wealth drives away the woman he loves and everybody else who might have cared about him (except for his nephew). That’s what the Ghost of Christmas Past is showing him: not the tragic events he couldn’t change, but the choices he made that he could have and should have made differently. By sticking to the story and abandoning many of the alterations adopted by contemporary adaptations, A Muppet Christmas Carol manages to capture the same magic and sense of joy that encapsulated the story of Scrooge’s redemption.
Yes, A Muppet Christmas Carol sticks to the story and yet at the same time…
3. It’s not Afraid to Adapt The Story
Of course A Muppet Christmas Carol is still a movie adaptation, and it’s not afraid to remove or change parts that wouldn’t work in a movie format. For instance, in that picture above I said that the Ghost of Christmas Past is almost perfect in matching the description. I used the qualifier almost because a completely accurate recreation of the Ghost would have turned A Muppet Christmas Carol from amazing and joyful, into a nightmare straight from HP Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos:
being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. – A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
Yes, that’s the Ghost of Christmas past sprouting and then discarding limbs like an eldritch horror from beyond time. I first saw this movie when I was a young boy, and I tell you there would have been a lot of wet seats in that theater if they’d gone with an accurate recreation of the Ghost. Adapting a story from one medium to another is a fine art, and Brian Henson proved he was a master when he created the Muppet version of this ghost.
The best adaptation, however, is undoubtedly the removal of the dread children from the scenes with The Ghost of Christmas Present. In last year’s article, I told you that Tiny Tim represented all the suffering children in England. Tiny Tim was a great, yet subtle metaphor for the plight of children of in 19th Century England (and the world at large) and yet I guess Charles Dickens felt it might be too subtle because halfway through the story he throws in a couple of starving, almost zombie like children hiding under Santa’s robes to represent the children of the future if society doesn’t change. It’s a ham-handed interlude in an otherwise great and moving story, and A Muppet Christmas Carol nails their adaptation by removing this unneeded piece of the story.
2. Michael Caine
Playing the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge can’t be easy, because you have to show a believable character arc of going from the evil, money-grubbing Mr. Scrooge to the man who would give you the shirt off his back at the end of the movie. Yet not only does Michael Caine nail that arc beautifully, he does it while interacting with stuffed animals on sticks.
You need only watch the scene of Michael Caine pleading with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come to see what I mean. “Tell me I can sponge out the writing on this stone!” is a plea that rings in my ears still, and I was completely convinced that Michael Caine was terrified in this scene, like he was being threatened with a gun off camera or something. It’s really that genuine, the only performance I’ve seen come close to this level is Patrick Stewart’s performance in the 1999 TV movie. Except Patrick Stewart doesn’t get to sing. Just watch Michael Caine’s performance in this scene and tell me that you’re not bawling like Rizzo at the end…
Which brings me to my final point.
1. The Songs
If there was one story that I thought could defy becoming a musical it would be A Christmas Carol, yet the songs in A Muppet Christmas Carol are so fitting that you’d think Charles Dickens wrote it with the Muppets in mind. Like some kind of time travelling wizard-author. Just listen to Scrooge’s intro:
Or Marley’s (and Marley’s) warning:
If that final plea of “Change!” doesn’t send shivers down your spine then you’re clearly some kind of invertebrate. Yet the crown jewel of this movie are undoubtedly this song:
It is the season of the Spirit,
The message if we hear it,
Is make it last all year!
This is the world Charles Dickens dreamed of people, we’re living it right here and now, and there’s no better way to remind yourself of that then by watching the Muppet Christmas Carol.