Forget It’s a wonderful life. Forget the miracle on 34th Street. Forget (please God, forget) about the holidays. There is only one definitive Christmas movie, and that’s The Muppet Christmas Carol. Not only is it the best Christmas movie, but it is the best film adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel, although this has had the unfortunate side effect of convincing a generation of children that Marley had a brother named Robert.
“The Marleys were dead to begin with,” this is how Gonzo, our self-proclaimed “omniscient” narrator (this movie doesn’t really speak ill of children), begins the metanarrative. His partner Rizzo the rat, meanwhile, is mainly “here for the food,” and says what we’re all thinking: “A furry, blue Charles Dickens hanging out with a rat?” Yes, indeed, that is the configuration. In a stroke of postmodern genius, Rizzo acts as a kind of Greek chorus with a New York accent, enduring a series of mishaps including being set on fire, thrown from window sills and falling down a chimney onto a red-hot goose. .
The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my brother’s favorite movies. My brother is autistic and tends to see the things he likes repeatedly, so I have discovered this throughout my childhood, assuming I saw it three times a week, a low estimate, I have seen it over a thousand times. I know every line by heart, from “no cheese for us, memes” to “TURN ON THE LAMP, NOT THE RAT” to “He’s obnoxious, stingy, mean and insensitive, and poorly dressed.” I also know all the songs: Scrooge (“if they gave him an award for being bad, the winner would be him”), It Feels Like Christmas (“It’s giving a gift to another / A pair of gloves made by your mother”) and the recently rediscovered When Love Is Gone.
(This ballad, which sees Scrooge abandoned by his fiancée, appeared on the original VHS release but was removed because it was thought that five-year-olds would not respond. Fans have been calling for its reinstatement ever since, but the original tape it was lost. Until the beginning of this month).
For quite some time, I’ve been trying to pinpoint what makes The Muppet Christmas Carol so long-lasting – as I’ve gotten older, it’s become a viral meme. Looking at it again this week, I can only conclude that it is because it is, quite simply, an excellent movie. It’s so well done, the script is hilarious, the sets are magical, the puppeteer incredible, and the acting is an astonishing feat, considering how the human performers played it totally straightforward alongside a group of furry Muppets singing. and they danced. Michael Caine fully embodies Scrooge, portraying his conversion from unpleasant old miser to Captain Christmas with poignant sensibilities and a dash of cockney charm. To this day, no actor feels good in the role.
As for the Muppets, the casting is great. Kermit is perfect as Bob Cratchit, the gentle, kind and caring father whose frog son, Tiny Tim (who, we are amusedly informed at the end, “DOES NOT DIE”) captures our hearts. Miss Piggy is wildly furious as Mrs. Cratchitt, the only character in the movie who is so blatantly fed up with the Scrooge shit and therefore a socialist heroine. Statler and Waldorf are wickedly brilliant as Marley and Marley, basically your typical cartoon Tories, who laugh wickedly about evicting children from orphanages.
It’s ridiculous, really, to be so fond of a children’s puppet movie. Interestingly, a number of critics didn’t really get it at the time, and I’m almost offended reading their feeble praise. Part of the reason this movie is still so beloved, I think, is because it doesn’t have a bad or cynical bone in its body. His heart is so firmly in the right place and yet it is never saccharine because any sweetness is undermined with humor. It is a movie made with the purest intention: to entertain children and tell them a story about how it is better to be nice. The songs were written by Paul Williams, a recovering drug addict who had spent much of the 1980s addicted to vodka and cocaine. Williams poured his feelings about the miracle of recovery and redemption into music, especially in Scrooge’s song Thankful Heart. (“Stop and look around you. The glory you see / Be born again every day. Don’t let it slip away / How precious life can be”).
The movie reminds me so vividly of my childhood that this time I sprouted during One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas. My brother now lives in a nursing home and I haven’t seen him all year. Her caregivers have told her that it will be “lots of sleep” until she sees me. It’s been a terrible year for everyone and I think that’s why we all need to see this movie. It allows us, for an adjusted hour and 29 minutes, to be children again. And remember the most important lesson in life: never eat sung food.
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