Friday, August 26, 2011

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Book: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Gap between first publication and film release: 149 years--1843 to 1992 (the earliest film was in 1901, as soon as a film could be made)

Closeness to original characters: 96% (Kate) Agreed (Mike)

Closeness to original story: 94% (Kate) Agreed (Mike)

Mike says of all the movie versions of A Christmas Carol I've seen (approximately 2 dozen), The Muppet Christmas Carol is by far my favorite, and perhaps one of my favorite movies of all time. When I finally read the novella in college, I was delighted at how close everything was. Not only are the plot, characters, and tone captured magnificently, but the use of actual lines from the book to drive the narrative really succeeds in keeping the film on track.

Kermit as Bob Cratchit was probably, to be fair, a marketing ploy. As one of the few lovable supporting characters that truly dwells within the heart of the story, Cratchit is the traditional slot where most franchises stick their mascot (Mickey Mouse has also filled the role).

Despite this, Kermit really fills the role perfectly, lending his gentle spirit and loving nature (sorry, I grew up with the Muppets, so I think of them as real) to bring Bob to life as a sympathetic "real man" that witnesses Scrooge's strange transformation.

Michael Caine does such a wonderful job as Scrooge, it's hard for me to see anyone else in the role. He brings Scrooge to life with real humor and emotional baggage. As you watch, you see this isn't just a greedy man who hates the world because it suits him. He has been disappointed by life, and it has poisoned his soul. The intervention of the spirits helps to heal him.

When I first read the novella, I couldn't help but see and hear the Muppet cast in my head as I was reading it. Gonzo as "Charles Dickens/the narrator" seems too odd...yet it works so well!

I love how true the movie stayed to the source. The addition of the music, for me, is just frosting on the cake. I love every song in the movie, and for me, it doesn't slow or drag the film at all. But, I may be biased.

The Muppet Christmas Carol is a truly wonderful film, but, most unexpectedly, it's also a surprisingly good adaptation.

Kate says so there have 2 billion film versions of Dickens' famous novel.

Okay, not really but close.

Believe it or not, The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of the most accurate. In terms of characters, can you think of anyone more appropriately cast as Bob Crachit than Kermit the Frog? Or Fozzie as Mr. Fezzi--oops, I mean, Fozziwig? Or any two Muppets better suited to the Marleys than Statler and Waldorf?

The non-Muppet Michael Caine is also perfect. Scrooge can't be too cruel or his redemption will seem, well, like Darth Vadar's redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi: just too effortless. Caine mixes gruffness with a bleak though sincerely-held worldview, all offset by the capacity for sly humor. His changes over the course of the film are entirely believable.

The plot is also quite accurate, being cut to stress the most important scenes, meaning that all the boring commentary is cut out. More than many other adaptations, it captures the feel of Dickens' novella, especially the pain of Scrooge's broken engagement (whatever Dickens' wordiness problems, the wretched cry, "Spirit, show me no more!" is great raw writing) and the dismal aura of Scrooge's "future." The use of a spider Muppet to buy Scrooge's filched possessions is downright chilling.

As for making it a musical: My general attitude towards musicals is that they are inevitably three songs too long. The version of The Muppet Christmas Carol I saw did cut Belle's song; it created a rather abrupt jump, but it was an intelligent decision. The song is pretty but unnecessary. Other than that, most of the songs are quite memorable.

I do wish that the movie had ended in Scrooge's office as the book does--it is a great "switcheroo" scene where Crachit thinks he is going to be scolded for being late but instead gets a raise.

However, they did keep the line, "Tiny Tim, who did NOT die . . ." (emphasis in original text), and Gonzo says it the way it reads.

One of the Muppets' best, methinks!


Joe said...

I liked Belle's song. It added both a break in the movie and a pathos to Scrooge.

Kate Woodbury said...

I have to admit, I did go and listen to it after I finished watching the theatrical version. The DVD I got out included both the theatrical and "extended" versions.

I write "extended" because both versions are less than 90 minutes. It is without a doubt the shortest musical I have ever seen. And I realized that one reason A Christmas Carol has been adapted so many times is probably because it is exactly the right length for a movie. Short stories often need padding, and long novels often need cutting. But A Christmas Carol has precisely the right amount of material.

In fact, the Muppets cut very little and came in, as mentioned above, at under 90 minutes. I think this is one reason for the (very funny) Rizzo/Gonzo dialog. Without it, the movie would actually be too short! This is rather astonishing for a piece of classic literature.

In fact, I have to say that A Christmas Carol is one of the few adapted books where my reaction isn't, "Well, that could just be a miniseries!" The only way it could be a miniseries would be if the writers told the story of Scrooge from the beginning. Which would be kind of cool, but then the spirits would have to resort to back-flashes a la 80's television shows (best moments of the season!).

Well, maybe it would work.