The Muppet Christmas Carol is available now on Disney +.
Following the sudden death of Jim Henson in 1990, many wondered whether The Muppets would ever find their voice again. After all, in the years before his passing, Jim Henson had focussed on new projects with the stunning Labyrinth, The Witches and The Dark Crystal, to name a few. Following his death, The Henson Companies’ future would sit in the hands of his son Brian, who was keen to bring The Muppets back to the big screen but was equally concerned about finding the correct format and story.
Brian, The Henson Company and their agent Bill Hader quickly seized upon a Muppet-led adaptation of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. Initial thoughts centred on a raucous parody of Dicken’s classic, but this quickly morphed into something more sincere. But could The Muppets provide a heartfelt, funny and joyous love letter to the Dicken’s classic? Well, the folks at ABC TV thought so and quickly brought the rights, initially planning a festive TV movie. But the very idea left Brian terrified, and for a good reason; after all, this wasn’t just any Muppet movie; it was a love letter to his father and his first time in the director’s chair.
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The pressure on Brian only increased when the production moved from ABC TV to Walt Disney Pictures, a studio in the midst of a painful but necessary rebirth. The filming schedule was emotional and gruelling as Brian battled with expectations and the physical effects work needed to bring his vision to the screen. Meanwhile, Steve Whitmire had the challenging job of replacing Jim Henson as Kermit, one he would agonise over as filming got underway, constantly fretting and losing sleep over whether he was ‘getting it right.’
However, for one cast member, the crew’s fears seemed misplaced. That cast member was Michael Caine, who famously stated that he approached the film as a Royal Shakespeare production. Caine was, of course, right as there was a special kind of magic and passion at play in the filming of The Muppet Christmas Carol, and when the final cut was ready, this magic, love and hard work shone through.
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Despite high hopes for its release, The Muppet Christmas Carol would be left in the shadow of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and Disney’s Aladdin. Yet, despite this, The Muppet Christmas Carol would become a Christmas classic. Its global success would come many years after its cinema release via home video, in the same way, It’s a Wonderful Life earned its festive stripes on TV. It’s easy to see why, as The Muppet Christmas Carol treats Dickens’ source material with the utmost love and respect. Here 90% of Gonzo’s narration is taken directly from the book, while Caine never treats the story as kid’s entertainment, instead offering us one of his best performances.
But maybe what makes The Muppet Christmas Carol so powerful is its place as a love letter from a son to a recently departed father. Brian Henson celebrates his father’s Muppet world with joy, creativity and endless love. The result is a film that embraces and celebrates Dickens’ work while reminding us why The Muppets are one of the most important cultural creations of the past sixty years. The Muppet Christmas Carol is the epitome of Christmas and a joyous celebration of love, forgiveness, music and rebirth.