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 preceding years, Jim Henson had focussed on new projects with the stunning Labyrinth, The Witches and The Dark Crystal. 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 screen. But he was equally concerned about finding the right avenue to achieve something unique and different.
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 the Dicken’s classic, but this quickly morphed into something far 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 to Walt Disney Pictures, who felt the movie had the potential for a cinematic release. Of course, these were the years that saw Disney embark on a painful but necessary rebirth, and The Muppets offered a safe option for investment as they reinvented their animation arm.
The filming schedule was emotional and gruelling, as Brian battled with expectation and the new 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 shooting continued, 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, the final film above and beyond the dreams of its crew, puppeteers and performers.
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However, despite high hopes on 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 go on to become a defining Christmas movie, alongside It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone and many others. This global success would come many years after its cinema release via home video, in much the same way as It’s a Wonderful Life earned its festive stripes on TV.
Of course, 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 mere kids entertainment, instead offering us one of his best performances. But, maybe what makes The Muppet Christmas Carol so powerful is the love letter from a son to his father. Here Brian Henson celebrates his fathers Muppet world with joy, creativity and boundless love. The result of which is a film that manages to embrace and celebrate 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, every last scene celebrating love, forgiveness, music, joy and rebirth.