Welcome to The Twelve Ways of Christmas, where we discuss holiday films you’ve already seen or never plan on watching.
Why not, right? Every other damn movie site’s doing it, and since when is giving in to peer pressure a bad thing? With little rhyme or reason, check in every day from now until The Day That Must Not Be Named for a new entry. And Happy Kwanzaa.
The twelfth way has actually arrived on time! At this point, I’m more surprised than you.
As one who wore down his VHS tape with repeat viewings each year, I can blame my childhood for choosing to conclude this feature with The Muppet Christmas Carol. Then again, fifteen years removed from school boy adolescence I might still argue Brian Henson’s adaptation of Charles Dickens remains an all-time Christmas classic.
Part of that success is owed to Michael Caine’s Ebenezer Scrooge. Where Simon Callow’s voice work felt obligatory and bloated, Caine’s deliveries are sincere. “Bah humbug” isn’t a required checkpoint for the film to hit; for Caine, it’s genuine disgust. And Jim Henson Productions carries that same authenticity throughout. Their vision of Dickens’ cold London streets as slanted rows of Burtonesque houses is both unique and native to the bent cut of the Muppets’ group jib. Likewise, the Ghost of Christmas Present looks (and laughs) like Santa’s younger brother, and one who stole too much from the Ephedrine bottle. Even the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come — so often depicted as a voiceless, faceless cowl — has stunted height and disproportionately long arms to match composer Miles Goodman’s low tuba stomps.
Anthropomorphic puppets inside of a classic Christmas tale might seem jarring to those didn’t grow up with a similar fondness, and that’s understandable. If you’re not already a Muppet fan, there’s a strong chance you won’t like this. The meta nature of Gonzo’s narration isn’t for everyone, and Rizzo the Rat is pretty useless, considering his prat falls and physical humor get annoying after an early jelly bean bit. Despite that, the Muppets themselves are inserted quite gracefully, with some “casting” choices near pitch-perfect: Sam Eagle as Scrooge’s Headmaster and Stadler & Waldorf as Jacob (and Robert) Marley. And Fozziwig? Spot on.
There’s also a surprising command of the camera here, an economical use of the single shot’s depth and framing power. Yes, in a Muppet movie. What really makes The Muppet Christmas Carol a success at the end though is Paul Williams’ song numbers, which Goodman gleefully peppers throughout his score with variations of Williams’ leitmotifs. From the cheery majesty of the opening credits’ brass, the music is as devoted to the source material as Gonzo is in faithfully repeating lines from the story wholesale. The thought of Michael Caine singing in a Christmas morning stroll through London sounds terrible, but Scrooge’s musical number is an effective resolution of the film’s extraneous plot points. It isn’t detailed, but it’s undoubtedly thorough. Those early beats with Fred Cratchit and Bunsen & Beaker and even “us meeces” never feel wasted. Neither does your time spent watching.
Way #1: Christmas Carol: The Movie
Way #2: The Santa Clause
Way #3: Die Hard
Way #4: Bad Santa
Way #5: The Family Man
Ways #6 & #7: Home Alone & Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Way #8: Black Christmas
Way #9: How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Way #10: The Star Wars Holiday Special
Way #11: Gremlins