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Monday, December 14, 2015

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Hi, there!  I hope you're ready for another fantastic day within A POP CULTURE ADDICT'S ADVENT CALENDAR!

This is Day #14 of the nearly month-long event that I have done every year since the year 2012, and I think that for today's entry, I'll be focusing my attention on a Christmas movie.

And, appropriately enough, the movie stars a group of stars that have recently made a comeback of sorts on television.  They have been in show business since the mid-1970s when they did a variety show that garnered millions of viewers.  During the 1980s, they also had a cartoon series, and at least one member of the troupe went solo to become the official news reporter of a little place known as "Sesame Street". 

The period between 1990 and 1992 was a rough one for these guys, as personal tragedy meant a lot of changes for how they interacted with other people, as well as their performance style.  In 1994, they tried to revive the variety show format once again, but it wasn't as well received as their 1970s version and was pulled from the airwaves after only one season.

But over the last few years, these guys have really made a comeback of sorts.  They released two feature length movies that did very well at the box office.  And just this past September, a new version of their show was broadcast on ABC, and it was a different kind of show as we - the viewer - got to see what was happening behind the scenes, and we learned just how well the cast and crew really got along with each other.

By now, if you haven't already guessed that the subject of this blog is The Muppets, I don't know what else I have to do!

And today's feature presentation is the one and only Christmas themed movie that the Muppets ever did.

I'm talking about the movie "The Muppet Christmas Carol", released in theatres on December 11, 1992.

Now, this was a movie that featured a lot of firsts.  It was the first movie that featured a different person doing the voice of Kermit.  And initially, Steve Whitmire was very nervous about doing a full-length feature film as Kermit.  After all, Jim Henson - the original voice of Kermit - had passed away in May of 1990.  The only thing that eased his nervousness was a dream he had the night before he was set to record his part in the film's soundtrack.  In that dream, he had met Jim Henson in a hallway, and Henson had given him his blessing to continue on in his footsteps.

(Hey, it's what the Internet Movie Database said.  They're usually never wrong about these things!)

Anyway, it was also the first production without Richard Hunt, who played Scooter.  Hunt had died in January 1992.

But there were still a lot of the cast from the original Muppet Show still around.  Frank Oz reprised his roles of Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy.  Dave Goelz played the role of Gonzo.  And Jerry Nelson played the role of Rizzo the Rat.

Now, here's where things get complicated.  The only character to really play themselves in the movie was Rizzo (aside from a couple of minor characters like Bean Bunny and Bunsen and Beaker).  Everyone else played a character from the Charles Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol".

For instance, Kermit was Bob Cratchit.  Miss Piggy was Emily Cratchit.  Robin - naturally - played Tiny Tim.  Fozzie was Fozzwig, Sam the Eagle played a school headmaster, and Gonzo himself played Charles Dickens.

TRIVIA:  The decision was made to have Gonzo play Charles because they wanted to have a narrator through the whole film.

Of course, you can't have a Muppet movie without human celebrities in it, and when it came down to casting the role of Scrooge, Michael Caine was really the only appropriate choice (though it was rumoured that Peter O'Toole, George Carlin, and Ron Moody were also considered for the part).  And, certainly Caine made a fantastic Scrooge.  He was so...what's the word...Scroogey at the beginning of the film that he made me wish nothing but bad things would happen to him!

(Of course, I was only eleven, and my ability to see the grey areas in people hadn't developed yet.)

Anyway, I won't really bore you with the whole plot of the movie.  I'm sure that everybody has read "A Christmas Carol" at least once, so you know how the story goes.  Scrooge is cheap, forces Bob Cratchit to work on Christmas Eve for pennies, gets visited by three ghosts who show him the errors of his ways, and he gets an epiphany that Christmas is awesome and that he should give more than take.  That's your basic plot summary right there.

What I find more interesting anyway is the stories from the set of the movie that you may not really know.  I have lots of facts and trivia pieces from the movie such as hidden Easter eggs, where some of the actors are now, and what song was cut from the film that made Jim Henson's son Brian very upset!

For instance...

...Did you know that the little girl who played the voice of The Ghost of Christmas Past has been a soap opera actress for the past ten years?  Jessica Fox currently plays the role of Nancy Osbourne on the British drama "Hollyoaks".

...Did you notice that one of the stores in the village is named Micklewhite's?  That's a nod to Michael Caine, whose birth name in real life is Maurice Micklewhite.

...Did you know that a Muppet trademark exists in this movie?  Watch for a scene in which a shooting star shoots across the sky when Kermit is featured.  There's reportedly an instance of this happening in every Muppet movie ever made!

...Did you know that there's a tavern in the town that is named "Statler and Waldorf's"?  Obviously named after the two elderly hecklers that appeared on every episode of "The Muppet Show".

...Did you know that the character of Robert Marley was added to the screenplay so that Statler and Waldorf could play the roles of Robert and Jacob Marley?

...Did you know that in the beginning of the film, you can see a store sign that says "Duncan and Kenworthy"?  That's a nod to "Fraggle Rock" producer Duncan Kenworthy.

...Did you know that the film's trailer sampled music that was originally recorded for the 1988 film "Beetlejuice"?

...Did you know that this is the first Muppet film made to not feature any characters from Sesame Street on it whatsoever?

...Did you know that actor Raymond Coulthard who played Young Scrooge in the film is a very successful actor across the pond?  He's appeared in "Hotel Babylon", "Casualty", and "Mr Selfridge".

And, finally...did you know that a song was actually cut from the theatrical version of the film which made Brian Henson cry foul and made audiences confused?

Here's the song in question.

The song is called "When Love Is Gone", and it was performed by actress Meredith Braun, who played Scrooge's fiance, Belle.  The song was meant to serve as a narrative for Belle to explain her frustration over the fact that Scrooge seems to love money more than her.  It was definitely a very moving song, and it certainly made an impact...but Jeffrey Katzenberg ordered the scene removed from the final theatrical cut because he believed the song wasn't very appealing to young children.

The song being cut meant that the film was edited rather abruptly, and observations made by characters simply did not make any sense.  And when Brian Henson found out that the song was cut from the final movie, he was livid, saying that another song "When Love Is Found" counteracted the depressing tone of the song that was cut. 

For the record, I agree with Henson.

Now, that's not to say that the movie with that song doesn't exist.  It's just really hard to find.  Apparently when the movie was released on video in 1993, the VHS and laserdisc versions contain the song.  But when the 20th anniversary edition of the film was released on DVD and Blu-Ray, the song was omitted.  Stranger still, versions of the film that were shown on online video sites such as Netflix also removed the song.

So, I hope you still have a VCR, and have dusted off the laserdisc player, because that seems to be the only way you can watch the movie as it was intended to be shown.  Such a shame too.  


  1. That's really interesting that the song was sporadically released! The DVD of the movie, which is one of my favourites might I add, has the clip with the song in it. I bought it last year too.

  2. Maybe they re-released the song on a new DVD format...who can say? :)