A marriage between The Muppets and Charles Dickens’ literary classic, “A Christmas Carol,” might at first seem like an ill fit. What business do Kermit the Frog and Victorian London have in the same movie? But the end result — The Muppet Christmas Carol — has become one of the most celebrated entries in the Muppet canon, despite the absence of creator Jim Henson, who passed away in 1990, two years prior to the film’s release.
Charged with taking over his father’s company and, eventually, the director’s chair for this movie, Brian Henson managed to rally the family of artists that Jim had built up over the years to create a rich film that has a pretty interesting backstory in its own right. We’ll have more on that backstory and the pressures involved in following his legendary father’s story on Monday when we run an interview with Brian Henson, but for now, take a look at these facts about the film — some of which came from our chat with Henson.
1. Muppet casting is key.
Before some critical casting changes, The Muppet Christmas Carol could have been a very different film. In the early stages of the production, the plan was to have Scooter play the Ghost of Christmas Past and Gonzo be the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. While this would have been hilarious, some of the effectiveness probably would have been lost in this version. Henson explained that they decided to create completely separate Muppets to play the three ghosts in order to maintain the right tone for the film.
2. Think of the children!
In the original cut of the film, a lovely and heartbreaking song about Scrooge’s lost love called “When Love Is Gone” was featured during his flashback, but it was cut because children in test audiences didn’t seem to be interested. It’s a real shame, because the scene provided some excellent background information and character development. It was included in the DVD releases, until the film was remastered for a 20th anniversary edition in 2012. Hopefully they’ll get it right and include the song in the next anniversary re-release.
3. It’s only a model.
While it may look like we’re soaring over the quite streets of early morning London, it was all a bunch of visual trickery. Brian Henson explained all of the technical work that went into this one show.
“This first shot is actually pretty extraordinary and took an enormous amount of work. These are all models that we built at Shepperton Studios in London. They’re only about three-foot tall and the camera is moving back through the buildings and it’s actually moving at a very, very slow speed, which is why you can in the sky if you look closely little jumps, because it’s smoke creating clouds and the smoke level never really stays the same. The camera was rolling very very slowly, maybe one or two frames a second, so it gave time for the crew to push buildings in front of the camera before they would reveal them. So, there are thirty people or so pushing around buildings really quickly, just before the camera reveals them.”
It is staggering to think about all of the moving pieces required to get a shot like that, and this scene is truly a testament to the care and attention to detail that went into filming.
4. Michael Caine decided to play Scrooge the old-fashioned way.
While they considered taking a more humorous route with Scrooge in the beginning, Michael Caine didn’t seem to have any interest in playing the character any way but seriously, according to Henson:
“In the very first meeting he said, ‘Brian, I’m going to play Scrooge like I’m acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I’m going to never wink to camera. I’m going to adjust my performance at all because it’s puppets. I’m going to pretend that this is a very, very sincere, dramatic telling of the Christmas Carol, because I think that’ll be the funniest choice.’ He’s absolutely right. That’s one thing that makes this film work so well, is Michael plays it absolutely real.”
Caine was the first and only person they offered the role to.
5. The film started a trend of tributes to Jim Henson.
In the wonderful musical number “One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas,” Bob Cratchit stops in the middle of the city street to look up at a shooting star overhead. This gesture was an homage to The Muppet Movie, when Kermit sees the shooting star while he’s stuck in the desert. Brian Henson intended this as a tribute to his father, and it has showed up in a number of Muppet productions since, including Muppet Treasure Island, Kermit’s Swamp Years, It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, and The Muppets.
Banner Photo Credit: Disney