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The holidays are always a little weird for me. I work on an academic schedule and, whatever you may think about the amount of “time off” people who work on school schedules get, you’re probably mistaken. Things don’t really slow down for me at the holidays, so I have to make myself take a breath and focus on holiday-ing. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few strategies for how to do this, but the one that’s always worked best is to take some time to sit down and watch my favorite Christmas movie.
I know people love the animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and I know the Rankin Bass Claymation specials are dear to many hearts, but for me, it’s not Christmas until I’ve watched A Muppet Christmas Carol.
This movie is a hat-trick for me: it’s my favorite Muppet movie, my favorite adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and my favorite Christmas movie (incidentally, my second favorite holiday movie, Home Alone 2, shared the same theatrical release weekend).
A Muppet Christmas Carol has an interesting place in the pantheon of Muppet movies. It was really the first Muppet project pitched following Jim Henson’s death in 1990. It was the first non-theme park collaboration between Henson’s workshop and Disney to see success. The movie was originally intended as a made-for-TV project for Disney-owned ABC before Disney offered to purchase the script for theatrical production (and then, subsequently, to produce the next feature-length Muppet film and produce the Muppets Tonight TV program).
It is, for a movie in which most of the major characters are played by puppets, remarkably grounded—moreso than most of the Muppet movies, including other Muppet adaptations of classic literary works (looking at you, Muppet Treasure Island). Part of this is due to Michael Caine, the movie’s Ebenezer Scrooge, who took the role on the condition that he be allowed to play it straight. Sure, the cast is full of puppets, and there are breaks for singing and choreography, but Scrooge’s core emotional journey—the transformation upon which the Dickensian tale depends—is presented without wink or smile to the…Muppetness of its surroundings.
By the same token, the movie doesn’t get lost in the seriousness of the subject matter. My main issue with other adaptations of A Christmas Carol is that they are often not allowed much in the way of levity. It’s a serious story, yes, and Scrooge, until his metamorphosis, is a joyless character—but that really only works if we see lightness in the characters around him. Sure, a scene with penguins skating on a London street might not be the most realistic depiction of life in Dickens’s London, but it does give us a great comparison between Scrooge’s lonely, dim walk home from his office and Bob Cracthit’s (Kermit the Frog) more personal engagement with the world around him.
To be honest, I spend a pretty hefty chunk of my holiday season feeling like Scrooge—wrapped up in my work, concerned with making ends meet, not particularly interested in making time to connect with friends or family. I think that’s the reason that I choose to start my “official” holidays with this movie. It’s a gentle reminder: joy and connection are as much choice as anything. Remember to engage. Look up from the work. Let in the warmth.
If you’ve never seen The Muppet Christmas Carol, I really encourage you to check it out. It may not be cinematic history the way that some Christmas movies are, and it may not have the nostalgia factor to it that other films do, but it’s warm and comforting as hot cocoa. If nothing else, I hope it can give you a little of the warmth it’s given me over the years.
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