I’m not inclined to be traditional. I prefer the path of least resistance in life and I find the idea of establishing arbitrary rules governing my behaviour very dull. Mine is a life lived in the mode of improv night rather than well-rehearsed high theatre. This, I should add, is neither a cry for help nor is it the beginning of an ahead-of-schedule pre-midlife crisis as I approach my thirtieth birthday, but something I enjoy. My taste for making things up as I go and eschewing the “it’s aye been” approach may annoy my more fastidious friends and family but it suits me.
However, there is one tradition that I do observe. I always pick a cold, dark, wintry December evening, make some sumptuous and indulgent hot chocolate – which, over the years, has become increasingly laced with liqueur – grab a blanket, render myself as small as my 6ft 250+lbs frame will allow, and hunker down to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. Why this particular tradition? Because, as shouldn’t really need explained, The Muppet Christmas Carol is the greatest Christmas movie ever made!
A contentious opinion, some may argue. Aren’t there other, better, Christmas movies? “What about The Nightmare Before Christmas”, some ask, assuming they can get through the cloud of eye liner, hairspray, and My Chemical Romance songs. “But surely, it’s Die Hard?”, ask others, before chugging down cans of inexpensive lager and farting tunelessly. “Oh come on! It’s Miracle on 34th Street”, cry others, whose haircuts signify their burning desire to see your manager.
Well they’re all wrong.
Not only is The Muppet Christmas Carol better than those films; it’s better than all other Christmas films, and, if Goodfellas and Ghostbusters (the two best films ever made) didn’t exist, it would be a genuine contender for one of the two top slots.
It all starts with the casting.
There aren’t many people who can play the same role as Sir Patrick Stewart and do it better; but Sir Michael Caine manages it. His icy and arrogant Scrooge of the first act melts seamlessly into the lovable philanthropist we know by the end of the story with perfect timing and never feels rushed. Dickens himself couldn’t have cast the role better. Steven Mackintosh, Meredith Braun, and Robin Weaver all put in brilliant performances too and there’s genuine chemistry throughout the cast.
Then there’s the eponymous puppets.
I was, and remain, a massive Muppets fan. Jim Henson’s creations provide a warm and reassuring narrative stepping-stone for those who are meeting Dickens’ timeless story for the first time. Gonzo and Rizzo are the perfect double act narrators for the story and their fourth wall breaking keeps things moving along at a pace that allows adults to absorb what’s going but also stays interesting for the kids who are the movie’s target audience.
Ever-sympathetic Kermit is the ideal Bob Cratchit and the always wonderful Miss Piggy is a joy to watch as his feisty wife Emily. Familiar characters like Waldorf, Statler, Dr Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker, and Fozzie Bear all work well in their roles and do so with the efficiency that Muppets fans have come to expect. Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, Frank Oz, Dave Rudman, Karen Prell, Robery Tygner, Willian Todd-Jones, and Don Austen – the hands behind the magic – do some of the best work of their careers in this delightful re-imagining of a classic of English literature.
I could go on. I could mention the music, all of which is spot-on, or the editing, which never makes a mistake, but there’s one factor, above all, that makes The Muppet Christmas Carol better than all the other pretenders to the holiday season movie crown.
It is among the most emotionally effective experiences in cinema.
I genuinely find the moments where we find out what happens to Tiny Tim in the future timeline and when Bean Bunny’s character is left shivering in the rubbish hard to watch without a tear in my eye and the hair rises on the back of my neck whenever I hear the opening notes of “There Goes Mr Humbug”. While the story is probably familiar to most, especially those watching it now, the emotional impact of the Muppet version adds something new to the experience. It is familiar, new, exciting, and nostalgic, all the same same time; I’ve been watching films for nearly thirty years and I’ve yet to find a film that does such a range of emotions so well.
So, with that, I invite you to pour yourself a hot chocolate, build a pillow fort, turn your phone to silent, and join me in my annual tradition. Because, “It’s in the singing of a street corner choir, It’s going home and getting warm by the fire....”