24 December 2011
I have only repeated two movies since last year, even though it’s been very tempting to pull out some old favorites (I miss you, Elf! See you next year!). Those two repeats were my essential movies. Every year, the Christmas season begins with Love, Actually, and ends when my whole family gets together to watch The Muppets Christmas Carol. And if one year I missed Love, Actually, I’d probably feel sad, but I’d get over it. If I missed the Muppets, it wouldn’t feel like Christmas. Considering Muppets came out in 1992 (when we saw it in theaters) and probably came out on VHS by the next Christmas, I can estimate that I’ve seen this movie at least 19 times. My brother and I sing along to every song (and find it near impossible not to quote along with every line). Each person has their personal favorite parts (and least favorite, many times overlapping). It is as much a part of my Christmas season as trees, presents and inappropriately drunk relatives (just kidding, relatives). So I realize I’m not exactly impartial when I say that The Muppets Christmas Carol is not only the best version of the Christmas Carol, but probably the best Christmas movie period. Your favorite Christmas movie, like your favorite member of ‘NSync, says a lot more about you as a person than it does about the relative quality of your options*. I realize this, and therefore trying to convince you that The Muppet Christmas Carol is better, objectively, than whatever movie your family gobbed onto is probably a fool’s errand, but here goes nothing:
The Muppets Christmas Carol takes the themes of A Christmas Carol (love, kindness, redemption, tragedy, poverty) and translates them beautifully into its chosen motifs (Muppets, mainly). In performing this miraculous translation of dry British drama to the colorful, musical world of The Muppets, it manages to maintain the integrity and power of the original work while also providing new levels of Christmassy joy. A lot of adaptations, especially those aimed at children, soften the themes or lose the metaphor, but the Muppets heighten that drama with a fiery performance by Michael Caine and a healthy helping of astute observational humor.
Which brings us to my second point – it’s really funny. Not that I’d expect anything less from a Muppet movie that doesn’t have the word “Space” in the title, but The Muppets Christmas Carol has all the wit, joy, and over the top puniness that have made the Muppets classics for years.
Even the casting of the Muppets within the piece serves dual functions to the metaphor of the story and the humor of it (take, for example, Fozzy the Bear as Fozziwig. In the original text, Fozziwig is a kindhearted, semi-incompetent businessman whose early kindness towards Scrooge helps to melt his heart. The Muppets version casts Fozzy the Bear, a kindhearted, semi-incompetent jokester whose overwhelming kindness and goofiness is so persistent it can’t help but melt your heart. This makes his casting both funny and effective, since it automatically creates a wealth of characterization around Fozziwig without the movie needing to spell it out).
And to my third – The Muppets Christmas Carol is a really awesome musical, with numbers that range from beautifully evocative (“One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas” marvelously conjures the joy of the night before Christmas morning) to deeply piercing (the very funny and very trenchant “There Goes Mr. Humbug” sums up Scrooge more effectively than any amount of Gonzo-narration could) to the really joyful (the movie ending “Thankful Heart”). In true Muppet fashion, these songs are witty, well-composed, and perfectly suited to the movie.
And of course the fourth reason why The Muppets Christmas Carol is the best Christmas movie ever—because it’s mine. Our traditions, as I’ve observed time and again during this experiment, are often nonsensical and arbitrary, but they’re ours. We give them power because we believe that they mean something. And when our traditions fill us with joy and a sense that we should try and be a little better towards the rest of the world? Well then they’re worthwhile ones. That, more than anything, has been the meaning of the plethora of Christmas movies I’ve indulged in this year. Some of them were crappy (I’m looking at you, Christmas Cupid), and some were Jewish, and some were animated, but all of them were obsessed with the idea that this time of year, regardless of religion, wealth or life status, can be magical. Not necessarily because it was the time that Jesus was born (in fact, as previously noted, only a few of the movies even so much as mentioned the J-man), or because it was the time of the Maccabees, or because we give each other presents, but because we imbue the end of the year with a meaning that makes it transcend a date on the calendar. Like family, whether the one you’re born with or the one you create or the friends you surround yourself with, Christmas time means a lot to us because we say it does.
The Muppets Christmas Carol is the perfect season topper not just because it is the best (although it is), but because my family and I have decided it’s the best, so every joke, every song, every moment is imbued with that much more magic and joy. And in the age after Santa stopped delivering our presents, and cookies started reminding us of diabetes more than Christmas cheer, it’s the magic we create with the people we love that matters**.
• 99% Watch: If this isn’t the same as when Ron Paul was asked that question about letting the 30-year-old with no health insurance die – “If they’d rather die [than go to the prisons or poor houses] they’d better do it, and decrease the surplus population!”
• Additional 99% Watch: Good Scrooge sings, “and a promise to share the wealth.” Time to pepper spray him.
• Gonzo is still my favorite Muppet (by far), but I never get tired of Rizzo’s hilarious non sequiturs.
• Is it sad that the ghost of Christmas Future STILL terrifies me? Yes, probably.