You know the drill. It’s probably the biggest Christmas cliche around — Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Written in 1843, it’s never been out of print, and it’s been made into plays, opera, ballet, radio plays, movies, TV adaptions, animations, even mime (shudder). There’s 30 or so filmed versions, including cartoons and musicals, most of which stick to the original 1840s or at least a generic Victorian setting. One you may not realize that has some lovely historical touches — and is just a damn fine movie overall — is The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992).
This was the fourth full-length Muppets feature film and, worth noting, the first after Muppet-creator Jim Henson’s death in 1990. The movie’s dark tone (for a children’s film and for a Muppets’ movie) thus seems fitting. One thing that’s sometimes forgotten about A Christmas Carol is that this is, at its heart, a ghost story and a serious morality tale about the redemption of a man’s soul. The happy little holiday bits are only at the very end, after Scrooge has remembered the heartbreak of his own life and seen the potential tragedies in the lives of those around him. Rendering this through fuzzy Muppet faces makes it a touch more bittersweet instead of saccharine, and to me, that’s a nice balance to some of the other holiday cliches.
The Dickens story has a few tweaks. Michael Caine is Scrooge, Kermit the Frog is Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy is his wife, and various Muppets fill out all the denizens of London and of Scrooge’s memories. Gonzo the Great is added as Charles Dickens (“a blue furry Charles Dickens who hangs out with a rat”) for a narrator who fills in what otherwise would be voiceovers or internal monologues. It’s an inspired touch, adding a literary grounding at times and quirky humor at others.
Costumes in The Muppet Christmas Carol
Ann Hollowood and Polly Smith designed the costumes for this film. Hollowood had worked on The Muppet Show in the 1970s as well as several British historical miniseries, and according to the Muppet Wikia site, her designs were primarily for the human actors involved with the Muppet productions. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) was Smith’s first Muppet collaboration, and she continued to work on their films and TV specials through the 2000s, designing for the Muppets and other puppet characters. Additionally, a team of four are listed as specific “Muppet costumers” in the wardrobe staff: Connie Peterson, Barbara S. Davis, Stephen Rotondaro, and Carol Spier. Careful attention was paid to how each Muppet actor was dressed for this film, sometimes more so than Michael Caine it seems.
Even though they aren’t full-size human creatures, the Muppets are dressed in appropriately styled and detailed historical clothing with accessories such as hats, caps, scarves, etc. The fact that each Muppet has an odd, often rounded body shape does mean that the clothing silhouettes aren’t exactly the same as you’d see on humans of the period (Miss Piggy is not corseted, for example, and you can only do so much with a creature like Beaker when he’s all neck). But sleeve and neckline shapes are generally historical.
While the much of the costuming is quite true to the period, other than tiny nitpicks, the Ghost of Christmas Past flashback is a little confusing if you’re a historical costumer. That’s because you might be trying to identify, via costume, exactly what years the Ghost is taking Scrooge back to, and then doing the math to figure out how long ago that was, and … well, it doesn’t add up.
The first scene shows a school-age Scrooge (age 12 or so?) wearing generically 18th-century clothes (1775-1780? it’s pretty generic-looking). Then, and more importantly, is the scene at Fozziwig’s Christmas party where Scrooge meets and falls in love with Belle. The costumes here are more distinct, especially Belle’s gown and a couple other human females in the background, they look 1780s to maybe early 1790s at the very latest. Some of the male Muppet’s suits are also evocative of this era.
The latest, costume-wise, the Fozziwig scene could be set is in the 1790s, and I supposed Scrooge could be barely 18 when he first meets Belle. Then the two would be engaged for a few years while he becomes a partner in the firm, and he breaks up with her some time after, when she’s wearing the high-waisted redingote and bonnet (realistically, that’s about a 5 year gap, but by the costumes 10 to 20 years, which is crazy). That would make Scrooge 68 to 70 years old in the “present day” of the film in the 1840s. Michael Caine was only 59 when the movie premiered, and I’d say he looks closer to his age than 70. So yeah, not really buying this timeline. Oh well!
Btw, there’s a whole song that Belle sings while wearing that redingote which was cut from the theatrical release. “When Love Is Gone” was felt to be too sappy and it wouldn’t connect with children, plus it didn’t advance the plot, so the piece was removed. You can see it here on YouTube and judge for yourself:
Are you a fan of The Muppets Christmas Carol?