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?
This is my favorite film version of A Christmas Carol. Not only is the costuming great, of all the adaptations I’ve seen, its the one that is most faithful to the book. When they started with the “dead as a doornail” gag, I was literally squeeing with glee.
One of my all time favorite Christmas movies.
Missed it. Will have to stream it, YouTube it or Cox on Demand it. Looks fun.
Um, I hate to interject like this, but I saw this movie in theaters when I was 8, and I very distinctly remember seeing the “When Love is Gone” song performed by Belle. I don’t know where that narrative of “it was cut from the theatrical release” came from, but it’s a crock of bull.
Of course, the song didn’t really register with me then as it does now, so I had no idea why Rizzo was crying afterwards. I knew Belle was leaving Scrooge, (I’d seen Mickey’s Christmas Carol before this movie), but I forgot what kind of an impact it had on Scrooge and the story hosts.
This version of “Christmas Carol” was nowhere near as dark as some versions I’ve seen. In two other films, I actually saw Scrooge getting thrown down to hell at the end of his journey with the Ghost of Christmas Future. Talk about a wake-up call.
Now that you mention it, it doesn’t really make sense that Belle would wait 20 years for Scrooge to marry her before finally realizing he loved the business more than her. If only 5 years had passed like you say, they should have still been wearing 1790s clothes in the “When Love is Gone” scene. But then again, they weren’t really going for anything to be totally correct in this film. Heck, I’ve seen some versions of “Christmas Carol” where in ALL the scenes, people wore the same generic Victorian fashions, even though 50-60 years had passed!
Michael Caine actually said that “The Muppet Christmas Carol” was one of his most memorable roles, and I think he did a very good Scrooge. He looks better (and warmer) in a bathrobe than just in his nightshirt, like some versions of the story story show him in. I thought it was a nice change in his character to go from cold, brittle, scary blacks; to putting on the warm red scarf at the end.
I agree! I had a vhs tape and When Love Is Gone was on that as well. I think it was cut from later releases but I very much remember rolling my eyes thru it every year.
Well, I was an adult when I first saw Muppet Christmas Carol in the theater, & I’d never heard of the “When Love Is Gone” song until I started researching this post! This site http://bookriot.com/2015/12/21/anatomy-of-a-scene-the-love-is-gone-the-muppet-christmas-carol/ & others have more details about the producers cutting it from the initial theatrical release.
The song DID make it to the first VHS run & one of the DVD prints, but not the Blu-ray or the version that’s shown on cable & Netflix today (I’ve watched it twice in the past month).
I saw it in the theater and the song was there. I think it depended on where you were state wise, as to if it was included in your print. I loved the song and still do. I think the movie without it is diminished.
This is one of the few versions of the story I have not seen, so I will seek it out (and watch it when my husband is elsewhere – he’d rebel!).
Love it. The family makes it a Christmas tradition every year.
The version I own has both the shorter cut and the “When Love is Gone.” We opt to watch it with the song included, even though that forces us to go widescreen — the emotional impact isn’t the same without it.
My favorite Christmas Carol, tied with George C. Scott’s version. Saw it brand-new and have always loved the effort put into the Muppet characters’ clothing.
This post just made my day. I love the idea of a seriousl well-informed yet warmly snarky critique of historical fashions worn by Muppets in a Christmas movie.
Looking at the Ghost of Christmas Present reminds me of how annoyed I was when Hagrid was cast for the Harry Potter movies. He was always Ghost of Christmas Present in my head.
BTW, has anyone seen the fantastic one man show Patrick Stewart does of Christmas Carol?
My husband has the audio version. He especially likes Sir Patrick’s rendition of the church bells: “G-dooooiiiinggggggg!”
Yes, I used to have it as well. In the stage performance, Sir Patrick did mention how today, in the 20th century, there are those who are still homeless, starving, etc and that they live in our communities, not the 3rd world.Found it something to really think about.
I love this version of Dickens’ story. The costumes were so wonderful even for the muppets.
I saw the film when it was released in 92 Christmas season and Belle’s song was in the film. So if it was cut, it wasn’t cut when it was released in New York. It may have been later in the run, they chopped the film when it was released to other cities. So disappointing because the song added a lot to the film.
I know this is an old post but I love this movie. I was Mrs. Cratchit in a community theater production (Brian Way’s version) in November 2016. I hope I didn’t channel Miss Piggy. We went for generic Victorian. I was also the hair “gal”, and I made sure every woman had her hair up, if only in a bun. Thanks to this site for that info! Off topic, but I remember Belle’s song. I don’t remember if it was in the theater or on video. I’d have been about 9 when it came out.
Funny connection for all you goths in the audience; Ann Hollowood, one of the costume designers for this (who also did a lot of Jim Henson stuff) was also costume designer for Clive Barker’s Nightbreed (not a period film, but still!)