Since their big arrival in the 1970’s, the Muppets have managed to make their mark on popular culture. Most of this is due to Jim Henson’s unique and fanciful style of puppetry. While his puppets have taken different forms, from the kid-friendly monsters of Sesame Street, to the underground cave dwellers of Fraggle Rock, to David Bowie’s minions in Labyrinth (1986), the one segment of Jim Henson’s repertoire that has consistently endured over the decades has been the Muppets. While their early films focused on the Muppets interacting with the world, it has taken a long time for them to return to these types of films. In the 1990’s, prior to a twelve-year hiatus, the Muppets took to the big screen to recreate some famous stories from classic literature. This week’s two films highlight these films.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Length: 85 minutes / 1.41 hours
The Muppets have always been a group focused on comedy. What makes the choice to adapt Charles Dickens with Muppets interesting is that Dickens is rarely considered a comedic writer. Sure, he has his moments of satire and wit, but they are very British by any standard of comedy. This dichotomy somehow works for this film, as it had almost a decade earlier for the animated Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983). In fact, since the musical, Scrooge, in 1970, the only film adaptations of A Christmas Carol have been animated, with the only semi-live action version being that of The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). Classifying the Muppets is a difficult task because they aren’t animated, but they aren’t really “live action” either . . . lying somewhere in between. Needless to say, The Muppet Christmas Carol remains as one of the most popular adaptations today because of its Muppet comedy.
Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog) is a bookkeeper for Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine), a stingy and greedy old man whose only focus is on one thing: money. On Christmas Eve, Bob asks if he and the other bookkeepers can have Christmas Day off, as it is considered a holiday. Initially declining the request, Scrooge eventually relents and goes home for the night. As he dozes off for the night, Scrooge is awoken by apparitions from his past, warning him to change his miserly ways. For the next three hours, he is taken on tours of his life by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, respectively. With each vision into better times, Scrooge’s attitudes change, finally being pushed over the edge by the depressing vision of the future. Awakening on Christmas Day, Scrooge is now a changed man and heads to Bob Cratchit’s house with some generous gifts to prove it.
Muppet Treasure Island
Length: 99 minutes / 1.65 hours
In the hiatus between 1999 and 2011, where no Muppet films made their way to the big screen, they still managed to create a few made-for-TV movies. From the It’s a Wonderful Life-esque It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002) to The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (2005), they’ve tackled some classic films with their adaptations. Before this, their last film adaptation of a classic piece of literature was none other than Muppet Treasure Island (1996). As is the case with most all of the Muppets’ productions, many of the main characters of these stories are portrayed by famous actors and actresses. In the aforementioned The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Michael Caine played Ebenezer Scrooge, whereas in Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Long John Silver was portrayed by Tim Curry. If anything, the Muppets are merely a vehicle to get celebrities more exposure for their career.
Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) is entrusted by his friend, Billy Bones (Billy Connolly) to keep the treasure of Captain Flint (David Nicholls) safe. This is shortly before Bones dies from receiving a black spot from one of his former crewmates. Now Jim and his friends, Gonzo and Rizzo, board a ship to find the treasure. Once on board, Jim becomes friends with the shady, one-legged cook, Long John Silver (Tim Curry). After Silver and most of the rest of the crew mutiny, they take Jim ashore to help them find the treasure. Being an upstanding orphan, Jim doesn’t give into Silver’s request to use his deceased father’s compass to aid in the treasure hunt. Even despite this setback, the pirates still find where the treasure was buried, only to learn that it has disappeared. The pirates are then subdued by the loyal crew of the ship and the mutinous Silver is exiled to the island as Jim sails on to a better life.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Muppet masterpieces