Now, more than ever, the world needs the Muppets.
Ergo, here’s a quick something about my favourite Muppet movies — the two Muppet movies which adapt classic Victorian novels.
That is to say Muppet Treasure Island and The Muppet Christmas Carol.
Shockingly, the guy who writes about pirates likes movies about pirates…
The actual Treasure Island, incidentally, also comes with a recommendation. Full disclosure, the book was written in 1883, so the book doesn’t feel like a modern children’s book and the style can be hard to get through, even for an adult reader. People don’t talk — or write, for that matter — they way they did back in 1883 anymore…
I haven’t ever read the actual A Christmas Carol, so I can’t comment on it. Though my understanding is that the adaptation is shockingly faithful and that nearly the entirety of Scrooge’s dialogue (as ably delivered by Sir Michael Caine) is taken directly from the book with minimal alterations.
The dialogue of the Muppet characters, not so much.
FYI, I couldn’t find a trailer of the movie from a credible source to embed, so here’s a pirate ship:
Though you can watch the trailer on IMDB here…
Basically, the Muppet version of Treasure Island simplifies both the story and the storytelling, makes the pirate characters a little less reprehensible, and adds a lot of characteristic Muppet wackiness — though it remains, to my knowledge the only Muppet movie to feature one of the characters‘ onscreen death.
A fact which does not escape the notice of the Muppet themselves, and which in turn has led me to discover a shockingly morbid article on the Muppet Wiki…
Also, it’s a musical now — as most Muppet movies are. A high point is Long John Silver, played by Tim Curry in a rare villainous role.
The movie starts off strong with one of the most widely-beloved Muppets opening numbers ever in Shiver My Timbers, and the music and songs are all consistently at least Pretty Good — worth noting that Hans Zimmer did the score (predating Pirates of the Caribbean by about twenty years).
Overall, the movie does sort of drag on in the middle and the beginning of the final act, but it never gets bad.
Like I said before, The Muppet Christmas Carol is shockingly faithful to the source material for a Muppets movie — certain Muppet-centric modifications are inevitable to be all to fit the Muppet characters into the story, but they remain true to the spirit of the text and are largely superficial alterations that don’t really change the story so much as only changing the presentation of the story.
Rizzo and Gonzo are the narrators and audience surrogate — basically, the movie is happening because we’re seeing what they’re seeing.
Well, technically, Gonzo is the narrator (ostensibly playing Charles Dickens); Rizzo is more of a Greek Chorus who provides quippy little asides.
Also, in order to get Statlet and Waldorf screentime, there’s two Marleys, rather than just one, haunting Scrooge to basically kick off the entire plot. Also, knowing the Muppets, the fact that the second Marley is named Robert (“Bob”, if you will) is probably deliberate.
Now, yes, it’s Muppets, so you know it’s going to be funny. But it’s also a fairly direct adaptation of one of the most popular stories of all time — the story that basically single-handedly vindicated the very idea of Christmas in the popular imagination — so it carries some very real, very touching emotional power.
I except a lot of that emotion was very real to a lot of the performers, too. Muppet Christmas Carol was the first Muppet movie after the death of Jim Henson.
Actually, it’s especially meaningful to me in a very personal way. My Grandmother died on Christmas Eve a few years ago. I have very clear memories of Muppet Christmas Carol being the first thing on TV after we heard the news. And, yeah, basically, I can’t watch it without devolving into a complete wreck anymore…
On a lighter note, did you know the earliest form of the Muppets got their start advertising coffee?
It’s true. The first appearance of puppets that can rightly be considered Muppets came in the 50s, with a serious of commercials promoting Wilkins Coffee on local TV. As a pretty neat aside, Jim Henson actually filed patents for the two proto-Muppet characters.
The commercials revolved around the pro-coffee Muppet resorting to increasingly hilariously-sadistic methods of punishing the anti-coffee Muppet for his unforgivable offence of … not liking Wilkins Coffee?
Yeah. He’s a real piece of work.
It’s the same basic premise as a Looney Tunes cartoon, really. And this sort of slapstick is a big part of the Muppets’ brand of humour. It’s interesting to see that it was there from the beginning, even before they could really be considered “Muppets”.
Anyway, you can see some of these commercials for yourself below.
Honestly, I shouldn’t have to do much of a sales pitch for these movies. It’s Muppets. You know what you’re getting into. And you know it’s going to be great.
Unless, perhaps, you’re a Simpson…
Welp, that was my first recommendation in a while. You can find the rest here.
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