Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Year 7, Day 346 - 12/12/15 - Movie #2,199

BEFORE: We're getting down to it now, just one film left after this to watch in 2015, and then it will be time for me to reflect on Movie Year 7, and total up how many times each actor appeared.  And while Michael Caine won't be on top of the leaderboard, he definitely had a good year - with other appearances in "Deathtrap", "Flawless", "Sleuth" and "Interstellar".  I'm not sure where the cut-off will be, but 5 films is probably enough to be significant.  Linking from "Lost Christmas", Steven Mackintosh, who played Goose's parole officer, carries over and plays Scrooge's nephew tonight.  That seems rather helpful.

THE PLOT: The Muppet characters tell their version of the classic tale of an old and bitter miser's redemption on Christmas Eve.

AFTER: This was the year for me to finish off some key movie franchises - I watched the last two films in the "Hobbit" series, I got current with Jack Ryan and for a couple months I was all caught up with "Mission: Impossible" films, stayed on track with the new "Avengers" and "Jurassic World" films, and the new "Star Wars" will finish things off.  And I'm finally, finally done with the Muppets.  I guess I could watch "The Muppet Wizard of Oz", but really, who cares? 

The Muppet franchise is a lot like "Star Wars", there will be a run of new movies, and then it could lie dormant for several years, until Disney buys it and decides to revive it because to NOT do so would be to leave some money on the table.  But "Star Wars" just has to be its own thing, the Muppets had to insert themselves into "Treasure Island" and this Dickens story just to get a movie made.  Clearly there were no more internal stories left in the narrative.  Once you tell the story of how the Muppets came to Hollywood, and once they take Manhattan and go to London, what's left to do?  

You can also see it in the current "Muppets" TV show - while the original "Muppet Show" was set backstage during the production of a variety show, the new one is set backstage during the production of a late night talk show.  Not all that different, although the documentary style reminiscent of "The Office" is a slightly different spin.  Still, most every episode I've seen ultimately goes nowhere.  

But I've learned that there's more than one way to look at things.  After finally watching "The Exorcist" this year, I realized that it could be taken as a tale about demonic possession, or alternately as a warning against dealing with a difficult teen. (The moral of the story: Don't have a kid.)  I wondered whether "Interstellar" had more to teach me about the relative nature of time through actual insights on planetary physics, or just by being over three hours long.  And so, since I already mentioned last night that "A Christmas Carol" was really the first time-travel story, I wonder if there's another way to look at it.   

Isn't it also the story of a one-percenter who gets scared by ghosts into becoming a socialist?  And it's weird how things have changed, because in 1840's London, a fiscal conservative was very against the celebration of Christmas, but in modern-day America, the Republican conservatives are always the ones complaining about the "War on Christmas".  I keep hearing stories about people's elderly parents getting influenced by conservative pundits and become late-stage Republicans, but Scrooge goes the other way, doesn't he?  When faced with his own mortality, he becomes more generous, even though doing so doesn't make him any less dead in the future. 

It makes me wonder if there isn't more to the story.  The big trend among today's billionaires is to set up foundations and donate to charities in massive amounts and while I would like to believe that Bill Gates and George Lucas (sorry, George) and now Zuckerberg have the world's best interests at heart, instead I picture a conversation with an accountant that comes straight out of "The Producers": "You know, it's funny, if you try to hold on to your fortune, it will get eaten away by taxes, but if you donate 60% of it now, you can keep the other 40% and never pay another dime in taxes!"  "Wait, say that last part again, about never paying taxes..."  

And even if Scrooge's transformation is done in time to save his own soul, isn't that still a self-serving motivation?  What about getting him to a place where he can use his wealth to help people, simply because those people need help?  Forget the tax deductions, if he donates to charity so that he can get into heaven, or even so that people won't hate him when he dies, he's still only thinking about himself.  So clearly more work needs to be done, or the transformation really needs to show him enjoying life, and not just going to the big Christmas dinner at his nephew's house, because again, he benefits from that.  

It's weird to have a human take the central role in a Muppet film, but I guess they couldn't have Kermit acting like a miser, for that would damage the character.  Instead Kermit takes the Bob Cratchit role, with Miss Piggy as his wife - and nobody seems to notice that their male children are frogs and their female children are pigs, which doesn't seem biologically possible.  I guess they wouldn't have hybrid pig/frogs either, they just wouldn't be able to have children, but try explaining cross-species sex to a kid.  

And Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker are the charity spokesmen, and Sam the Eagle is young Scrooge's headmaster, but I'm guessing the main reason to make this film was to cast Fozzie Bear as Fozziwig.  The addition of another Marley brother just to shoehorn in Statler and Waldorf seemed odd, especially since they named the extra brother Robert - so, Bob Marley?

Again, I'll say that I prefer the Albert Finney version, with superior acting and songs, like "I Like Life" and "Thank You Very Much".  In the Muppet the song "Marley and Marley" just feels like a temporary song that someone meant to replace later with something better, and "It Feels Like Christmas" has just some of the worst, most pedantic rhyming.  The Muppets tell the whole story in under 90 minutes, and honestly that makes it feel a bit rushed, and maybe that's what makes Scrooge's transformation less believable.  

Also starring Michael Caine (last seen in "Interstellar"), Raymond Coulthard, and the voices of Dave Goelz (last heard in "Kermit's Swamp Years"), Steve Whitmire (ditto), Frank Oz (last heard in "Zathura: A Space Adventure"), Jerry Nelson, David Rudman, and Jessica Fox. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 jellybeans

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