‘Tis the season to be jolly, joyous, and watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. Maybe you know every word to this charming Muppet musical. Perhaps you count it as your favorite adaptation of Charles Dickens’s tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. But do you know all the secrets behind this holiday classic’s creation?
1. It was the first Muppet movie made without Jim Henson.
The man behind the Muppets passed away on May 16, 1990 at the age of 53. The Muppet Christmas Carol debuted on December 11, 1992 with Steve Whitmire taking over Kermit the Frog for Henson. The film is dedicated to Henson and his longtime collaborator Richard Hunt, who performed Scooter, Beaker, Janice, Statler, and Sweetums, and passed away on January 7, 1992.
2. It was Brian Henson’s feature directorial debut.
As the son of Jim Henson, Brian Henson’s earliest credits date back to a childhood spent in front of the camera on Sesame Street. He began performing as a Muppeteer on 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper, and went on to direct Muppet Treasure Island in 1996. Today, Brian and his sister Lisa run The Jim Henson Company.
3. The shooting star is in memory of Jim Henson.
The song “One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas” ends with Kermit staring wistfully at the sky as a shooting star streaks by. In the DVD’s audio commentary, Brian Henson said this was a nod to The Muppet Movie, wherein a shooting star flies over Kermit. It has since become a recurring element to frame Kermit with a shooting star, as seen in Muppet Treasure Island, Kermit’s Swamp Years, It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, and The Muppets.
4. Steve Whitmire got Henson’s blessing in a dream.
Talking to Muppet Central, Steve Whitmire spoke of a dream he had the night before shooting his first scene as Kermit. In it, he found Henson in a gleaming white hotel lobby and confessed his anxiety about taking on the character so identified with its creator.
“He stopped, and there was a thoughtful gesture Jim would do where he would take both of his index fingers and put them under his chin, and he did that and thought and he said, ‘It will pass,'” Whitmire recalled. “Which is exactly what Jim would have said. You would have to really know Jim to know this, but that’s exactly what he would have said. Then he turned and he said, ‘I’ve really got to run …’ and he took off out the door. I woke up and I felt great. I remembered this dream and I went in the next day, I did the work, and it was smooth, it worked fine, and I felt great. Just that little bit of encouragement. I really think he showed up for me.”
5. George Carlin was considered for the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Best known for his searing stand-up act, by the time The Muppet Christmas Carol came around, George Carlin had made memorable big-screen appearances in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, and The Prince of Tides, but he didn’t land the role. Aside from the curmudgeonly American comedian, English actors David Hemmings, Ron Moody, and David Warner were also eyed for the part. Ultimately, the role went to Michael Caine.
6. There’s a subtle nod to Michael Caine’s name.
Two-time Academy Award winner and English acting legend Michael Caine brought a considerable amount of prestige to the production, which was the first Muppet movie to focus on its human characters. Perhaps as a sign of thanks, The Muppet Christmas Carol‘s production design team added a nod to Caine’s given name, Maurice Micklewhite, to Scrooge’s 19th-century London. In the film’s finale, keep your eyes peeled for a shop named Micklewhite’s.
7. Caine had to watch his step.
The Muppet Christmas Carol’s sets were specially built to accommodate the Muppeteers, meaning they were elevated to leave room for them to walk around below the “London” streets. Planks and platforms were put in place for Caine and his human co-stars to walk on. In a promotional behind-the-scenes video, you can see how crucial careful foot placement was as the Muppets swarmed him singing the opening song “Scrooge.” Despite this trickiness, Caine called it “very fun.”
8. Scooter was booted from a major role.
The long-time gofer for The Muppet Show was originally supposed to appear as the Ghost of Christmas Past in The Muppet Christmas Carol. Similarly, Miss Piggy and Gonzo were considered for the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Yet To Come. However, this idea was scrapped in favor of new Muppet creations that could better underline the ominous nature of the story. Piggy was recast as Mrs. Cratchit, and Gonzo as Charles Dickens. But Scooter was cut completely.
9. Gonzo was recast as a device to bring in Dickens’s prose.
Though it added in plenty of zany Muppets and split the role of Jacob Marley for Statler and Waldorf, The Muppet Christmas Carol remains pretty true to its source material. Screenwriter Jerry Juhl wanted to make use of Dickens’s graceful narration, so Gonzo was cast as the beloved author. Rizzo the Rat was added to infuse some humor and serve as a Greek chorus of sorts.
10. The Ghost of Christmas Past’s movements were aquatic.
The spirit that guides Scrooge into his childhood has an eerie, floating physicality. To achieve this look, puppeteers were submerged with the Muppet in a tank of baby oil backed by a green screen to record the performance. However, the cost of a tank of baby oil soon stacked up, pushing the filmmakers to switch to water. Though the rod puppet’s glues and paints interacted poorly with the water, they got the shots they needed.
11. Kermit’s full-bodied stroll was a big production.
To achieve the “Tis The Season” shot of Kermit walking down a snow-covered street with nephew Robin (playing Tiny Tim) on his shoulder, Brian Henson had to employ 10 puppeteers. A rotating drum covered in fake snow was positioned beneath Kermit’s feet, to allow for a natural gait. If you pay close attention, you can see it in action. Behind that was a blue screen and various puppeteers working the characters’ limbs and mouths. These were swapped for lit-up London homes in post-production.
12. “When Love Is Gone” was cut from the theatrical release.
The song sung to a young Ebenezer by his heartbroken Belle (Meredith Braun) was cut from the film’s theatrical version because it was considered a bit too slow (and too Muppet-free) to keep the interest of children in test audiences. However, the tune was included in some home entertainment releases and several TV airings of The Muppet Christmas Carol. ABC Family’s preferred cut excludes this melancholy melody.
13. Bunsen, Beaker, and Sam the Eagle had songs cut.
In The Muppet Christmas Carol, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his loyal assistant Beaker pop in on Scrooge seeking donations for the poor. Early on, their plea included a song called “Room in Your Heart.” Similarly Sam Eagle, playing a young Scrooge’s headmaster, had a ditty called “Chairman of the Board.” Both songs were recorded but cut from the script before their performances were shot, as neither added much to the story’s exposition. They do, however, show up on the film’s soundtrack.
14. Fred Scrooge did not lose his wife.
In the final Christmas feast scene, sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed that Scrooge’s nephew Fred is present, but his wife Clara is not. In the DVD commentary, Henson shared that he received letters demanding to know what happened to Fred’s better half. The simple answer is that the actress playing her (Robin Weaver) wasn’t available to shoot that day. It’s not meant as some hint that he’s on the same rocky, loveless road his uncle once trod.