The Muppet Christmas Carol turns 30: how the movie became a cult classic

The Muppet Christmas Carol turns 30: how the movie became a cult classic

“Cult” is often used indiscriminately in film and television. IN Cult films (1981), the film critic Danny Peary argued that it should be reserved for “special films which, for one reason or another, have been taken to the heart of sections of the film audience, cherished, protected and, above all, enthusiastically championed”.

Subsequently academic and popular debates suggests that it is a malleable label. But despite its elasticity, not every film can claim cult status. Despite their era, genre or industry, cult films stand out because audiences have a special, lasting connection with them that goes beyond normal consumption patterns.

One such example is The Muppet Christmas Carol, who turned 30 year 2022.

The ritual screening of certain films during the holidays, combined with strong sense of nostalgia (both historical and personal) that circulate during Christmas, fosters a lasting connection between film and viewer that can elevate films to cult status.

The special combination of a cherished story and beloved characters from a much-loved and much-missed creator creates particularly heady nostalgia in The Muppet Christmas Carol.

It’s a nostalgia that continues to attract audiences long after an initial letdown ticket salesreleased for a period still in the shadow of The untimely death of Jim Henson.

A surprisingly faithful adaptation

Among many screen adaptations by Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol The Muppet Christmas Carol is unique. Not least because it casts Gonzo, it unclassifiable “anything” as Dickens and Rizzo the Rat (playing himself) as his grounded, wisecracking sidekick.

The pulling on longing for snowy Victorian Christmases and expertly balances humour, horror and sentimentality.

As Kermit himself tells in one behind the scenes interview for Entertainment Tonight, the team tried to stay true to the original. The only difference, he claims, is that “there are lots of frogs and pigs and chickens and rats starring. I think Charles would have liked it that way.”

In the tradition of Jim Henson productions (including The Muppet Show but also big-screen outings The Dark Crystal, 1982 and Labyrinth, 1986), the set is brought to life by a menagerie of colorful creatures and anthropomorphized plant life.

Popular Muppet characters are with them its own special nostalgia for physical puppetry techniques in an age of digital technology. They also call back to memories of traditional family entertainment. Fozzy Bear, Miss Piggy, Animal, the Swedish Chef, and Statler and Waldorf (perfectly cast as Marley and Marley, Scrooge’s dead partners) all appear.

Michael Caine, no stranger to sect through Get Carter (1972), is earnest and gruff as Scrooge, seemingly oblivious to the Muppet mayhem around him.

Director Brian Henson has said that Caine only agreed to take the part if he could play it as if he were working with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Why is The Muppet Christmas Carol so enduring?

As they celebrate the 30th anniversary, many fans point to their personal connections to the film. They talk about arrest family viewing experiences and that of the film transgenerational appeal.

To add to its cult status, the film even has a “lost” song – a ballad called When love is gone which was cut from the theatrical release the recommendation for then Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg. It has been restored for the anniversary streaming on Disney+.

There are also opportunities to experience Miles Goodman’s score performed live with screenings of the film in cinemas across the UK. Brian Henson has suggested that enthusiasm for the film in the UK home entertainment market contributed establish their lasting legacy.

The film’s enduring popularity also demonstrates a continued affection for Jim Henson that has been particularly pronounced in Britain.

It’s a bond reinforced by his personal and professional ties to the capital via London Creature Shop (his special effects house and puppet workshop) which operated in the town between 1979 and 2005. To mark his importance, a blue plaque from English Heritage was erected in 2021 on his former home in Hampstead.

Using multiple critical perspectives on seasonal cult classics, fans study Renee Middlemost concluded that something strange happens when we embrace our favorite Christmas movies.

“By suspending its typical taste and criticism,” she argues, “cynicism can be transcended in favor of ritual and social bonds. In this way, the ritual bond over these films acts as an extension of the season itself.”

Or, as more simply expressed in lyrics from The Muppet Christmas Carol itself: “Wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.”

Author: Andrea Wright – Senior Lecturer in Teaching and Learning Development, Edge Hill University The conversation





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