Jarrod Fairclough – Ask any Muppet fan their favorite Christmas film, and they’ll no doubt say The Muppet Christmas Carol. Which is fair enough, because it’s an incredible film. It’s also one of those rare Muppet projects where many non-hardcore fans look back on it fondly as a Christmas tradition. So I thought I’d get together with my best mate Matt, a non-hardcore fan who still enjoys the production, to do a commentary over the film! Join us as we talk Frank Oz, Gonzo Dickens, and why The Muppet Christmas Carol might be the best horror film of all time.
Jarrod: Are you excited, Matt?
Matt: Am I?
Jarrod: I don’t know, that’s why I asked. Are you gonna be like this the whole film?
Matt: Am I?
Jarrod: Touche. Let’s begin, shall we?
Matt: (Sarcastically) Is this Dreamworks or what?
Jarrod: This was long before the Disney sale.
This is the first Muppet movie to be made since Jim’s death, and it was dedicated to him and Richard Hunt. Quick, Matt! Name a Richard Hunt character!
Matt: Well that’s annoying, I was going to ask who he was.
Jarrod: He played Scooter, Beaker, Statler etc.
Matt: I should know who he was then given you constantly refer to me as Beaker.
Jarrod: It’s true, you do look a lot like him.
This was Brian Henson’s first film he directed, and Michael Caine was surprisingly taken aback when he found that out.
Matt: Is all the food in the Muppet-verse alive?
Jarrod: Pretty much, which probably makes the Chef a murderer.
Jarrod: Here we have Gonzo playing Charles Dickens. The movie is often regarded as one of the most true to the book because Gonzo narrates the whole thing, incorporating Dickens’ prose.
Matt: Bizarre, you’d expect them to take a bit more licence with it I guess.
Jarrod: They were originally going to make the whole movie much more Muppety. Gonzo was going to be the Ghost of Christmas future, and Scooter and Piggy were going to play the others. Then they decided to go a lot more serious… As serious as they can considering there’s currently singing goats.
Paul Williams wrote this opening song in about 10 minutes.
Matt: And yet, no Oscar for him. Sam Smith writes some tripe Bond song in 20 and gets an Oscar!
Jarrod: Michael Caine is a fantastic Scrooge. When he got the job he told Brian Henson he was going to do it as if he was acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company and not ‘wink’ to the audience.
Matt: Is that any correlation to making it a more serious tone overall?
Jarrod: I think if he did it more ‘Muppety’ it would have been out of place, considering how serious the film is… With talking frogs.
Matt: To be fair, playing Scrooge comedically sort of undermines the whole point of the story I guess…
Jarrod: This was the first time a lot of the world saw the new Kermit, now played by Steve Whitmire. Steve said that the night before he was due to record the songs for the movie, he had a dream where he met Jim in a hotel lobby, and Jim told him he’d be okay.
This was also the first time Beaker was played by a new performer, also Steve. No word on the dream he had about THAT recasting. There was a song here originally. They recorded it but never actually filmed it. It’s a catchy number about trying to convince Scrooge not to be such a… scrooge.
Matt: Interesting. Any other songs they had planned but didn’t include?
Jarrod: There’s one other, and then another song they filmed but cut out. But we’ll get there.
Beaker just pointed at Scrooge as he walked out. A lot of people think Beaker’s giving him the finger there.
Matt: How delightfully un-Muppety. I’m assuming they never said he was though?
Jarrod: No. If you look closely, you can see he’s just pointing. Although he’s swearing up a storm and that’s why there’s ‘meeping’ over the top if it.
Jarrod: There’s a shot here in ‘One More Sleep Til Christmas’ where Kermit locks the front door. Brian said it was the most difficult shot in the entire film to do, but when you see it it looks simple. Also I sing this song relentlessly on December 24th. In a bad Kermit voice.
Matt: It does look simple. So, you said this was the first time a lot of the world saw Steve as Kermit. What else had he done as Kermit prior to this?
Jarrod: They made The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson a few months after Jim’s death where his Kermit debuted. He also did a few promotional appearances.
Matt: Was the reception to his take on the character positive or…?
Jarrod: A lot of people thought it was Brian Henson doing it, so they thought ‘It’s his son so we shouldn’t mention anything…’, but it was the first major recast in the franchise. Nowadays only one of the original Muppet performers is around.
Matt: Old Dave Goelz?
Jarrod: Nailed it! The door knocker just turned into Jacob Marley (Statler), which terrified me as a kid but still terrifies me now.
Matt: But you’re terrified of the weirdest things anyway.
Jarrod: I DON’T LIKE YELLOW CARS, OKAY?
So we’re about to get the ghost of Jacob Marley with his brother Robert, who doesn’t exist in the book, and is mainly an excuse to a) get Statler and Waldorf in to the film, and b) make a Bob Marley joke.
Matt: Well you can’t have one without the other.
Jarrod: It’s true, when I think Statler and Waldorf, I think reggae music.
Matt: Has a real actor person ever appeared in more than one Muppet film? Of all the ones I’ve seen it’s always new people in the human roles.
Jarrod: No-one’s ever played the same character in multiple films, but Ricky Gervias played himself a deleted scene in ‘The Muppets’ and Dominic Badguy in ‘Muppets Most Wanted’. (Editors Note: Many people have delighted in telling me that Zach Galifianakis played Hobo Joe in The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted. I concede.)
This was another recast, Jim used to play Waldorf but now he’s being played by Dave, and Statler was Richard Hunt, and here he’s played by Jerry Nelson.
Jarrod: This scene with Gonzo and Rizzo and the gate has absolutely nothing to do with the plot.
Matt: The gags were worth it.
Jarrod: Now, the Ghost of Christmas Past. She was originally filmed against a green-screen in oil to get the floating effect, but it ruined the puppet and the effect. So she’s just under normal water. Plus her child-like voice haunts my dreams.
Matt: Is there anything in this film that doesn’t scare you?
Jarrod: …No. This is basically a horror film.
Matt: With a wholesome message. Ebenezer isn’t a name you find very often anymore.
Jarrod: I’m gonna name my child that. Little Ebby Fairclough.
Sam Eagle acts as Scrooge’s teacher, which leads us back to a song that was cut out. Originally he sang a tune called ‘Chairman of the Board’ about what education and work can achieve. It’s on the soundtrack. It’s fairly dull, but I do love me some Frank Oz.
Matt: Love him too, I do!
Jarrod: Yeah, only coz he’s Yoda, ya nerd.
Matt: (Doing finger guns) Pew pew pew!
Jarrod: This was the last Muppet film Frank worked on full time. In Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets From Space he spent a few days on set and dubbed the rest of his lines.
Matt: Any particular reason?
Jarrod: He wanted to direct more, and he became less and less available. So his characters got recast, mostly by Eric Jacobson.
Matt: Makes sense.
Jarrod: At the premiere of Inside Out last year he said he’d be open to coming back at some point for a project, which was the first time he’s said that in years. He was approached to come back for the 2011 film, but he didn’t like the script so he declined.
Jarrod: Even though Fozzie’s on the poster and in the credits at the beginning of the film, this is the only time we see Fozzie in the whole movie, besides a brief silent cameo at the end. That’s why I used to not like this film much, because The Muppets were barely in their own film. Nowadays I can see why they went down this route.
Now we get to the OTHER song not in the film. In the original theatrical release Belle and Scrooge sang a song called ‘When Love Is Gone’, but it rarely appeared on any home video. I don’t particularly like the song, but a LOT of people aren’t happy they cut it out. It’s mentioned by fans almost every time this film comes up.
Matt: Is it included as a deleted scene or was it just completely scrubbed out?
Jarrod: Nope, it’s on the soundtrack, but that’s it.
Join us in Part 2 where we talk David Rudman, Belinda and Betina, and creepy spiders.