On the fourth of 12 Days of Muppet Christmas, I question whether a puppet floating in a tank of fluid or an Oscar winner in a blond wig makes a better guide through Scrooge’s memories.
Ghost of Christmas Past
The Ghost of Christmas Past from Muppet Christmas Carol is probably the depiction that comes closest to how Dickens described the character in the original novella. Though not explicitly stated, Dickens’ description is meant to evoke the idea of a candle flame come to life, and one can sort of tell how the team behind MCC took that as a jumping-off point in constructing a rod puppet meant to float in oil or water to give an ethereal effect (almost literally).
Oscar winner and one-time Muppet Show guest star Joel Grey plays the Ghost of Christmas Past in Christmas Carol ’99 as an androgynous but humanoid figure with an otherworldly glow, an unnatural skin tone, and a blond wig that he may have borrowed from Martin Short’s character Flik in Merlin, a TV special that also aired in 1999. (By the way, that’s not intended as a disparagement; I LOVE Martin Short in that blond wig in Merlin!)
Here’s a question that I can never quite settle to my own satisfaction: is the Ghost of Christmas Past in MCC technically a Muppet? Is being a puppet in a Muppet movie enough to qualify one as a Muppet? Or does one have to have the distinctive Muppet look? I guess there are other Muppets that don’t specifically have the distinctive Muppet look that I still consider to be Muppets (’80s Robot comes to mind) so maybe GoCP qualifies despite her nonstandard appearance, but I believe she was a Creature Shop creation, so in my mind that makes her of mixed heritage.
In either case, I really love the fact that she’s a practical effect; nowadays, she would almost certainly be a computer-generated image, but in this case the compositing is so good that the effect is entirely convincing. However, as a character, I’m not so enamored with her. She seems to be enjoying chastising Scrooge more than is strictly necessary.
Joel Grey’s Ghost of Christmas Past uses reverse psychology on Scrooge, but beneath his calm, almost neutral demeanor, he seems to be silently cheering Scrooge on, hoping that he’ll figure things out on his own with just a little nudge in the right direction.
Christmas Carol ’99 omits the sequence of the Ghost flying Scrooge into the past; flying effects must not have been in the budget. Instead, he touches Scrooge’s chest, and the next thing they (or we) know, they’re in the past.
To be honest, I can’t decide between the two of these. MCC’s Ghost of Christmas Past is prettier to look at, but Christmas Carol ’99’s seems like he would be more pleasant to be around. In this case, I’m calling it a draw.