At the present time, it is day 5 of the 12 days of Muppet Christmas, and the time is ripe to consider the Ghost of Christmas Present as he appeared in The Muppet Christmas Carol as well as Christmas Carol ’99.
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!)
One of the few departures Muppet Christmas Carol made from the source material is that it added another Marley ghost to the mix. But do two Marleys make for a better adaptation than the 1999 TV version starring Patrick Stewart? Find out on this, the third day of the 12 Days of Muppet Christmas.
Jacob (and Robert) Marley
On this, the second day of my 12-day quest to discover how The Muppet Christmas Carol measures up to my favorite non-Muppet version, the 1999 TV movie starring Patrick Stewart, I take a look at Scrooge’s employee and foil, Bob Cratchit.
Joyeux Noel, friends and readers, and thank you for joining me for the 2018-2019 installment of 12 Days of Muppet Christmas!
Because I’m a Muppet heretic, I can admit without hesitation or shame that Muppet Christmas Carol is not my favorite adaptation of the story. For nearly 20 years now, my favorite adaptation has been the 1999 made-for-TV movie starring Patrick Stewart and airing originally on TNT.
However, given my relatively new appreciation of Muppet Christmas Carol, I want to see how the two versions measure up to one another. So for the next 12 days, coinciding with the traditional twelve days of Christmas, I’ll be comparing and contrasting the individual elements of these two different adaptations of the classic story and assigning an advantage to one or the other each day, because what’s the fun of comparing and contrasting without arbitrary value judgments? Then I’ll share the final results on January 6th (Epiphany).
Without further ado, let’s start by taking a closer look at our protagonist:
Michael Caine and Patrick Stewart are both actors renowned for their vast talent. Though playing the same character, each has his own unique interpretation. It’s not a question of right or wrong, good or bad. Though different from one another, each actor’s take on the character is completely valid, which makes it interesting to see how each approaches the same character from an entirely different angle.
As a non-Muppet, but no less beloved, pair of amphibians once sang, Merry Almost Christmas! And welcome back to 60 for 60, my yearlong tribute to Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his 60th birthday next year. In keeping with the season, the theme for this month is Christmas productions.
I first saw Muppet Christmas Carol in December 1993 when we got the VHS as a Christmas present. Suffice it to say, the initial impression it left on me was not favorable. In fact, it was so unfavorable that it was approximately 20 years before I could watch it again.
This is the story of Little Shop of Horrors and how I went from being a traumatized child to an enthusiastic fan to an eager participant in a stage production thereof. It is also the story of how my younger brother and I each ended up participating in separate, but related, productions of it.
So Kermit has been working the talk show circuit promoting his bizarre, random part in the upcoming Wizard of Oz pantomime in Los Angeles happening this month. (Which, by the way, does sound like a lot of fun. I would go see it if I had any way of getting to Los Angeles). One stop he made was on the Late Late Show with James Corden, which I didn’t watch because I don’t stay up that late late anymore:
I liked the whole “Man or Muppet” bit, I very much enjoyed Matt’s money note, and I’m just thankful Kermit’s little microphone didn’t smack anybody in the eye (as far as we know) when it went flying at the end.
I could do more in-depth analysis about it, but honestly, at this point I’m basically just saying…it is what it is. I can accept this iteration as Kermit, but he’s not “my” Kermit. I can enjoy what he’s doing, but I can’t emotionally invest in him.
And that could very well change. I have keep reminding myself that it took me six years to fully embrace Steve’s Kermit, and Matt has only been doing it for just over a year.
I’m just grateful that they didn’t sing “Rainbow Connection.” Kermit did sing “Rainbow Connection” on The Talk with his panto co-star Marissa Jaret Winokur. There was no warning, so I didn’t have time to prepare mentally, but I curbed my kneejerk reaction to leap from the couch and turn off the TV, so that’s something, I guess. And it was fine. It was a perfectly lovely performance, and it brought back fond memories of seeing Winokur perform in Hairspray when I was in college. So I’m pretty okay with the whole situation. It’s not bad, it’s not good…but it is what it is.
But now to the real reason I wanted to bring up this appearance on the Late Late Show. I wanted to make a comment about one of the interview segments, and it actually has nothing to do with Kermit at all. It has to do with the closed captions:
At the beginning of this segment Minka Kelly (whoever she is) is talking about her background working as a scrub nurse. Turn on the closed captioning during that part; it’s hilarious. “Craniotomy” becomes “crane yot me” and “hysterectomy” becomes (and this is epic) “‘histoires d’hiver’ recht me,” or…removal of French winter stories, I guess? It reminds me of the time I spent editing speech recognition documents as a medical transcriptionist.
And now you all know what that’s like. You’re welcome. 😉
Welcome back to 60 for 60, my year-long celebration of Steve Whitmire’s work and characters in anticipation of his 60th birthday next year. This month we focus on Wembley, decisively the most lovable Fraggle in the Rock.
When it comes to Fraggle Rock characters, I aspire to be Cantus, I identify most with Mokey, and I’m probably more of a Boober than I care to admit…but Wembley is the one I love most of all. As I put it to Steve in a comment on his first blog entry approximately a century ago (at least, that’s what it feels like), Wembley is “the funniest, sweetest, most excitable, naive, lovable little furry creature in all of Fraggle Rock, if not the entire Universe.”
I like Wembley because he makes me laugh, but I love Wembley because he makes me cry. Therefore, the five Wembley clips included below skew slightly to the more poignant side of the spectrum.
Bon soir, mes amis! I’ve been very busy working in advance of the upcoming holiday. When you write for a living, it’s kind of hard to keep up a blog in your free time.
I’ve been remiss in not sharing this interview I found recently of Steve from all the way back during the Niagara Falls Comic Con in June:
At three minutes long, it’s a tasty morsel. Enjoy!
Sesame Street first premiered on this date in 1969. Happy birthday, Sesame Street! And thanks for all the fun and learning over the years.
The official Sesame Street Twitter account retweeted the following videos as part of a larger thread:
I cannot tell you how delighted I am to see Herry Monster back on the Street again. Of all the Sesame Street monsters, Herry is probably my favorite.
I mean, I love Grover and Cookie Monster, of COURSE I do, and I also have a great deal of affection for the Two-Headed Monster and for Telly…but Herry is something really special to me.
I actually seem to remember being a little scared of Herry when I was quite young. It’s understandable, of course; he had that gruff voice and that gigantic eyebrow, and in the early days, Jim Henson et al. purposely invoked his intimidation factor, only to subvert in the punchline of some of the first inserts to feature Herry. Perhaps some of those early inserts were still in circulation in the early ’80s when I was watching as a very small child.
But no one could ever watch Herry’s interactions with John-John and remain afraid of him. I don’t specifically remember the first time I saw a Herry and John-John insert, but Herry has had a special place in my heart ever since.
Part Two of my two-part celebration of Mr. Caroll Spinney and his two most famous characters on the occasion of his retirement, in which I attempt to unravel the fascinating enigma that is Oscar the Grouch.
When I was a kid, I was confused by Oscar the Grouch. While I thought he was funny, I wasn’t quite sure what his purpose was, why there was a character on Sesame Street who was so rude all the time, or whether or not it was okay to laugh at him.
I was an adult before I realized that Oscar represents the dark side of the street. He’s the rain cloud that helps us appreciate the sunshine. He’s the pinch of salt that keeps all the sweetness on Sesame Street from becoming too saccharine.
In anticipation of Steve Whitmire’s 60th birthday next year, I’m celebrating his work and his characters one month at a time in this year-long series, 60 for 60. This month, the spotlight is on Steve’s first major Muppet character, Rizzo the Rat.
Who is Rizzo the Rat? According to TV Tropes, Rizzo is a Big Eater, a Lovable Coward, and a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, all of which seems accurate and consistent to me.
Personally, Rizzo strikes me as a savvy, street-wise opportunist with a talent for self-preservation. However, he has standards, and even though he was born in the sewers, there are depths to which he will not sink. For example, he’s not above taking advantage of his friends, but he’ll never sell them out completely, and he’ll always be there for them in the clinch.