Sixty for 60: Beaker

Welcome back to 60 for 60, a yearlong celebration of Steve Whitmire and his work in anticipation of his 60th birthday later this year. This month we celebrate Steve’s work as Beaker, specifically in the viral videos that the Muppets made for YouTube.

“I get the impression that Beaker is a guy who goes home at night […] he’s a smart guy, he works in a lab, [yet] he probably doesn’t have much of a social life. He’s pretty introverted because he really can’t talk, so his only means of communication is the internet.” –Steve Whitmire

Despite the fact that Beaker is one of my favorite Muppets, I originally hadn’t included him in this project, for reasons that seemed to make sense at the time but that I can no longer remember. Then I watched the viral videos in which he features again and realized what a travesty it was to leave them out, because each of them is completely brilliant, and it’s some of the best and most Muppety content the Muppets have put out in the last 30 years. By all accounts, Steve had a lot of input into the creation of the viral videos, which means that he gets a lot of the credit for their quality and success.

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Sixty for 60: Kermit the Frog

Welcome back to 60 for 60, a yearlong celebration of the work of Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his upcoming 60th birthday. This month we celebrate Steve’s work as the most famous and beloved amphibian in the entire world: Kermit the Frog.

“The fact that Steve was there, and that he had the ability to do this [i.e., perform Kermit], was really quite an incredible stroke of luck.” –Dave Goelz

My feelings about Kermit have been raw lately, and it’s hard to know what to say about him. Instead of thinking of something original, let me fall back on my words from 2013:

“[Kermit] is everything I want to be: funny without being mean, smart without being overbearing, and although he sometimes loses his temper, he never says an unkind word. He’s been involved in show business for almost 60 years now, with his integrity still intact. He’s been everywhere and seen everything, and yet he’s never become cynical, never lost his faith in humanity, and always finds something positive to say about everyone. He’s a prince among frogs AND men.”
           — The Muppet Mindset’s “Great Muppet Survey,” published June 3, 2013

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Muppet Heresy: The Many Facets of Kermit

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If there’s one thing that Muppet fans agree on, it’s that there are variations to Kermit’s behavior/personality. Many see the differences as a negative and attribute them to the change(s) in performer. Both Steve Whitmire and the writers are frequent targets of this criticism, with fans on forums claiming that the writers and Steve alike have been too “precious” about Kermit, resulting in Kermit’s having become too soft, too bland, or too nice. I understand what they mean, and I understand that “precious” is meant to be a pejorative in this case, but personally, I think that being “too precious” with Kermit and the other Muppets is vastly preferable than treating them like old socks that can be tossed around willy-nilly, as Disney is doing now.*

However, I get the impression (and this is pure conjecture on my part) that Steve had been hearing criticisms in this vein for years and years. No more than one day before Cheryl Henson infamously weaponized the criticisms against him in a Facebook post (which, in her defense, was apparently intended to be private), he made the following statement in a blog entry“[T]here is actually no such thing as Jim’s Kermit and Steve’s Kermit – There is only Kermit.”

In my opinion, the whole issue is a lot more complex than anyone, perhaps even Steve, is willing and/or able to fully acknowledge.

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Narrators

At long last, it is the twelfth day of Muppet Christmas, and not a moment too soon because my brain has more or less turned into guacamole. But before we wrap up, we must take a look at the narrators in Muppet Christmas Carol and Christmas Carol ’99.

Narrators

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Dominic West (in his role as Scrooge’s nephew, Fred) provides voice-over narration at the end of Christmas Carol ’99

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Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens and Rizzo the Rat as himself provide narration throughout Muppet Christmas Carol (Gonzo and Rizzo are performed by Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire, respectively)

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Charity Collectors

We’re in the home stretch now! It’s day eleven of the 12 Days of Muppet Christmas, and we’re looking at the two gentlemen in each production who attempt to persuade Scrooge to donate to charity

 

Charity Collectors

 

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Edward Petherbridge as Foster and Jeremy Swift as Williams, the charity collectors in Christmas Carol ’99

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Beaker and Bunsen as the charity collectors in Muppet Christmas Carol, with Michael Caine and Kermit. (Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker are performed by Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire, respectively)

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Mrs. Cratchit

It’s the tenth of 12 Days of Muppet Christmas, and I find myself running out of introductory comments to make. This is about the point where I started getting tired and uninspired when I did 12 Days last year as well. Maybe it would work out better for me if I limited myself to ten days of Muppet Christmas, even though there’s not a song about that. While I contemplate that possibility, let’s look at the role of Mrs. Cratchit, Bob’s wife and Tiny Tim’s mother.

Mrs. (Emily) Cratchit

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Saskia Reeves as Mrs. Cratchit (no first name given) in Christmas Carol ’99

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Miss Piggy (Frank Oz) as Emily Cratchit in Muppet Christmas Carol

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Belle

Well, it’s day 9 of the 12 Days of Muppet Christmas. I’ve put it off as long as I can, but it’s time to address the elephant in the room: the character of Belle, Scrooge’s one-time fianceé whom he meets again as one of the shadows shown him by the Ghost of Christmas Past. 

Belle

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Laura Fraser as Belle in Christmas Carol ’99

Belle

Meredith Braun as Belle in Muppet Christmas Carol

In Muppet Christmas Carol, Belle sings a dull, depressing song. In Christmas Carol ’99, Belle does no singing at all, dull or otherwise.

Advantage: Christmas Carol ’99

Well, that was easy!

 

Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Nephew Fred

Depending on the interpretation, Scrooge’s nephew Fred can either be the most admirable character in the story or an even more despicable character than Scrooge. Find out how on this, the eighth day of the 12 Days of Muppet Christmas.

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Dominic West as Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, in Christmas Carol ’99

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Steven Mackintosh as Nephew Fred in Muppet Christmas Carol

One small but significant difference right off the bat between Muppet Christmas Carol and the 1999 TV movie starring Patrick Stewart is that Christmas Carol ’99 includes Fred’s backstory: he’s the son of Scrooge’s deceased sister (called Fran in Christmas Carol ’99, although the original story has her name as “Fan”). In MCC, Fred is also Scrooge’s nephew, but no mention is made of his parents one way or the other. This is similar to the approach taken in “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” (the first “Christmas Carol” adaptation I ever saw and the one by which I judge all others, for better or worse), and perhaps that’s not surprising because nephewism is prominent in both franchises. (Which is fine, by the way; if our choices are nephewism and “cross-promoting,” I’ll take nephewism any day.)

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Tiny Tim

Day seven of the 12 days of Muppet Christmas is Kid-Appeal Character Day with a look at the small but significant character of Tiny Tim as portrayed in Muppet Christmas Carol and the 1999 TV movie starring Patrick Stewart.

Tiny Tim

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Ben Tibber as Tiny Tim in Christmas Carol ’99

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Robin the Frog (Jerry Nelson) perched atop Kermit’s shoulder as Tiny Tim in Muppet Christmas Carol

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

The 12 Days of Muppet Christmas have reached the halfway point, which means it’s time to take a look at the Ghosts of Christmas Yet To Come from Muppet Christmas Carol and the 1999 TV movie starring Patrick Stewart.

Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

 

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Composite of Tim Potter as the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come in Christmas Carol ’99

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Donald Austen (body) and Rob Tygner (puppetry) as the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come in Muppet Christmas Carol

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Ghost of Christmas Present

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.

Ghost of Christmas Present

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Desmond Barrit as the Ghost of Christmas Present in Christmas Carol ’99

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Jerry Nelson (voice and puppetry) and Don Austen (body) as the Ghost of Christmas Present in Muppet Christmas Carol

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Ghost of Christmas Past

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

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Joel Grey as the Ghost of Christmas Past in Christmas Carol ’99

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Karen Prell (lead puppeteer) and Jessica Fox (voice) as the Ghost of Christmas Past in Muppet Christmas Carol

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!)

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Marley Ghost(s)

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

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Statler (Jerry Nelson) and Waldorf (Dave Goelz) as Jacob and Robert Marley in Muppet Christmas Carol (Yes, I flipped the image so that my captions would match up; deal with it)

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Bernard Lloyd as Jacob Marley in Christmas Carol ’99 (Only one ghost, but three different scenes)

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Bob Cratchit

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.

Bob Cratchit

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Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire) as Bob Cratchit in Muppet Christmas Carol

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Richard E. Grant as Bob Cratchit in Christmas Carol ’99

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas Carol: Scrooge

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:

Scrooge

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Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge in Muppet Christmas Carol

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Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge in Christmas Carol ’99

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.

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