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Movie Review: The Muppet Christmas Carol… WITH MUPPETS!

In the review I reposted last night, someone mentioned that they would rather watch The Muppet Christmas Carol than most the things I was spewing bile at. Actually, the sort of suggested that they would like to spew hate and eloquence like I do, which is sort of sweet in a sick kind of way.


I happened to review The Muppet Christmas Carol last year when I was doing the other reviews. But I don’t think you’ll like this review as much if you liked the other ones. See, it’s hard to admit this, but I like this movie. Yes, it confirms your faith that I don’t hate everything in the whole wide world, but it makes for less thrilling reading. Let’s be honest, people like it when I’m swinging a cleaver around and just hacking at something with hate in my heart and cola in my belly.

HOWEVER! I think this is probably the only review of this movie you’ll find with a Silence of the Lamb reference in it.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992 Dir. Brian Henson)

Still, I like the review,

Dude, how long have those people been there?

This is the only live action version of The Christmas Carol that I don’t refer to by the actor playing Scrooge. I refer to it by its title, because Michael Caine just isn’t as memorable as the Muppets are. There’s nothing wrong with his performance, but Caine is just nothing special compared to a lot of the puppets on display here. I would be willing to see him play the part again against an all human cast but, here he greatly gets lost in the shuffle against all the felt and effects. If I have a problem with this version, it’s that it feels like we’ve been here before. That’s not much of a problem though, as this is a family version and to some extent you sort of don’t really want surprises. Even though this movie contains what is possibly my favorite innovation as far as a movie based on A Christmas Carol is concerned.

You put your right foot in, you take your right foot out…

Disney had already done a version of the tale, recasting their stock of characters to fit into the story nine years before. That caused me problems when the movie first came out and I must be honest and tell you I didn’t see this in the theaters because of that. It was the first movie to come after Jim Henson’s death and it was being released by Disney of all places. Disney and respect for legacy didn’t exactly go hand in hand in my mind at the time. Even now I don’t really associate them. It just felt like it was all kinds of wrong. I think even now I can be forgiven for thinking this thing had train wreck written all over it. It’s not a train wreck though. Actually, it’s pretty good. In fact, it’s really good. Is it the best version? No. Is it the most accurate version? Not exactly. Is it the version I would want to watch with a child? Absolutely.

We just want to be in the movie, just for a minute

Like all the best versions, this version contains a lot of the actual lines from the book, including several parts of the narration that don’t normally end up in the movies. That is because of what I must say is the most ingenious devices used in one of these movies. It’s often said you shouldn’t try to remake a classic unless you’re going to bring something new to the table. Now one might think that bringing state of the art puppets and effects that hadn’t been done before would be enough, but the scriptwriter here didn’t think so. The really great device used is that they include Gonzo playing Charles Dickens with Rizo the Rat to act as foil. Instead of being a distraction, they really help to engage you into the story. I’m not sure how kids feel about it, but most the adults I know like the addition. I think because everything else was so wacky, they had to ground the script into the book as much as they could. It’s a risky idea, but they made it work.

It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.

The credits are shown over a really great model of Victorian London that will be used through out the production. A lot of love and care when into trying to make this movie look bigger than it is, since it was made on a fairly small scale really, and for the most part it works. After the credits, we get Gonzo and Rizo introducing us the story and giving us the gist of what’s going on and how this is going to go. There are a lot of Muppet cameos from all over the Muppet cannon and there is a pretty good integration between Muppet and humans. Not perfect of course, because there is only so much you can do with the two groups and performing on a set that has holes that lead to a six foot drop has got to play merry hell on actor’s nerves. Yeah, the stage was raised six feet so the Muppet performers could perform under the stage, creating big holes in the floor that the human actors had to try and avoid while looking like they were just walking normally.

Sooo cold.

This is a musical version, like all Muppet movies, and the first song starts almost immediately. The song is just an introduction to the character of Scrooge, nice but nothing special. Strangely, I don’t hate the songs here, which is a minor miracle in itself if the pope is counting up Paul Williams’ tally any time soon. Almost all the singers in this movie are Muppets, although Scrooge jumps in on one or two songs and in the longer version (more on that later) there is a young woman who sings. The Muppets are being done by a lot of people at the top of their game and I think there are more Muppets in this movie than there have been in any other movie. It’s the best technical work I’ve seen done by any of the previous Muppet productions.

Oh no, I forgot the safeword!

Kermit plays Bob Cratchit here, which always left me seeing shades of Mickey, but he’s not the sole clark in this version. The rats from Muppets take Manhattan are here helping out. The rats encourage Bob to ask for more coal and will encourage him to do other things later. Fred shows up, and he’s a person! I would have liked to see Fred be a Muppet, but that’s probably wishing for miscegenation. Fortunately, this is not the kind of Fred that I want to hit with a shovel, in fact I have no feelings about him at all. Check points are taken care of with a fairly swift hand. The Charitable gentlemen, played by Bunsen and Beaker come and go. Bean Bunny shows up as a begging caroler who gets beaned by a wreath.

I’m cute… but creepy

We then get the whole day conversation, and then a very nice song about Christmas Eve. I like the song, it’s a really good song. Yeah, that’s all I’ve got to say about it. The song starts with them cleaning up the office and then walking through the street of London. It also manages to end on a sad and character building moment. After the song, when everyone goes to their respective homes, we’re given a final shot of poor Bean shivering in a box on the street. I never fail to notice that bit.

DUDE! It’s working! I’m like huge man!

We get a lot of business trying to get Gonzo and Rizo into the house so they can tell the story. This will go on for a while, but it’s always amusing. While they do that the Marleys (yes two of them) show up. Jacob and Robert Marley are played by Statler and Waldorf, basically acting like themselves. They’re presented as transparent ghosts like they should be. I love that the call Scrooge for the lousiness of the “more gravy than grave” pun before they sing their song. The section is actually somewhat creepy, with the singing cashboxes floating with them and then drag the Marleys away into the darkness. Not too much for kids, but creepy enough. Besides as they say in the movie it’s okay because this is culture. I love the conceit of that that line. It’s okay to scare the living crap out of kids if you can tell them it’s a cultural thing. That is so awesome!

Oh man, now I’m tiny like a mouse.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is a floating child of a rod puppet. She was suspended in oil to give the ethereal floating effect she has in the movie. She’s more like a floating sheet than anything from the book, but I think it’s forgivable because it’s such gorgeous work. Most the past is represented as it should be. We see Scrooge as a child at school, we see Scrooge being lonely, and the room falling apart. We get Sam the Eagle plays his schoolmaster sending him off to his first job. Another song is on the soundtrack but was cut from the movie. Fan isn’t in this version at all, and it’s up to you to decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. If we agree that this is primarily a kid’s movie, I think it can be forgiven. The idea that Scrooge’s coldness to his nephew being blamed on the death of his sister might be a little complex for kids. I’m not a big fan of dumbing things down for kids, I rather take them head on and let them fight it out. However, it’s not REALLY needed here is it? This one time? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Um… I got nothing.

Fezziwig is made into Fozzywig, and see if you can guess who was cast in the part. Yeah, it’s Fozzy Bear, you get a cookie. The party scene has a lot of random Muppets walking around, and some from older shows, including Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem and even The Swedish Chef. It’s here that we meet Belle, and right after we meet, she walks out of his life. In the fullscreen version of the movie she sings a fairly nice song before she goes. It wasn’t in the theatrical version so she just walks off without ceremony in the widescreen version after telling Scrooge that he’s turned into a greedy miser to be type. Shades of the song Belle sang are in the movie, but it’s only a few notes. Also, Rizo cries.

A singing frog? I bet you could use him to sell frog’s legs.

Christmas Present is a large suit muppet and possibly the most cheerful version of that ghost. Even when forced to be cranky, he’s still cheery and playful. Christmas Present is one of those suit puppets that I seem to remember uses camera’s in the eyes. The actor’s eyes are actually about seven inches down so they put a camera in the puppet’s eye socket and then pout tiny monitors right in front of the performer’s eyes so that the puppet’s eyeline always matches properly. They started it on Fraggle Rock. The spirit sings a song that sort of explains his entire thesis about how great Christmas is. This song is delivered while they walk around the London set. Using green screen, they manage to put the Spirit into every celebration, including tiny mouse puppets. I like my Christmas Present to be half happy and half ready to slap Scrooge into the mid 1950s, but this one is so jolly and happy I give him a pass.

Seriously, you have got to try this stuff.

We go to Fred’s house first and they play a quick game where Scrooge gets insulted. Then we’re taken to the Cratchit house, and pretty much all that this entails, which includes another song. I don’t love this song, but I can deal with it. Miss Piggy is cast as Emily Cratchit and Robin is set as Tiny Tim. The Spirit then becomes old and snowy haired and vanishes in sparkles and thus comes the ghost of the future. The music changes, mist rolls in, creep factor goes to eleven. So scared are Rizo and Gonzo that they abandon us and hide out until the end. Can you believe that? They actually ditch us!

Next week he’ll be playing a Nazgul

The Christmas Future is a large robed figure, fitting the book mostly. I really like that in this future it rains instead of snows. The gentlemen talking about the dead man are played by pigs huddled under umbrellas. Old Joe is played by a spider that I think I’ve seen elsewhere but can’t place and we’ve got the full set of players for the parts. I like that they have Scrooge explicitly say that he doesn’t understand that it’s him their talking about. We then get to the Cratchit house, and learn of Tim’s death. Then we see the gravestone and the break down, which doesn’t come off as well as it might have.

Wait, hold the horror, I’ve gotta sneeze.

Then we’re given another song which more or less replaces the Scrooge transformation scene. Instead of him going to each person and having a vignette, the song does all the work in montage form. Bean Bunny gets to be the boy who gets the turkey for Scrooge. Scrooge sings his song, walks in, hugs Fred, walks out again. Instead of waiting for the next morning, Scrooge shows up at Bob Cratchit’s house and gives him the raised salary speech. We then get the last bit of narration and then another song. And for some reason, Fred and the entire Muppet cast shows up in Bob Cratchit’s house, and then crowd outside of it. It’s a nice final moment for everyone, I guess. I don’t know why Fred shows up, maybe he just wanted to sing with Muppets. Fred always bugs me anyway.

Let’s just assume I put a cocaine joke here okay?

As I said before, this is the best version of the story for kids. Some adults might have a problem here or there, but I think there is enough charm in the movie to forgive those moments. Now I’ve got two DVDs of this movie. One is the fullscreen version with some specials and a commentary. The other has both full and widescreen versions with different specials but the same commentary on the fullscreen version.

Who loves ya baby?

There are a lot of things I forgive in this version that I wouldn’t normally forgive. It’s not so much because it’s the Muppets, but rather because the things that are changed are played with such charm that I can’t help but smile. If you like A Christmas Carol, you could do a lot worse than watching this version. Believe me, I did 7 reviews last year so I can name at least two places where you could do much, much worse than this. Actually, I can name four but as two of those didn’t get reviewed I’ll spare the mud. Besides, I might need to sling it later.

December 4, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Real Simple Version

When I was a kid, the Christians would get angry every year that stores would put Christmas in all their advertisements because it was seen as a cynical attempt to cash in on the faith. Every year I’d hear about how the stores were robbing the holiday of its importance and stripping them of their faith. I heard a lot of screaming and shouting about this as a kid.

So the stores stopped using Christmas in their ads so much.

Then the Christians got all up in arms because the stores WEREN’T cynically trying to cash in on their faith. They even claimed their faith was under attack and that they were being stripped of their rights (odd claim for a majority, but there it is) and they scream and shout a lot.

Now, you’ll pardon me for saying this, but it seems that these Christians just like being angry and giving decent Christians a bad name. It seems, from an outsider’s view, like nothing will ever please them. They just want to scream and shout about things. It might be that the two groups are different factions, but I know some of these people and they are the same people in both examples. I know normal, everyday, sane Christians know the difference between an attack on faith and trying to be inclusive, so it must just be a handful of nutjobs.

It just seems to me that there is no point placating any of these people, because they’ll only find something else to be unpleasant about.

Besides, I can’t help but think that sale price is going to be more important this year than what word is used in advertisements. I can’t help but notice everyone is a little cash strapped this year, but trying desperately to act as if nothing is wrong. I think people would rush to a store that used the banner “Religion is a lie! Stop being foolish!” if they had cheaper DVD players than Wal-Mart has.

December 4, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Hard Boiled Christmas (Day Four)

Hard Boiled Christmas

A Jack Collier Mystery

By Brett N. Lashuay



Day 4: Lunch at the Mall


            You’re not actually allowed to call Somerset a mall really, because a mall is where the poor people shop. It’s called the Somerset Collection and they have people who will break your legs if you refer to it as a mall. It is a mall, in all technical and realistic ways, but a mall is some place where common people shop and this place is in TroyHowever, it’s where the people common to Troy go shopping, so I call it a mall even if the shoppers spend more on shoes than I make in a year. I always figure that it’s a safe place to meet people though, particularly if I want to do it quietly. No one would ever suspect me of actually going to a mall, nor most the people I need to meet secretly. Since no one would ever think of looking for us there, it’s the perfect place to meet.


            I was sitting at one of the tables on the third floor section which served as a food court, drinking cola from a paper cup and waiting for Noonan when I spotted my fellow traveler. When you are being followed by someone, it’s easy to tell because of the way many of them act. Look for the person who isn’t looking at anything particular and is defiantly not looking at you. This person will show up a few times during the day and will always be looking at something else.


            He was dressed in a brown corduroy suit that had come with a vest and a brown bow tie. He was looking at people as they passed by, the shops across the way from where we sat, his plate of food, but never at me. To test this I stared at him for a good long time, daring him to look up at me. Despite the fact that I was sitting and staring at him, he never even glanced in my direction. It hard to not even look at a person who is staring right at you, try it sometime and see if I’m not right. He looked familiar for some reason, and I wondered if I’d slapped him around before or something.


            I heard Noonan’s foot steps behind me and finally turned around after what might have been thirty seconds of me daring the man in the brown corduroy suit to make eye contact. I caught a motion of his head as I turned. He’d looked up at me before he was completely out of sight, bad move on his part. It was unfortunate that he would confirm my suspicions like that as it meant that he was not as adept at playing the game as I was. Either that or I really am a paranoid nut, just like the shrinks said.


            “There is a man in a brown suit looking at you.” Noonan said as he dropped a large manila envelope on the table between us, proving the shrinks wrong again.


            “Yes.” I said picking up the envelope. “I was just having a staring contest with the top of his head.”


            “Huh.” He said rolling his tongue around in his check. “Who’d be following you this early?”


            “No idea.” I said shaking my head, “You and the Fat Man are the only ones who know I’m on the job.”


            One of Noonan’s big hands landed flat across the envelope. His voice sounded concerned and a little strained. Noonan wasn’t a particularly tall man, but he was pretty big for his size. I didn’t know what his full reaction would be, but I didn’t like my chances if I had to fight him for the file.


            “Why does the Fat Man know?” He asked carefully.


            “He’s paying the bills on this one.” I said yanking the envelope out from under his fingers. “I’m working for myself, or more accurately Christmas, but he’s funding the expedition.”


            “Yeah.” He said as I undid the metal clasp that held the flap down. “But the Fat Man?”


            “He’s got the cash to pay my bills.” I shrugged and opened the envelope. “What do we know about this?”


            “These are just a few more details.” He said pointing at the pages of copied reports. “She was found in the parking lot, six hundred dollars in her wallet. We found a necklace that had been torn off caught on her coat, but it had probably just been snapped off during the attack. Nothing was taken, and we couldn’t find evidence of any rape or molestation. They just dragged her away from where ever they found her, went to town on her and left her in the parking lot.”


            “Find her purse?”


            “No.” He shook his head. “But I’m assuming she dropped it where ever she was grabbed.”


            “Anything in her system?”


            “Not anything that wouldn’t normally be there at this time of year.”


            “Ah.” I said after glancing at him for a second.


            “Yeah.” He nodded.


            “So besides being drunk as a lord and high as a kite, she wasn’t impaired in anyway?”


            “No.” He shook his head, and some little bell rang in my head.


            “What kind of lights did they try to strangle her with?” I asked, stalling until I could figure out what that bell ringing in the back of my head was.


            “String lights.” He said with a shrug. “You know, the kind that are on all the trees this time of year. White lights, I think, just normal ordinary lights.”


            “Okay.” I said coming across a picture, and that delayed my wondering about the little warning bell that had gone off a moment ago.


            I won’t describe the eight by ten color glossy photographs, which did indeed have circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one. They had been taken in a hospital room, after the doctors had said that she was stable enough for that. They were of the form of an adult woman, one with perhaps more pounds that might have been thought of as healthy. She hadn’t been like that when I’d known her. She’d ballooned quite badly in the last few years and had doubled her weight. If it was her, I’d need to see ID or fingerprints to prove it. The face was badly smashed, and then it had been cut up with some kind of knife. The final word on it was that while I knew it was her, it could have been anyone.


            I put the photographs face down and read the report quickly. Noonan had been right, they didn’t really tell me anything else besides the exact location she’d been found and other such details that, while they might have seemed important to whoever wrote them, they were useless to me. I looked at the top of the report and noted that actually they weren’t important to the person writing. Tom had written the reports, so the detail was just for the benefit of his bosses who would want everything he had.


            I put the packet of papers and eight by ten color glossy photographs with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one saying what each one was back in the envelope. I then pushed it back towards Noonan and leaned back in the chair. He slid the envelope the rest of the way towards him and sat with his hand on it. His eyes flicked over my shoulder, which I assumed meant the man in the brown suit was still there.


            “So, where do you think you’ll start?” He asked.


            “You’ve talked to Church?” I asked,


            “Yeah.” He nodded. “Last night, after we found her.”


            “And the Fat Man?”




            “So in order for me to cover anything I’ve got to go in a different direction.” I said tapping the table just to let it know who was boss. “Someplace where you’re not going to look right away. Someplace where no one would think to start.”


            “Where would that be?” He asked.


            “The beginning of course.” I said smiling at the thought. “You’re starting at the end and trying to work back to who did it. I think I’ll start at the beginning and follow the trail to where ever it leads.”


            “Won’t that take a while?” He asked.


            “Not the way I do it.” I said shaking my head and pointing to my nose. “This nose always finds the quickest route.”


            “Are you trying to be some Victorian throwback or something?” He asked while making a face.


            “You don’t like my ‘the nose knows’ shtick?”


            “No.” He said plainly.


            “Well fine.” I said with mild dejection.


            I wonder what might have happened if Noonan’s phone had rung a few minutes later. I might have stumbled around a lot longer than I had, without the crucial clue which came up because of it. Of course like everything in that case, I missed it for the longest time, but it did eventually tip me off. The point of course was that Noonan’s phone rang just at the moment when I was going to announce how busy I was and that I had to get going. His cell phone made a noise though, and I was horrified that I recognized the Crazy Frog song coming from his pocket. He held up his hand and opened the flip phone to press it to his ear.


            “Noonan.” He said professionally. “Yeah? Where? Say again. No, it’s fine. I’m going to bring Collier with me, he’s lending some consultation. No, lending, he won’t cost us anything. Yeah. Yeah, he knew her. That’s why I’m talking to him. We’ll be there in a little while.”


            He closed the phone jotted down a few things in his ubiquitous notebook, rubbed his chin and looked up at me. He then looked behind me and tilted his head a little, he then made a sweep of the mall food court.


            “My minder gone?” I asked.


            “Yeah.” He said and sounded slightly confused. “He was there when I answered the phone.”


            “Not to worry.” I said. “What am I being dragged along to?”


            “They found her car.” He told me. “In Pontiac of all places, in some liquor store parking lot.”


            “Did they?” I asked.


            “Yeah.” He nodded again. “You want to ride with me?”


            “No.” I shook my head and scratched an itch on the side of my cheek, “I’m willing to bet the man in the brown corduroy suit knows where we’re going, let’s let him know that we know too.”


This is part four of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for part five and every day this month until we’re done to see what happens next. If you get lost, one of the tags here should help you. The HBC tag will take you to the story while the Jack Tag will take you to Part One of every story we post here.


December 4, 2008 Posted by | Fiction | | Leave a comment