Who would have believed that arguably the most enduring and best loved screen adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol would be the version populated almost entirely by Muppets? Yet as unlikely as it might have seemed, 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol is widely considered not only the best adaptation of Dickens’ story and the best Muppets movie, but also one of the best Christmas movies period – thanks in no small part to a career-best performance from Michael Caine.
The Muppet Christmas Carol has been essential festive viewing for three decades – but did you know the following facts about the film?
25. It was the first Muppet movie to be made following the death of creator Jim Henson
American puppeteer Jim Henson created The Muppets way back in 1955 and spearheaded their development into major TV stars, then movie icons. However, tragedy struck in 1990 when Henson passed away aged just 53. The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first Muppet movie to be made without their creator, with his son Brian Henson inheriting the director’s chair.
24. Steve Whitmire says he received Jim Henson’s blessing to play Kermit in a dream
As well as being the creator of The Muppets, Jim Henson had also performed key character Kermit the Frog. Muppeteer Steve Whitmire was entrusted with taking over as Kermit, and he was very nervous about doing so. However, Whitmire says that before production began on The Muppet Christmas Carol, he saw Jim Henson in a dream and discussed the matter with him. In the dream, Henson reassured him that he would be OK, and on waking up, Whitmore’s nerves had disappeared completely.
23. Michael Caine took his performance very seriously
When British acting legend Michael Caine was offered the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, he accepted on one condition: that he be allowed to play the role completely straight. “I’m going to play this movie like I’m working with the Royal Shakespeare Company,” Caine was quoted as saying. “I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me.”
22. Most of what Gonzo says is directly quoted from the original Charles Dickens book
According to Brian Henson, Gonzo and Rizzo narrate Muppet Christmas Carol because he wanted to incorporate the narration and prose of the original novella. “Pretty much almost everything that Gonzo says is straight out of the book,” Henson revealed. “Probably 95% of his dialogue is Dickens prose, and maybe 5% are little asides and quips that we threw in there.”
21. It took ten puppeteers to make Kermit the Frog walk
The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of the few times we get to see Kermit the Frog walk, something that was extremely difficult to pull off for the production team. Kermit was first placed on a snow-covered rotating drum to create the illusion of a natural gait. Behind the drum was a small army of puppeteers controlling Kermit’s limbs in front of a blue screen. The puppeteers were then edited out in post-production and replaced with a row of houses.
20. The Ghost of Christmas Past puppet was filmed underwater
In order to make the Ghost of Christmas past look like it was floating, the Muppeteers took an unusual approach. They built a special waterproof puppet and shot it against a green screen whilst in a water tank, to make it look like the ghost was floating in the air. This meant they had to get the footage of this puppet as quickly as possible, as it soon began to fall apart from being constantly submerged in liquid.
19. Michael Caine had to act standing on narrow wooden planks
So that Muppets could be filmed alongside human actors, the floors in the set had to be removed and reinserted where required. For this reason, Michael Caine often had to act whilst walking across narrow wooden planks which were located between the Muppets and their puppeteers.
18. A deleted scene featuring a sad song has been brought back on Disney+
The end of The Muppet Christmas Carol sees Scrooge lead a chorus of The Love We’ve Found. This was originally a reprise of a song featured earlier in the film, When Love is Gone, which is sung by Belle (Meredith Braun) to young Scrooge. The song was cut at the insistence of Disney boss Jeffrey Katzenberg for being too sad. Brian Henson has long lamented the loss of the song, but happily it has now been re-edited into the film for an extended edition on the Disney + streaming service.
17. The shooting star was added as a tribute to Jim Henson
At the end of Kermit’s song One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas, you can see a shooting star blaze across the sky. Touchingly, this was actually added as a tribute to the late Jim Henson. Brian Henson has explained it was also a nod to The Muppet Movie, in which a star flies over Kermit. Since then, the shooting star has become somewhat of a trademark and has appeared in most subsequent Muppet movies.
16. It flopped at the box office against Aladdin and Home Alone 2
This might be hard to believe now considering what a classic The Muppet Christmas Carol is considered, but on release it drastically under-performed at the box office. The film opened in sixth place in the US, and having cost $12 million to make, it only earned $27 million. It was completely overshadowed by two other massive family movies: Disney’s Aladdin (which earned $504.1 million), and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (which earned $359 million).
15. It was the first time Brian Henson directed a film
When Brian Henson agreed to fill his father’s shoes as director of The Muppet Christmas Carol, it was the very first time he’d ever directed a movie. Even so, the younger Henson was used to working on a film set, having worked as a puppet performer on the earlier Muppet movies, plus Return to Oz, Santa Claus: The Movie, Labyrinth and Little Shop of Horrors. He had also served as second unit director on 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
14. Michael Cane’s real name appears on a shop sign
It’s fair to say that The Muppet Christmas Carol wouldn’t be half the film it is if Michael Caine hadn’t committed so fully to the role of Scrooge, so it’s only fitting that the film’s production design time paid homage to the actor in a sweet way. Watch closely in the street scenes and you might notice a shop sign that reads ‘Micklewhite’s.’ This is a nod to Caine, whose birth name is Maurice Micklewhite.
13. Brian Henson has debunked a fan theory that Fred’s wife died
Eagle-eyed viewers of The Muppet Christmas Carol might have noticed something strange in the final scene. Whilst Scrooge’s nephew Fred (Steven Mackintosh) is present, his wife Clara (Robin Weaver, now best known for TV’s The Inbetweeners) is not. This has resulted in speculation among overzealous fans that Clara must have either left Fred or died before Christmas Day. However, Brian Henson has revealed there is a far more innocent explanation: Weaver was simply unavailable for filming that day.
12. Miss Piggy was almost the Ghost of Christmas Present
Early in development on The Muppet Christmas Carol, the idea was to have principal Muppets in all the leading roles, including those of the ghosts. Initially, they considered having Miss Piggy portray The Ghost of Christmas Present. In the end, of course, they chose to make Piggy Emily Cratchit opposite Kermit as Bob, and created all-new puppets to play the three ghosts.
11. Sir Michael Caine couldn’t stop laughing during the rat scene
Caine was determined to perform the role of Muppet Christmas Carol’s Ebenezer Scrooge in a serious manner, but let’s face it, no one can be serious all the time. In a 2016 interview with GQ magazine , Caine recalled how he struggled whilst filming the scene with the disobedient rats due to the fact that he simply couldn’t stop laughing at their hilarious antics. Caine recounted watching the film again, this time with his grandchildren, and still found the scene amusing.
10. Bean Bunny was ‘bullied’ on the set
First introduced in 1986 TV special The Tale of the Bunny Picnic, Bean Bunny appears in The Muppet Christmas Carol as the young street urchin Scrooge asks to go buy a turkey. As cute as he might be, Bean Bunny was apparently the subject of relentless bullying on the set. “Inside the Muppet Company, we love to hate Bean Bunny,” explained Brian Henson. Apparently, picking on the character was an inside joke, and the crew just would not let it go.
9. It’s considered one of the most depressing adaptations of A Christmas Carol
Whilst The Muppet Christmas Carol might be aimed towards younger audiences, many consider it one of the darkest adaptations of the story. On top of Michael Caine playing it completely straight as Scrooge, the film does not shy away from showing Tiny Tim being seriously ill. Many consider the song Bless Us One and All depressing, whilst others are terrified by the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. It seems even The Muppets were concerned, with Rizzo asking Gonzo during the movie if the film is suitable for children.
8. George Carlin was considered for the role of Scrooge
Michael Caine wasn’t the only actor in consideration for the role of Scrooge. George Carlin, the esteemed stand-up comedian then best known as Rufus in the Bill & Ted movies, was also a possibility, but after shooting several screen tests it was decided he was not the best fit for the role. The casting team then approached English actors David Hemmings, Ron Moody and David Warner before at last Caine signed on.
7. Caine modelled his performance on Wall Street bankers
On top of being adamant about approaching the character of Scrooge as seriously as he would alongside an all-human cast, Michael Caine also had some serious real life targets in his take on the character. The actor once said that he modelled his Scrooge on “Wall Street cheats and embezzlers, I thought they represented a very good picture of meanness and greed.”
6. Disney kept pressuring Brian Henson to make it funnier, but he refused
Many people, top brass at Disney included, expected The Muppet Christmas Carol to be a lot more tongue-in-cheek, but the filmmakers felt this would be a disservice to the material. Brian Henson reflects, “Muppet movies were an old-fashioned comedy formula of two jokes a page, but this allowed me to actually create a world that was darker… [and] That scared Disney.” All throughout production, Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg gave Henson the same note: “‘Could be a lot funnier. I didn’t hear a lot of laugh-out-loud moments in the movie,’ and I said, ‘Well, it’s not really that kind of comedy.'”
5. It was originally intended to be a TV movie
When The Muppet Christmas Carol went into development in late 1990, there hadn’t been a theatrically released Muppet movie in six years (the last being 1984’s The Muppets Take Manhattan). Jim Henson’s former talent agent Bill Haber originally pitched the idea, and had even sold it to TV network ABC before Brian Henson agreed to direct. However, Disney executives were so impressed with the pitch they bought the rights from ABC to make it a full-blown theatrical release.
4. It’s dedicated to both Jim Henson and another Muppet performer who died before its release
The Muppet Christmas Carol opens with a black card reading the dedication, ‘in loving memory of Jim Henson and Richard Hunt.’ Jim Henson of course needs no introduction, but Richard Hunt may not be so familiar a name. Hunt was another member of the Muppets team, who performed characters including Statler, Scooter and Beaker. He died of an AIDS-related illness in January 1992, aged just 40.
3. Rowlf was deliberately de-emphasised because of his closeness to Jim Henson
Although Kermit the Frog tends to be the Muppet most closely associated with the late Jim Henson, for many of those who knew the Muppets creator, the character they considered closest to Henson himself was Rowlf, the piano-playing dog. For this reason, the Muppeteers considered not recasting Rowlf and leaving him silent, which is why he only briefly appears and has no dialogue in The Muppet Christmas Carol. Eventually, Bill Barretta took over as Rowlf’s voice, starting with TV’s Muppets Tonight.
2. Frank Oz did some filthy ad-libs on set as Fozziwig
Fozzie Bear appears only briefly in The Muppet Christmas Carol as Scrooge’s old boss Fozziwig. Young Scrooge actor Raymond Coulthard was taken aback by what he heard Fozzy say on set, remarking, “I think I’m probably one of the only people on the planet that’s heard Fozzie Bear talking dirty.” When Scrooge meets his future bride Belle, Brian Henson told Frank Oz it didn’t matter what he said as they weren’t going to use the sound. Oz, as Fozzie, proceeded “to tell me exactly what I could do to his niece, asking us not to make a mess on the furniture because it’s new. It went on and on and we were just standing there trying to keep a straight face.” Belle actress Meredith Braun also found it a strange experience: “flirting with Fozzie was very odd. Having grown up with Fozzie and then suddenly you’re flirting off-camera.”
1. Brian Henson was “terrified” of directing the film, and tried to get out of it
When assigned the job of directing the first Muppet movie after the death of his father, Brian Henson naturally felt under a great deal of pressure. The director admits, “I tried to get other people to direct it. I was uncomfortable and terrified, frankly.” Eventually he accepted the role under the tutelage of Jim Henson’s right hand man, Frank Oz. “He said, ‘Brian, you can do this. I’ll come. I’ll be with you. I’ll be there the whole time that you’re shooting,’ which was fantastic.”