05. The Muppet Christmas Carol with Ella Kemp Transcript

[90 Mins or Less Film Fest Christmas Music]

SAM:  0:20 Merry Christmas! I'm Sam Clements and welcome to the 90 Minutes or Less Film Fest. This is a podcast that celebrates films with a 90 minute or less running time and is entirely curated by guests on this podcast. Today, we are joined by film critic Ella Kemp, host of the Cinematters podcast and writer for a number of publications including Little White Lies and The Independent. Hello Ella.

ELLA:  0:47 Hello, Sam. Thank you for having me.

SAM:  0:49 Welcome to the pod grotto for our festive edition of the podcast.

ELLA:  0:53 It's so wonderful to be here in this Christmas period.

SAM:  0:55 We've got reindeer, there's snow outside, we've got a fire on, it's so festive.

ELLA:  1:01 It's so comfortable. I feel so at home .

SAM:  1:04 Thoughts on Christmas?

ELLA:  1:05 I love it. I mean, as I said before we started recording I have dressed in a festive manner. I hope, I hope sufficiently festive. It's brilliant. I think it should always last three weeks, no longer than five weeks. But yeah, but a confident three weeks. I'm happy to enjoy it.

SAM:  1:24 So normally, as I mentioned in the intro, our guests choose our films. That's the unique selling point of this podcast. Today however, because it's Christmas that's gone out the window and we're going to talk about a bona fide Christmas classic, The Muppet Christmas Carol, one of my favourite films, which I've watched, probably like genuinely the most times without realising it, because when you're a kid, it's just on right. So I thought maybe we should celebrate the fact that one of the greatest Christmas films is only 85 minutes long, and have a good own natter about The Muppet Christmas Carol.

ELLA:  1:55 It's a Christmas miracle. I can't quite believe it!

SAM:  1:58 Can you remember the first time you saw this film?

ELLA:  2:01 I honestly can't. It's not a film that I have watched a lot of times. I don't really rewatch that many films. And out of the Christmas films that I rewatch I have to admit it's not one of the ones I watched the most. I kind of before rewatching it for this podcast, I had this distant memory of having seen it and of having enjoyed it. I knew I loved it. But it's always one that I'd see would be on TV every Christmas and I wouldn't necessarily turn to it because it was always on so it kind of almost felt safe to watch. I thought oh, that's fine, that's there, let's see what's new this year or something. But you know, it's still a staple. It's still always good to come back to.

SAM:  2:45 I think it's not that old, but it feels like it's sort of up there with It's a Wonderful Life in terms of like the Christmas cycle of films that sort of come out again and again and again. I should say we ran a Twitter poll, which is the most trusted source of finding any sort of information, ahead of this episode and the 90 Minute or Less Twitter fans voted for this one. It was like 70% Muppet Christmas Carol. Sadly the Vince Vaughn vehicle Four Christmases only had one vote out of about 300 or so votes, which was, was a great shame and a lot of shade on Vince.

ELLA:  3:16 Maybe next year, maybe Christmas 2019 Vince Vaughn will have it.

SAM:  3:21 I hope so. Maybe he'll get the following that The Muppet Christmas Carol has. From that Twitter poll people were like The Muppet Christmas Carol all the way, I watch this, I'm like I'm watching it right now, it's the beginning of December, it’s time to dust off the DVD. Like there is a like a big fan base for this movie. We went to a singalong at the Prince Charles cinema in London.

ELLA:  3:40 Wow!

SAM:  3:40 And it was busy. It was a Wednesday night. People were dressed up as Muppets.

ELLA:  3:44 Oh my god!

SAM:  3:45 People had Christmas t-shirts on. People had Muppet Christmas t-shirts on, people were booing when Michael Caine came on screen who plays Scrooge. And it was it was like that that was the fan base. Like you sort of see these people who knew all the words they could sing along. I was sort of like mumbling a little bit.

ELLA:  4:00 That's so interesting. And yeah, it's weird that you've got this side. It's obviously it's such a classic Christmas film and everyone knows the story, but then you've got the Muppets fan base on top of that, which just adds a whole other layer that people can love this film for so many different reasons. And then it just all comes together and it's just such a huge phenomenon.

SAM:  4:19 And all of the Charles Dickens fans. Hardcore Charles Dickens fans.

ELLA:  4:23 They will never die!

[90 Mins or Less Film Fest Jingle]

SAM:  4:32 So let's talk about this movie. Let's talk about The Muppet Christmas Carol. I'm going to read the blurb from the back of the box because I feel like that's probably the best way to summarize the plot. 'Tis the season for love laughter and one of the most cherished stories of all time. Join Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and all the hilarious Muppets in this merry magical version of Charles Dickens’ classic tale. Academy Award winner Michael Caine (Best Supporting Actor, The Cider House Rules, Hannah and Her Sisters) gives a performance that's anything but bah humbug as greedy penny-pinching Ebenezer Scrooge. One fateful Christmas Eve Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Together with kind humble Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog) and his family, the spirits open Scrooge's eyes and his heart to the true meaning of Christmas. How do you rate that copy?

ELLA:  5:23 How do I rate that copy? It's very interesting. It's I think it tries to put in a lot of buzz words. A lot of things to grab your attention a lot of reasons to watch this film. I don't know if it's entirely factually correct. When they say that Michael Caine is anything but bah humbug. No! That’s his whole character! What are they talking about? And that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'd probably watch the film based on that. But I don't know if that was the film that I watched.

SAM:  5:54 I think there's about one sentence of plot and just a lot of like, yeah, buzz words but also I love I mentioned The Cider House Rules, and Hannah and Her Sisters, which are not sort of like what Muppets fans would necessarily look for.

ELLA:  6:06 Another fan base to bring into this film! The Caine fan base.

SAM:  6:11 Huge, all of The Dark Knight fans. The King of Thieves crowd.

ELLA:  6:18 They'll be flocking to the Prince Charles I'm sure.

SAM:  6:20 So when you, when you did your rewatch in preparation for this, what was your sort of big takeaway from  that experience?

ELLA:  6:26 I think I'd forgotten who plays which character. By that, I mean, kind of what the personality traits were as much, because when I was, I honestly can't remember when it was that I'd seen it before. And when I was rereading the synopsis, when it was saying Michael Caine, Kermit the Frog and everything. And then, I mean, Bob Cratchit he's not, he's not actually the main focus of this film. And so I think, my impression before rewatching it was that the film is selling itself as a Muppet Christmas Carol told by Kermit the Frog, as you expect with a lot of Muppets films. But that's not it. He's not the narrator. And obviously, his character, I think is is brilliant and quite moving. But there, there is a very different balance against other Muppet stories, I think

SAM:  7:16 It's totally unique, I think within the Muppet canon, like, which is a Canon that some people were very invested in, and people will come to this film as Kermit fans. You have to wait like 20 or so minutes, it feels like until you see a glimpse of him, and then he doesn't really come into it properly until later on, because The Great Gonzo is playing Charles Dickens, who's the narrator, and I sort of love how this film plays with like the layers of storytelling. So we have to believe that there's Charles Dickens played by Gonzo, as credited at the beginning of the film, all the Muppets characters they're playing are sort of credited, and he's addressing us directly. And he's in this world, but then also, that he's a Muppet in a film playing Charles Dickens. And then there's Scrooge played by Michael Caine, who doesn't know that Charles Dickens exists and carries out all of his actions in the background. And then there's like the dream sequences, the ghost visions, that Charles Dickens, played by Gonzo is sort of there throughout and he can sort of be in the visions, he can sort of transcend this sort of reality. It's very confusing. I imagine writing this film would have been a total nightmare.

ELLA:  8:19 So astonishing the number of layers that there are to it, and yet, I'm rather confused now hearing it out loud. But I remember while watching it, it just you do just kind of go along with it. And I and I very easily found myself slipping into whichever reality I was being told to follow. And, yeah, there's a strange self awareness in the narration where they know that they're talking to Muppets fans in the audience. But they're not denying this story that they are borrowing, and not necessarily reinventing but just kind of, you know, putting another jacket on the story instead.

SAM:  8:59 That's a way better way to describe it.

ELLA:  9:00 You've got so many different franchises who have retold this story, that the one that I kind of have to admit I rewatch more often is Mickey's Christmas Carol, which is another animated version that I love a lot. I have to admit, I do love all of Mickey's various festive films. The one I recommend the most is Mickey's Once Upon A Christmas but that's besides the point. Mickey's Christmas Carol, I think there's not that same sense of humour or self awareness that The Muppet Christmas Carol has, it's much more about, yeah, about Disney, taking ownership and putting their own spin on the story and just trusting that that's what their audience wants. Whereas here with the Muppets, I think it's much more open, and you can focus on whichever bits you remember and love the most.

SAM:  9:51 I think  they are taking it as a given you probably know the Christmas Carol story. And they can sort of play with it enough and make it funny with the Muppets twist on it. Also, I think the Christmas Carol story can be quite short, I'm sure that maybe the Mickey Disney film is probably like a shorter film. Which is great on this podcast. But I think in this film, if you just if they just told the Christmas Carol, as it is written it probably like 40 minutes and they've, this film is only 85 minutes, they've added like these extra minutes of just them goofing around, because the story allows that. So it's kind of it's a really smart idea to do it this way. And it does feel like really bold and postmodern and things which maybe people don't associate with what is traditionally seen as a kids film.

ELLA:  10:31 Yeah. And it does seem much longer than 85 minutes. I mean that in a very positive sense. But yeah, going into it, I thought, Oh, it's fine, this is just 85 minutes, so it'll fly by. And I had a great time but it didn't fly by because it is quite dense. And they add so much more into it with, you know, the gags which punctuate the film very well. But then, obviously, the story has its own chapters. And all of the songs. So many songs!

SAM:  11:04 I think it's a real skill to make a short, shorter film that sort of makes you walk away feeling like you've been through a journey. And I think The Muppets Christmas Carol does that very well. Gonzo, The Great Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat are playing Rizzo the Rat are our sort of narrators and they're sort of commenting on that. How did you how did you find them as you know, sort of directly addressing the camera and and guiding the audience through this film?

ELLA:  11:26 I think at first, I wasn't too sure about it. I was a bit on the fence because I thought, can I trust you with this story? And are you going to deliver. But then I think because they had, they were very, they're very aware, and very confident storytellers. And they're very funny so I think you can't help but trust them after a while because they have won you over. And they make you feel more comfortable. Because they make you laugh. And you know, if someone's made you laugh, then they're halfway there. Right.

SAM:  12:02 And they start the film in quite, you're going into this thinking it's the Muppets they're funny, I like them. But there's the film starts with Gonzo reading direct lines from Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. Like thinking of that pitching meeting, and it's going to start with The Great Gonzo just reading it straight. And introducing the character of Ebenezer Scrooge played by Michael Caine who I think is the star of the film, more so than say Kermit, who, you're right, isn't in it as much as I thought he might be. How do you think Michael Caine is in this film? And and what are your opinions on Michael Caine?

ELLA:  12:34 I think he's really brilliant in this film. He's someone that I've only come to see him in roles in recent years. I haven't actually revisited a lot of his earlier work. And I know that I should, and I will. But so in this film, I think he's quite different to the way that I've seen him before. In that in other roles, I think, how can I put this, he tends to play characters that can very easily be impersonated. Whereas I find that his performance in this film, Ebenezer Scrooge is a character that we know well, but I can't see anyone trying to do an impression of Michael Caine's Ebenezer Scrooge. In a way this very big character seems to be a bit more of a subtle performance than other performances that I've seen Michael Caine do because I think the marker for me is when I see Michael Caine in the film and stop calling him Michael Caine and call him by his character's name. So in this one, I'd be just as happy you know, referring to Scrooge whereas in The Dark Knight Trilogy, I'll always call him Michael Caine.

SAM:  13:37 They just wheeled in Michael Caine, didn't even put him in costume, just what he's wearing.

ELLA:  13:42 Is he playing a character?

SAM:  13:44 So Michael Caine when he took this role apparently said to director Brian Henson, son of Jim Henson, who founded the Muppet Company, "I'm going to play this movie like I'm working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety, I am going to play Scrooge as if it is utterly a dramatic role and there are no puppets around me".

ELLA:  14:03 That's brilliant!

SAM:  14:04 Brian Henson said bang on.

ELLA:  14:08 Oh, that's so wonderful to hear. That's kind of what I was hoping he was thinking. And because I think if he's very deliberately playing it that serious then it works. But I think if he was trying to be funny, and trying to be pantomimic, then that didn't work. That didn't come through. He's very serious. But I think if he was a much louder character, I would consider this film to be more trivial than it is.

FILM CLIP from The Muppet Christmas Carol 14:35
Ebenezer Scrooge: Christmas is a very busy time for us Mr. Cratchit. People preparing feasts, giving parties, spending the mortgage money on frivolities. One might say that December is the foreclosure season, harvest time for the money lenders.

SAM:  14:52 I think all of the leads like Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy play their characters quite seriously as well.

ELLA:  14:57 Absolutely.

SAM:  14:58 They have a you know, a very ill son in this film and they're sort of living on the poverty line. And they play that straight, which is again, unusual, I think, for Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy to be playing their roles like that. And I think all of the sort of buffoonery is the supporting characters, the background characters and Gonzo and Rizzo, and I think that's enough. It's sort of nice that the main plot is sort of dealt with as if you know, you're in it's like, I think it's like the Muppets are putting on a school play. And the Muppets with the key characters don't sort of break their roles. But the narrator and all of the other guys and sort of be fun around them.

ELLA:  15:31 Yeah, that's such a nice way of putting it. And, yeah, I think that that balance is so important, because otherwise, it would just become one big joke. And it's not that much of a funny story. But then, if you want to make a Christmas film, there's got to be something warm and enjoyable and light and something that's going to lift your spirits a bit. So you've got that sense of humour, that then it is the, the emotional rounding of the kind of main cast and by main, I think will mean, you know, Kermit, Miss Piggy and Ebenezer Scrooge. And yeah, I think it's done really, really skillfully.

SAM:  16:13 I feel something like a sort of a trait in all of the Muppets films, no one sort of acknowledges that they're talking to a weird green alien or a frog or a pig with blond hair or anything, it's like, they're just talking to them as if they are people. So people interact with Muppets and they don't, they just don't acknowledge that sort of difference. And I think it's nice that Michael Caine is doing that in this film as well. In his even though in the terms of scale, his office is run by rats, who were the sort of clerks and and a frog, that he just sort of comes in and talks to them as if you know, he's running this company or whatever. And then they've got to work harder and work harder and work harder and I do like that. You never see him sort of smile or sort of break or anything as well, like he either sort of did all of his corpsing way before they got on set, or he's just so good at being in the character, or he hates Muppets. Maybe Michael Caine does not find them funny.

ELLA:  17:03 But that's fantastic, because it helps the character so much more, I think to have Ebenezer Scrooge as obviously this man who you know, doesn't love many things. And I think if anyone was running an office full of Muppets, then you would get angry the way he does, but it's a very serious kind of anger. He is not, I don't think he seems ridiculous. And the rats don't seem ridiculous, either. It's all a very serious disagreement and everyone's at the end of their tether at Christmas time. So very realistic, frankly.

SAM:  17:40 I just wanted the rats to get that extra lump of coal they needed.

ELLA:  17:42 I know, they just needed one more.

SAM:  17:45 But I do like that the other human characters sort of treat Scrooge a bit like a joke. So his employees terrified of him, but you see the character of his nephew. And you know, he's sort of having a bit of a joke with Scrooge. It's kind of nice. I do have to say the other human actors in this film are nowhere near as good as Michael Caine!

ELLA:  18:01 Yeah, I mean, they're the ones who seem a bit more like puppets.

SAM:  18:04 Yeah, I think Kermit out acts most of the human characters. That's kind of a weakness I do think because Michael Caine is so good. I do wish they cast other really good human actors.

ELLA:  18:14 I wonder if they'd cast other human actors that were very good, maybe we wouldn't be as impressed by the Muppets or maybe the dynamic might shift a bit more.

SAM:  18:25 Do you think Kermit had a, was he interfering with the casting? I don't want anyone who's better than me!

ELLA:  18:29 Yeah, he definitely had an undercover producing credit somewhere.

SAM:  18:33 That's classic Kermit.

SAM:   18:34 I guess the meat of the story really is the visits from the ghosts and the film gets very like dark and quite serious, after we've had lots of like, really, you know, like happy fun songs. We have the vision of his, his sort of ex-partners in chains played by Statler and Waldorf Marley and Marley, and like that's terrifying. There's a really good like ghostly sort of camera effect on them. They've got these like transparent chains wrapping Michael Caine up, they're talking about how they're being tortured in hell. Well, singing about it. And then it sort of dawned on me when I was in the Prince Charles at the sing along and people were singing along to this like, I'm watching a U rated kids movie. This is bleak and depressing. Like this is really horrible.

ELLA:  19:16 Yeah, and I think and the whole introduction and the exposition when you've got all the songs. For a moment you do kind of forget that it is then going to dive into the three stories and the three ghosts  because there was such a great community and ensemble vibe to the whole thing that I thought, oh, maybe it is just Scrooge against the world and then they won't necessarily follow the same structure. But they do. Yeah, they set it up very well, so that it comes, that shift in tone comes as quite a shock, I think.

SAM:   19:45 I think they spend just enough time in reality, like showing Scrooge being mean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker come in playing people working for a charity trying to raise money. He won't give them any money. His nephew comes in and he's awful to his nephew, he's awful to a little rabbit who just wants a little bit of money, he won't do that, he sings him a song, he doesn't like that. And it got to a point when I was rewatching it like when do the visions happened, because it feels like we’re spending quite a lot of time in reality. And either, like the drama is so good you're just sort of like rapt, or actually the visions aren't that much of the runtime, because people know they're coming and they want to sort of establish how mean this guy is. And I think originally the ghosts were going to be the Muppet classic characters, like Kermit, Gonzo, and Piggy, were going to be the ghosts.

ELLA:  20:31 That would make sense.

SAM:   20:32 But I sort of liked the direction they've gone. They've introduced new Muppet characters to play the ghosts. And they're all pretty, like weird or scary, even the big fun friendly guy is quite scary. So the first one is like a child, but with a Muppets face, who sort of transparent, the ghost of Christmas Past?

ELLA:  20:50 It's really haunting. This is really yeah, it's quite disturbing. And I saw yesterday someone I think logged it on letterboxd or something. Someone saw it again and said, they said they really enjoyed it. They said, Oh, but I'd completely forgotten about that 900 year old child. Yeah, me too! It's really something else isn't it!

SAM:   21:11 Again, would love to be in the pitch meeting, 'and the first ghost is going to be a Muppet who's a 900 year old child'.

ELLA:  21:16 I'd like to be in the voice booth with the person recording that

SAM:   21:19 This is when Michael Caine's acting like jumps up a level because before he's very much 'humbug' and just being mean but in this he starts to show weakness, and he's so scared, like Marley and Marley shook him. And he sort of changes almost bit too quickly I think, like, he's not so skeptical when the ghost's start coming. Which sometimes he's played that way, it takes until the third ghost for him to really get it. But in this even with the first spirit and they're showing him you know, him being a boy at school and Sam The Eagle plays his teacher, which is delightful.

ELLA:  21:50 Michael Caine's performance really does shift from that first bit of the film, because you can see that he's building his own version of Scrooge. And yeah, he's got to deliver all the same tropes that we know of that character. And then he has to shift to stop performing so much and just reacting a lot more. And then you can see that he's kind of, I guess, vacating the stage a bit more to allow the Muppets to, you know, come in and do their own Christmas Carol as well. Yeah, there's a really interesting dynamic between both parts of the film.

SAM:   22:25 It legitimizes the film as a piece of drama, there's an amazing dramatic performance in the middle of this topped by Caine. But I do think the Muppets do give quite serious performances as well.

ELLA:  22:34 Tiny Tim, goodness me.

SAM:   22:37 We should get on to that. So the middle ghost is this big, huge, like man-in-a-suit sort of Muppet. And he starts out as a big giant and he sort of shrinks down and he's very forgetful. And he's sort of like the fun one. He has a great song to introduce him. But he shows the sort of most tragic story really, like how Scrooge is perceived by his peers and his family. And then and then little Tiny Tim and Kermit the Frog family with Miss Piggy and his children. Frogs and pigs.

ELLA:  23:05 Two Miss Piggy juniors.

SAM:   23:07 Yeah. It's really tragic. And it's very sad, but they are quite fun still, like little mannerisms like picking out some of Piggy's famous catchphrases and giving them to her children as well. Like when Kermit comes in and like daddy and throw him against the wall. I feel sorry for Kermit's elder son, not Tiny Tim, the one whose name no one can remember.

ELLA:  23:28 Oh, yeah, he doesn't do much, what does he do?

SAM:   23:28 He's just like a small Kermit, who has no good lines. He's just there.

ELLA:  23:32 You've got to remember that this film has three Kermit's already. So three is a crowd and he was never, you know, he was never going to be as heartbreaking as Tiny Tim.

SAM:   23:47 No, I think Tiny Tim's introduction is amazing. And even then, like when Scrooge sees the family, he's like, oh, okay, he starts to get it just seeing the family in the present before any sort of visions of what might come to them. But Tiny Tim's introduction also shows you Kermit's legs, which is disturbing. You should never see a Muppet’s legs.

ELLA:  24:08 I wasn't expecting that and that's not what you should see at Christmas

SAM:   24:11 It's just gross. Ban this sick filth.  That is a trope of the Muppets films, they usually do one FX shot where they're like, 'look, we have a budget', we can do a Muppet's leg. And in this one, it's Kermit. You can sort of see like the stage he's on a sort of like a wheel almost and it's just rotating. And there's a puppeteer just like going up and down up and down with Kermit's legs, but it sort of works and their entrance is beautiful. They're singing Tiny Tim, he’s sat on his shoulder, he's got a hunchback and a crutch and already, you know, the heart starts to melt.

FILM CLIP from The Muppet Christmas Carol  24:43
Tiny TIm and Kermit [singing]: ‘Tis the season to be jolly and joyous, fa la la, with a burst of pleasure we feel it arrive, fa la la. It's the season when the saints can employ us, fa la la, to spread the news about peace and to keep them alive.

ELLA:  25:02 Is Tiny Tim's colouring slightly different as well?

SAM:   25:05 He's kind of grey?

ELLA:  25:06 Yeah.

SAM:   25:06 That's supposed to be him being like a little bit sick. Because Kermit is such a vibrant green.

ELLA:  25:13 It's very upsetting, but I think it's very smart. And again, when we were rewatching it, I'd forgotten that that was the way that they developed Tiny Tim as this character, and it's definitely my favourite and most upsetting bit

SAM:   25:28 Maybe it's unusual, or maybe I'm just misremembering the other Muppet endeavors, but you don't really see Muppets doing serious stuff. And this is like Kermit with a terminally ill son.

ELLA:  25:39 Yeah, I mean, that's not what you go to them for, I don't think.

SAM:   25:42 No, no, not what you think of. They don't do that in The Muppets arena show.

ELLA:  25:47 And you know, not at Christmas, not at any time of the year.

SAM:   25:50 The film is so economical. You know, obviously a beautiful 85 minute runtime. But that one dinner table scene, so Kermit comes home, he's just been to church with Tiny Tim, they've sung carols together and having dinner and they start to slag off Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge and Miss Piggy does not like that man! But Tiny Tim's like no, thank you for this dinner. And he's just sort of putting that aside and it's like, you're the hero, Tiny Tim. Well done Muppets.

ELLA:  26:17 Tiny Tim knows the true meaning of Christmas. And he knows about karma as well.

FILM CLIP from The Muppet Christmas Carol  26:24
Emily Cratchit: Oh Mr. Scrooge you'll be very merry and happy this day, I have no doubt.
Belinda and Betina Cratchit: No doubt!
Bob Cratchit: Cheers.
Tiny Tim: God bless us, everyone.

SAM:   26:36 And then we see the final ghost of Christmas yet to come. And it's the most terrifying Muppet anyone has ever dreamed of. Basically a grim reaper Muppet with really long arms and a big finger who doesn't say a word.

ELLA:  26:54 It's really weird. And I think at first when you see this ghost from a distance, I thought, okay, is this going to reveal some kind of Muppet who is just going to take the hood off and then be someone else? Because I had, I had that meme in mind where you see the two versions of Kermit, and he's wearing the hood. And I thought, Oh, this is going to be the ghost, the third ghost. No, absolutely not. It just stays on the most terrifying shape you've ever seen. It's not a human. It's not a Muppet. I don't know what it is.

SAM:   27:28 But in the original version they dreamed of when the Muppets would play the characters they wanted Gonzo to be that ghost and his nose would be sticking out of the hood.

ELLA:  27:36 Smart.

SAM:   27:37 They got rid of him.

ELLA:  27:38 Well that's smart but it maybe would have made this more of a pantomime. And it would have really changed the tone of it I think.

SAM:   27:47 I remember when I watched this, we used to rent this video when I was younger. And I remember when I was quite young actually being really scared of this ghost and not wanting to watch the film anymore.

ELLA:  27:55 Understandable yeah.

SAM:   27:56 And then I sort of just got on with life and whatever. But rewatching it this time, I was like, I can see why I was scared. Because they've added everything that makes something scary they've put into this, this ghost, the long arms are such a clever idea because the whole ghost is like directing Michael Caine and pointing and stuff. So like really exaggerating that and they sort of let him sort of like reach over Michael Caine and open up a door to some sort of harrowing future vision. One of the first things we see is a weird spider Muppet buying the future deceased Scrooge's possessions from people who've robbed his house.  Like, we're in a Muppets film!

ELLA:  28:34 Yeah, there's so many reasons to become traumatized by this film and never revisit it again. So I think there's a lot of magic in it that has made it impossible to not revisit it every time.

SAM:   28:48 Disney films do this quite a lot. They take the audience to sort of an emotional peak where, you know, you cry, you laugh, you cry, it changes your life. And I think this Muppets film is trying to do that as well. It's trying to have a big impact on the audience. So it's not Christmas fluff. This is a serious moral tale, and we're all going to learn something, but we're going to have a good time doing it with some nice songs.

ELLA:  29:07 And it could only be at Christmas.

SAM:   29:08 Only at Christmas. Well done  Brian Hansen. That was a good, good choice.

ELLA:  29:12 Very good job. Enjoyable and terrifying and memorable.

SAM:   29:16 I think Brian Hensen as a filmmaker has got a dark streak, because he recently did the film The Happytime Murders, which did not get the best reception. But that is basically a dark, gritty, supposedly Muppet-esque sort of detective movie. And I think he's working in this film in the confines of the Disney Muppets picture and I think he's probably made as dark as he possibly can.

ELLA:  29:35 That makes a lot of sense. I haven't seen The Happytime Murders. But I mean...

SAM:   29:40 It just came and went.

ELLA:  29:41 Yeah, but in a very, in a very dark and not very enjoyable way. People aren't saying it's a funny film.

SAM:   29:49 It's odd, when the film came out I was like, that's from, I saw the bad reviews and the terrible box office like, this is from the director of The Muppet Christmas Carol, one of the greatest films ever made. What happened Brian?

ELLA:  29:57 How far we've come.

FILM CLIP from The Muppet Christmas Carol  30:00
Ebenezer Scrooge: Am I in the presence of the ghost of Christmas yet to come? Spirit, I fear you more than any spectre I have yet met.
Rizzo: This is too scary. I don't think I want to see any more.
Gonzo/Charles Dickens: When you're right, you're right. You're on your own folks. We'll meet you at the finale.

SAM:   30:24 I don't know how long that final section is but I think it's probably one of the shortest sort of ghostly visions and I think that's fine. Because it's so dark in a fun family movie. It needs to be brief, and it needs it's impact. We see the Kermit family with no Tiny Tim. They're all sad. We see how people refer to Scrooge, he doesn't quite cotton on he's a bit slow at this point. Someone's like selling his old curtains and he's like, I've got those, he doesn't get it. And then finally the long arm spooky Grim Reaper ghost shows him his grave. It's sort of the denouement of all that stuff. And again, like by this point, Caine is playing it really like he is in the Royal Shakespeare Company. I just think like he should have got an Oscar for this film. This film got nominated for zero Oscars.

ELLA:  31:12 My god. But wouldn't it be a nice world that we live in where everyone who deserves to get nominated for an Oscar does.

SAM:   31:18 This is true. This is very, very true. Again, the story is basically over then, Caine learns his lesson, but the film spends just enough time showing Caine's Ebenezer Scrooge being completely transformed. Being the happiest man alive, again, like in 85 minutes the arc he goes on is incredible. And the range of performances Caine has to give in this film from sort of pantomime villain to absolutely terrified to the smiliest man in the world is so much fun to watch.

ELLA:  31:46 Yeah, you're right. You find yourself grinning, you might shed a tear and you just can't help yourself because it's just done so well.

SAM:   31:53 It's really fun watching a transformed Michael Caine knocking on the Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy families door and sort of then put on the character of grumpy Scrooge saying 'it's Christmas Day, why aren't you in work?', and then seeing Miss Piggy really go for it.

ELLA:  32:07 That is her shining moment.

SAM:   32:10 Again, she's one of the most famous Muppets and she's barely on screen. But she has a big moment.

ELLA:  32:14 She uses her time very well.

SAM:   32:17 What I quite like about this film is that it is so economical with its runtime. There are loose plot threads, in this we've seen the Kermit the Frog family with the deceased Tiny Tim, at this point, and we don't they don't really sort explain what happens there. But then it cuts back to the narrators, Gonzo and Rizzo. And they're like, and that is the end of the story. But then they also mentioned the fact that Tiny Tim who did not die, it's there. And it's just sort of like they can just wrap up all the loose ends through the narration.

ELLA:  32:41 That's what we need to know, he didn't die, doesn't matter in what other alternate reality what bad thing might have happened because it didn't.

SAM:   32:48 And then they can just sing a lovely song. And it's, it's delightful. So yeah, so I it was a really good rewatch for me. And I think I might just watch this film every year from now on, it's become even more of a Christmas classic.

[90 Mins or Less Film Fest Christmas Jingle]

SAM:   33:08 So this film is part of the 90 Minutes or Less Film Festival. What we like to do at the 90 Minutes or Less Film Festival is make sure audiences get value for money. And maybe you know, like, throw in a few extras. It could be an immersive screen or you know, some added value. How would you event-ize The Muppet Christmas Carol?

ELLA:  33:26 OK, so The Muppet Christmas Carol could only play within a very specific three weeks of the year over Christmas, as we said. So you'd know that you were coming to something that you couldn't do in any other place or any other time. So it would have to be in London as well. I'm sorry. But you'd know advance which three weeks it is so you could you know, make travel plans and accommodation accordingly. So you'd come down to London to see this film. I mean, dress up would be encouraged but I think there would be a number of different themes so people could really feel comfortable and get creative with the idea. So you could go Dickensian, or you could go Muppets themed, or just Christmas. I would recommend wrapping up warm because obviously the screening would be 4D, so how can I put this?  There'd be snow everywhere, because it's Christmas, because it is the Muppets Christmas. So yeah, so wrap up warm. But if you don't, that's fine, because there would be red scarves on offer that you could borrow for the for the duration of the screening. And then you could take them home if you wanted to make a contribution to the 90 Minutes or Less Film Festival. I would encourage beverages, but I you know what, I wouldn't impose them because I think everyone has their own Christmas beverages that they prefer. Obviously, the requirement is that it is a Christmas beverage.

SAM:   34:49 It has to be mulled, any sort of mulled drink.

ELLA:  34:52 You could mull whatever you want.

SAM:   34:53 Mulled coffee, tea, mulled sparkling water. Just mull it.

ELLA:  34:58 Mull whatever you want us. Wine is strictly banned...

SAM:   35:02 No, yeah, no, none of that.

ELLA:  35:04 Unless it's mulled.

SAM:   35:04 Yes, exactly.

ELLA:  35:05 Mulled, fine.

SAM:   35:06 I like this Dickensian theme screening in a in a winter wonderland. What we're discovering with this film festival is based on our guests choices., the festival has an extremely large budget. So who would be your dream guest for this movie? People in the past have suggested some very big names. And we've had to drastically increase the budget to put this festival on. So you can choose anyone you like to come and maybe introduce the screening, do a Q&A. Do they cook a goose for the audience? Who do you want to get to sort of be part of this film?

ELLA:  35:39 I do understand that the budget has increased, I obviously have to invite Michael Caine back. Just because I think that his presence, it would depend what he wanted to do in relation to the screening. I think there's a lot of options here. But I would like to invite him back to introduce the film. I'm not sure about a Q&A afterwards because I feel like, you know, he's in a different phase of his career now. So let the film speak for itself. You know, we don't need to interpret everything. However, I would appreciate it if he would maybe like to make this a bit more of an immersive screening at points. So I'd imagine that he introduce the film, then he'd sit on the front row, and then I can imagine him just just just getting up every now and then. And you know, when there's a really big Michael Caine moment, I can see, you know, human real life Michael Caine just acting along with Muppets Christmas Carol Michael Caine. And it would be amazing. No one would know what was going on.

SAM:   36:36 The double Caine experience.

ELLA:  36:38 The double Caine experience, only he would know.

SAM:   36:39 I imagine Michael Caine is not the cheapest public appearance, we would need to arrange. But I think we should really work for his money. So I also think during the film, to make it more immersive, during the Marley and Marley scene maybe he rattles chains in the audience?

ELLA:  36:54 And run through the aisles.

SAM:   36:54 Maybe he has a fan. And he just fans the audience. So it sort of feels like you're actually there in the film. Okay. Well, Caine's game for that.

ELLA:  37:04 That's fantastic.

SAM:   37:05 And then finally, this film is a really wonderful runtime, 85 minutes. Do you think this film should be longer?

ELLA:  37:12 No. Absolutely not. Just because when watching it, I thought it was a lot longer. Because I think it was very dense, and very, very rich. I worry that if it was longer, I think some of the really brilliant things would just be diluted a bit and then just be stretched out. And yeah, I think it has what it needs already. It has so many different tones and characters and ups and downs and everything that I can't imagine an increased runtime making it any better than it already is.

SAM:   37:47 Very good. There we have it. Thank you very much Ella.

ELLA:  37:51 Thank you for having me.

[90 Mins or Less Film Fest Christmas Outro Bed]

SAM:   37:58 Thank you Ella for joining us today. Where can listeners find out more about you, read your stuff, listen to your podcast?

ELLA:  38:05 So you can find me on Twitter @ella_kemp. I run a podcast called Cinematters. We are on Twitter @CinemattersPod. If you want to read my writing you can find me on Culture Whisper, Little White Lies, Sight and Sound or Letterboxed.

SAM:   38:20 Thank you for listening, and please do like favourite subscribe on Apple podcasts or your pod catcher of choice. You can contact us @90minfilmfest on Twitter and Instagram. We're currently running a festive advent calendar, which is great if you're listening to this in December, and a bit weird if you're listening to this in June. The show is produced by Louise Owen and me Sam Clements, our music is by Martin Austwick, our show is edited by Luke Smith and our artwork is by Sam Gilbey. Merry Christmas listeners. Thank you for listening. We'll be back in a couple of weeks.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai