Eve analyses whether the blurring of the information-entertainment barrier will undermine the performance of The Muppets Christmas Carol in Glasgow this November.
Those of us who have recently experienced the misfortune of the unnecessarily loud, £3.20 Glasgow subway, will have found the trip compensated by the nostalgic promise – via advertisement – of the Muppets Christmas Carol’s score being performed live to the film. There is almost too much to unpack with the potentially perfect combination of puppetry, Dickens, and Michael Cane, but we should start with the (surprisingly extensive) history of our favourite puppets. Imagined in 1955 by Jim Henson, it was on British TV where the individual success of The Muppets was found, independent of Sesame Street. The Muppet Show, beginning in 1976, could be seen to reflect much of the surrealist comedy beloved by audiences, alongside Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, the performing puppets were revered. Collaborations with British Icons, a notable moment being Elton John and The Electric Mayhem’s Crocodile Rock means that their status is immortalised. A love for puppets has endured through our TV screens, beginning with Sooty and Basil Brush, right up to Hacker T. Dog. Colourful, and exaggerated in their characterisation, and narrating a dramatic love story (or do Miss Piggy and Kermit just work together?), I think we can begin to see why the muppets have remained iconic entertainers.
Perhaps not an apparent parallel, but sharing a storyteller conjuring eccentric characters, within universes holding moral lessons, are the works of Charles Dickens. Both the writers of the Muppets, and Dickens, retain music as an integral part of their tales, only adding to the sense of heightened reality experienced. Notable too, is the notorious nature of the styles, with both the vocabulary of ‘Muppet’ and ‘Dickensian’ being adopted into dictionaries. Admittedly, it is not entirely clear why the idea of placing a cast of puppets into Victorian England was acted on, but regardless, its assured appearance on Christmas Eve, and Kermit the frog as the ultimate protagonist, communicates that it was nothing short of genius. Comedy aside, (though having Fozzie bear as Fezziwig is complete hilarity), there is true accuracy in the film, with many of the quotes that would later be drilled while I studied the text for GCSE English were quoted frequently by Gonzo’s Charles Dickens. Most striking of all is Michael Caine’s deadpan performance as Scrooge; it is this that conveys the contrast between the loneliness of Scrooge, in a muppetless world, and the exuberant joy held in streets of singing vegetables and the Miss Piggy-Kermit dynasty as the Cratchit family. The film concluding with a parade of muppets is so wonderfully gleeful, and is exactly the revelation in the classic text.
The concern is, could we do this today? Should we do this today? The rise of fake news and misinformation on the internet, that is then shared and taken as truth, makes it more difficult to intersect education, or the exploration of classic literature or art forms, with pure enjoyment. What shows such as Horrible Histories did so perfectly was simultaneously use a platform to share knowledge, and use entertainment to grow interest. I worry that these two values do not co-exist so peacefully today, or that they are too often viewed as synonymous. Where we are so hesitant to trust, the wealth of knowledge that is readily accessible to us makes it difficult to maintain a light-hearted, fun show, as just that. Now, it is all too easy to analyse and criticise, as it would be fair to say I have done in this article. Maybe if the muppets cannot serve as educational figures so easily, they can still provide us all with decades of fun, and perhaps that is all they are really meant to do. There is no doubt that Miles Goodman’s score for the Christmas classic conveys exactly the muppets telling of the Dickensian tale, and truly, what could be more joyous.