“Michael was the first actor we approached,” says Henson. “I knew I wanted a British actor, and he had to have a certain standing. That limited the field in a healthy way.”
Whitmire remembers that Caine knew exactly how to approach his role opposite the Muppets, too. “He just said he wasn’t going to ever try to be funny in the film. He played it as though he was onstage in a Royal Shakespeare production. If an actor tries to compete with the silliness and upstage the Muppets, it doesn’t work. Michael gave the characters a real nemesis in the film.”
There was one awkward moment between Caine and a member of The Muppet Christmas Carol’s creative team, though. Unfortunately, when he introduced himself, Williams’ decade-long amnesia made him forget that he’d actually already met the legendary actor.
“I walked into the recording studio and went straight up to Caine and said, ‘It’s so wonderful to meet you’,” recalls Williams. “He turned to me and said, ‘You know, we spent a whole weekend together.’ I just went, ‘Oh my God! You’re right.'”
Soundtrack to a festive hit
That didn’t stop the pair from having a fruitful creative relationship, though. “I was in the studio directing him. Which is me just making faces, singing along with him and doing gestures,” exclaims Williams. “But he was so completely present. He doesn’t just perform the song. He experiences the song. That’s everything you could want.”
One of Williams’s most cherished memories of this process was the song When Love Is Gone, sung by Meredith Braun. “I felt like my greatest success as a songwriter for The Muppet Christmas Carol was When Love Is Gone. Because, emotionally, you see what grief and loss did to Scrooge and his behaviour.”
Unfortunately, when Disney saw the finished film, they asked for When Love Is Gone to be cut out. “Evidently the head of the studio thought it was too sad for kids. Or too boring,” remarks Williams. “I’m not going to try to pretend that I understand what he was thinking.”
The video master of the cut scene was then believed to have been lost for more than 25 years, too, meaning that it wasn’t included in the DVDs or streaming versions. That was until December 2020, when the footage was found again, and it has now been included in The Muppet Christmas Carol’s recent UK re-release to mark its anniversary.
It only feels right that the United Kingdom gets to see The Muppet Christmas Carol in its correct form, as Henson credits the British audience with building its legacy. “The following year after its release, when it was sold on videotape, so many people watched it in the UK. It broke all sorts of records. It was a small-screen hit,” remarks Henson. “It was the British that really forced the reintroduction of the film to the American market. Now, every year audiences just gets bigger and bigger, too.”
The Muppet Christmas Carol’s popularity is so immense that it has become a focal point of the festive season for many friends and families, who insist that Christmas hasn’t really begun until they’ve belted out, “There goes Mr Humbug, There goes Mr Grim,” in unison at full volume.
“A lot of fans talk about it being their favourite holiday film. They watch it with their families every year,” says Whitmire, who insists that its legacy is more important than one film, though. “We were all very motivated on Muppet Christmas Carol. We wanted it to work. Everything came together and it introduced a new generation to the Muppets. It started a new chapter for us.”
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