14 Facts About The Muppet Christmas Carol

Walt Disney Studios
Walt Disney Studios

'Tis the season to be jolly, joyous, and watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. Maybe you know every word to this charming Muppet musical. Perhaps you count it as your favorite Charles Dickens adaptation. But do you know all the secrets behind this holiday classic's creation?

1. IT WAS THE FIRST MUPPET MOVIE MADE WITHOUT JIM HENSON.

A photo of Jim Henson
Getty Images

The man behind the Muppets passed away on May 16, 1990 at the age of 53. The Muppet Christmas Carol debuted on December 11, 1992 with Steve Whitmire taking over Kermit the Frog for Henson. The film is dedicated to Henson and his longtime collaborator Richard Hunt, who performed Scooter, Beaker, Janice, Statler, and Sweetums, and passed away on January 7, 1992.

2. IT WAS BRIAN HENSON'S FEATURE DIRECTORIAL DEBUT.

As the son of Jim Henson, Brian Henson's earliest credits date back to a childhood spent in front of the camera on Sesame Street. He began performing as a Muppeteer on 1981's The Great Muppet Caper, and went on to direct Muppet Treasure Island in 1996. Today, Brian and his sister Lisa run The Jim Henson Company.

3. THE SHOOTING STAR IS IN MEMORY OF JIM HENSON.

The song "One More Sleep 'Til Christmas" ends with Kermit staring wistfully at the sky as a shooting star streaks by. In the DVD's audio commentary, Brian Henson said this was a nod to The Muppet Movie, wherein a shooting star flies over Kermit. It has since become a recurring element to frame Kermit with a shooting star, as seen in Muppet Treasure Island, Kermit's Swamp Years, It's A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, and The Muppets.

4. STEVE WHITMIRE GOT HENSON'S BLESSING IN A DREAM.


Getty Images

Talking to Muppet Central, Steve Whitmire spoke of a dream he had the night before shooting his first scene as Kermit. In it, he found Henson in a gleaming white hotel lobby and confessed his anxiety about taking on the character so identified with its creator. "He stopped, and there was a thoughtful gesture Jim would do where he would take both of his index fingers and put them under his chin, and he did that and thought and he said, 'It will pass,'" Whitmire recalled. "Which is exactly what Jim would have said. You would have to really know Jim to know this, but that’s exactly what he would have said. Then he turned and he said, 'I’ve really got to run …' and he took off out the door. I woke up and I felt great. I remembered this dream and I went in the next day, I did the work, and it was smooth, it worked fine, and I felt great. Just that little bit of encouragement. I really think he showed up for me."

5. GEORGE CARLIN WAS CONSIDERED FOR THE ROLE OF EBENEZER SCROOGE.

Best known for his searing stand-up act, by the time The Muppet Christmas Carol came around, George Carlin had made memorable big-screen appearances in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, and The Prince of Tides, but he didn't land the role. Aside from the curmudgeonly American comedian, English actors David Hemmings, Ron Moody, and David Warner were also eyed for the part. Ultimately, it went to Michael Caine.

6. THERE'S A SUBTLE NOD TO MICHAEL CAINE'S NAME.

Two-time Academy Award winner and English acting legend Michael Caine brought a considerable amount of prestige to the production, which was the first Muppet movie to focus on its human characters. Perhaps as a sign of thanks, The Muppet Christmas Carol's production design team added a nod to Caine's given name, Maurice Micklewhite, to Scrooge's 19th-century London. In the film's finale, keep your eyes peeled for a shop named Micklewhite's.

7. CAINE HAD TO WATCH HIS STEP.


Walt Disney Studios

The Muppet Christmas Carol's sets were specially built to accommodate the Muppeteers, meaning they were elevated to leave room for them to walk around below the "London" streets. Planks and platforms were put in place for Caine and his human co-stars to walk on. In a promotional behind-the-scenes video, you can see how crucial careful foot placement was as the Muppets swarmed him singing the opening song "Scrooge." Despite this trickiness, Caine called it "very fun."

8. SCOOTER WAS BOOTED FROM A MAJOR ROLE.

The long-time gofer for The Muppet Show was originally supposed to appear as the Ghost of Christmas Past in The Muppet Christmas Carol. Similarly, Miss Piggy and Gonzo were considered for the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Yet To Come. However, this idea was scrapped in favor of new Muppet creations that could better underline the ominous nature of the story. Piggy was recast as Mrs. Cratchit, and Gonzo as Charles Dickens. But Scooter was cut completely.

9. GONZO WAS RECAST AS A DEVICE TO BRING IN DICKENS'S PROSE.

Though it added in plenty of zany Muppets and split the role of Jacob Marley for Statler and Waldorf, The Muppet Christmas Carol remains pretty true to its source material. Screenwriter Jerry Juhl wanted to make use of Charles Dickens's graceful narration, so Gonzo was cast as the beloved author. Rizzo the Rat was added to infuse some humor and serve as a Greek chorus of sorts.

10. THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST'S MOVEMENTS WERE AQUATIC.

The girl spirit that guides Scrooge into his childhood has an eerie, floating physicality. To achieve this look, puppeteers were submerged with the Muppet in a tank of baby oil backed by a green screen to record the performance. However, the cost of a tank of baby oil soon stacked up, pushing the filmmakers to switch to water. Though the rod puppet's glues and paints interacted poorly with the water, they got the shots they needed.

11. KERMIT'S FULL-BODIED STROLL WAS A BIG PRODUCTION.

To achieve the "Tis The Season" shot of Kermit walking down a snow-covered street with nephew Robin (playing Tiny Tim) on his shoulder, Brian Henson had to employ 10 puppeteers. A rotating drum covered in fake snow was positioned beneath Kermit's feet, to allow for a natural gait. If you pay close attention, you can see it in action. Behind that was a blue screen and various puppeteers working the characters' limbs and mouths. These were swapped for lit-up London homes in post-production.

12.  "WHEN LOVE IS GONE" WAS CUT FROM THE THEATRICAL RELEASE.

The song sung to a young Ebenezer by his heartbroken Belle (Meredith Braun) was cut from the film's theatrical version because it was considered a bit too slow (and too Muppet-free) to keep the interest of children in test audiences. However, the tune was included in some home entertainment releases and several TV airings of The Muppet Christmas Carol. ABC Family's preferred cut excludes this melancholy melody.

13. BUNSEN, BEAKER, AND SAM THE EAGLE HAD SONGS CUT.

In The Muppet Christmas Carol, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his loyal assistant Beaker pop in on Scrooge seeking donations for the poor. Early on, their plea included a song called "Room in Your Heart." Similarly Sam Eagle, playing a young Scrooge's headmaster, had a ditty called "Chairman of the Board." Both songs were recorded but cut from the script before their performances were shot, as neither added much to the story's exposition. They do, however, show up on the film's soundtrack.

14. FRED SCROOGE DID NOT LOSE HIS WIFE.

In the final Christmas feast scene, sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed that Scrooge's nephew Fred is present, but his wife Clara is not. In the DVD commentary, Henson shared that he received letters demanding to know what happened to Fred's better half. The simple answer is that the actress playing her (Robin Weaver) wasn't available to shoot that day. It's not meant as some hint that he's on the same rocky, loveless road his uncle once trod.

15 Facts About Rushmore On Its 20th Anniversary

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

On December 11, 1998, Wes Anderson introduced the world to his unique brand of whimsical comedy with Rushmore. Though it wasn't his feature directorial debut—he had released Bottle Rocket, which he adapted from a short, in 1996—it was his first major Hollywood movie. And kicked off his still-ongoing collaborations with a stable of talented actors that includes Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It was also the second film Anderson co-wrote with Owen Wilson.

To celebrate the quirky comedy's 20th anniversary, here are some things you might not know about Rushmore.

1. Rushmore Academy was the director's Alma Mater.

Wes Anderson sent location scouts across the United States and Canada to find the perfect high school to shoot the movie. He was having a tough time trying to find the school, until his mother sent him a picture of his old high school in Houston, Texas: St. John's School. Anderson thought it was the perfect location to make the movie.

2. Bill Murray wanted to make Rushmore for free.

Bill Murray in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Once Bill Murray read the screenplay, he wanted to be in the movie so badly that he considered appearing in it for free. Murray ended up working on Rushmore at scale with the Screen Actors Guild day rate minimum for smaller indie film projects. Anderson estimated that Murray made about $9000 for his work on the film.

3. Film critic Pauline Kael had a private screening.

Pauline Kael’s film criticism was a major influence on Anderson’s view of cinema. “Your thoughts and writing about the movies [have] been a very important source of inspiration for me and my movies, and I hope you don't regret that," he once wrote to her.

Kael retired from The New Yorker in 1991, so Anderson arranged for her to have a private screening of Rushmore before the film came out in 1998. He wrote about the screening in the introduction to the published version of the screenplay, and shared what Kael told him about the film: "I genuinely don't know what to make of this movie."

4. It was Jason Schwartzman’s first film role.

Casting directors searched throughout the United States, Canada, and England to find a young actor to play the lead role of Max Fischer. Australian actor Noah Taylor was the frontrunner for the part when, on the last day of casting in Los Angeles, Jason Schwartzman auditioned. He was wearing a prep school blazer with a Rushmore Academy patch that he made himself.

5. Owen Wilson's private school experiences inspired some of the movie's plot points.

As a sophomore at St. Mark High School in Dallas, Texas, Rushmore co-writer Owen Wilson was expelled for stealing his geometry teacher's textbook (the one that contained all the answers); he went to Thomas Jefferson High School to complete 10th grade. This was the inspiration for when Max is expelled from Rushmore Academy and is forced to attend Grover Cleveland High School.

Although Wilson doesn’t have a credited role in Rushmore, he does appear as Ms. Cross’s deceased husband, Edward Appleby, in a photo in Appleby’s childhood bedroom.

6. Wilson's Dad Inspired a Moment in the Movie.

Wilson’s father, Robert Wilson, was the inspiration for Herman Blume’s speech about privilege at the beginning of Rushmore.

7. Alexis Bledel was an extra in the film.


Getty Images

Before she starred as Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, actress Alexis Bledel was an uncredited extra—she played a Grover Cleveland High School student—in Rushmore. You can see her in the background in various scenes, including dancing with the character Magnus Buchan (Stephen McCole) at the end of the film.

8. Both Anderson and Wilson's brothers had parts in the movie.

Owen and Luke Wilson’s older brother Andrew plays Rushmore Academy’s baseball coach, Coach Beck. He also appeared in Anderson’s directorial debut, Bottle Rocket, playing the bully John Mapplethorpe.

Eric Chase Anderson, Wes's brother, plays the architect who designs Max’s aquarium.

9. The Movie's Editor Made a Cameo.

Rushmore editor David Moritz plays the Dynamite Salesman; he sells Max the dynamite and explosives for his stage play Heaven and Hell at the end of the film.

10. Producers Made a Deal to get a Bentley.

Producers needed a Bentley for Murray's character, Herman Blume, but Rushmore’s production budget was only $20 million and they couldn’t afford to rent one. A Houston resident was willing to lend them his Bentley if they gave his daughter a role in the film. Producers agreed; the man's daughter plays an usher who seats Miss Cross at Max’s play at the end of the movie.

11. Mason Gamble's role in Dennis the Menace almost cost him the part of Dirk Calloway in Rushmore.

Mason Gamble in Rushmore (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Wilson referred to the character of Dirk Calloway, played by Mason Gamble, as the conscience of the film. Originally, Anderson didn’t want to cast Gamble in the part because of the actor’s previous—and very recognizable—role as Dennis Mitchell in the 1993 live-action movie Dennis the Menace.

12. Rushmore Upset Francis Ford Coppola.

Director Francis Ford Coppola owns a winery, and when he first saw Rushmore, he was upset with Anderson because he used Coppola’s chief Napa Valley wine rival during Max's post-play celebration. (It probably didn't help matters that Coppola is Schwartzman's uncle.)

13. Anderson's Brother Did the Movie's Criterion Collection Artwork.

The Criterion Collection edition of 'Rushmore' (1998)
The Criterion Collection

Eric Chase Anderson did the artwork for the Criterion Collection DVD cover, an interoperation of a shot from the montage of Max’s extracurricular activities at the beginning of the movie. The Yankee Racer shot is itself a recreation of a photo from French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, taken in 1909 when he was only 15.

14. Schwartzman waxed his chest to play Max.

Although Max only shows his chest once in the film (during the high school wrestling match), Anderson made Schwartzman wax his chest for the duration of Rushmore's filming.

15. The Max Fischer Players Appeared on MTV.

During the 1999 MTV Movie Awards, the Max Fischer Players recreated the year's hit movies—The Truman Show, Armageddon, and Out of Sight—as stage plays.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2014.

Harry Potter Star Daniel Radcliffe Says Broadway Made Him a Better Actor

Dominik Bindl, Getty Images
Dominik Bindl, Getty Images

For 10 years, moviegoers watched as Daniel Radcliffe matured on film throughout eight Harry Potter films. But the 29-year-old recently revealed that he believes the bulk of his professional growth has occurred as a result of his Broadway stage work.

“It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe told Variety. “I feel like doing theater ... it was really very important for me psychologically.”

Radcliffe starred in a number of films after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final film in the franchise, including The Woman in Black, Now You See Me 2, and Lost in London. His Broadway credits include Equus, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and The Cripple of Inishmaan.

“There’s something about doing it without an editor to save you, or a myriad of things in post-production that can help you out, something that made me go: ‘OK, I can act,’" Radcliffe continued. "I’ve grown a little bit as an actor every time I’ve gone back to the theater."

Radcliffe crediting his professional growth to working in theater may leave some Potterheads wondering if he thinks playing Harry Potter for so long held him back.

“Not professionally, at all,” he said. “There were moments when probably I coped with the personal effects of Harry Potter not as well as I could have. But professionally, no.”

According to Radcliffe, "There are directors that were, I think, excited to—I am quoting one of them here and I won’t say who—'reinvent' me.”

Radcliffe fans can gauge that reinvention for themselves with The Lifespan of a Fact, the new Broadway play starring Radcliffe, Bobby Cannavale, and Cherry Jones. It is running at New York City's Studio 54 through January 13, 2019.

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