Jarrod Fairclough – Quick, name your favorite Christmas Carol production starring puppets! Did you say The Muppet Christmas Carol? Of course you did! Now name another! Did you say that comic version The Muppets did in 1984? Good answer! Boy, Muppets sure have been in a lot of renditions of A Christmas Carol.
But did you know there’s another set on Sesame Street, which was released straight to DVD in 2006? Yes, one exists, and I’ve just watched it…
Let me start off by saying this – A Sesame Street Christmas Carol isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just… unnecessary. Featuring only a few actual puppet characters, and a bunch of computer graphics, there was no real reason to do this production the way they did. But I digress, let’s dive in and actually take a look at this thing.
The special opens with a montage of clips from previous Sesame Street Christmas specials, like the beloved Christmas Eve on Sesame Street and Elmo Saves Christmas. We’re greeted by a narrator, who might sound awfully like he’s a Professional Pirate in his off time… Yes, it’s Tim Curry, welcoming us to a street where everyone is happy all the time, besides one particular trash-dweller. And here’s the real star of the show, that Scrooge himself – Oscar the Grouch! Oscar’s hatred for Christmas has been well documented over the years, and this special seems like a way to remind you all of that. He’s intending on sleeping through the whole thing, but he’s awoken by a mail man, named… Joe Marley, from the Scaredy-Pants Delivery Service. There’s no catchy musical number here like the phenomenal ‘Marley and Marley’, just Joey Mazzarino’s Joe panicking as he informs Oscar that he will receive 3 ‘Ghost-O-Grams’, against the grouch’s wishes. There’s a great junk mail gag. So far, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m a Scrooge myself, but this is where the special starts to unravel and question it’s own necessity.
Rhubarb, the Ghost of Christmas Past. I’ve never been the biggest fan of CGI Muppets, especially when they aren’t necessary (couldn’t Abby’s Flying Fairy School have been done with puppets?). And the special falls down here, as the Muppety looking ghosts walk the fine line of the the uncanny valley, to their own detriment. I get that ghosts need to be able to fly around, or be see-through. But there are a hundred ways this could have been achieved with actual real puppets, and surely it would have been cheaper and easier (I say that having a degree in Animation).
Rhubarb, voiced by Muppet performer and this special’s writer Ricky Boyd, is here to show Oscar some old Christmas home movies, and the first is ‘The Gift of the Magi’ from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. So, is this special just a ‘Best Of’, is that what it’s going to be? God knows Sesame have done a hundred of them in the past, but they rarely have a plot line like this. We’re treated to basically the full subplot from the beloved classic special, and admittedly it is nice to see Sesame introduce Mr Hooper to a generation of kids who would have no idea who he is, or why it’s called Hoopers Store in the first place. But this whole thing is already available on the Christmas Eve on Sesame Street DVD, so it’s not like it’s new to see this whole 8 minute story on home video.
Big Bird’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ is next, and I must say, it’s the far superior Christmas song with that title. It’s funny, I told my friend about Elmo Saves Christmas, and she genuinely thought Big Bird did a cover of the Mariah Carey song, which I now need in my life (paging Matt Vogel). But the completion of it signals the departure of Rhubarb, and the return of Joe Marley, who brings with him a jack-in-the-box. There’s a great line reading by Caroll Spinney as Oscar reads his sweet note and quips ‘Ugh, that gave me the creeps’ (it might be a ‘you have to see it to appreciate it’ thing, but trust me, it’s a great bit of delivery). Then we meet the Ghost of Christmas Present.
Christmas Carole, the aforementioned ghost, is played by Kristin Chenoweth, long before she was abandoned on the side of the road by the Electric Mayhem. Tell me – why Kristin Chenoweth for this part? She’s delightful, sure, but couldn’t this have been Fran Brill or Jennifer Barnhart or Pam Arciero? It’s just a voice, after all, and Kristin isn’t even doing her own here.
Again, Christmas Present is videos of… past specials? Right, I guess I can ignore that, although we do see another clip from Elmo Saves Christmas, which earlier was from the past, but now is from the present? Oof, my brain hurts. Anyway, Elmo meets Santa Clause in a clip from Elmo’s World: Happy Holidays, which is another special already out on DVD, so again, excuse me for wondering why it’s here. Elmo seems surprised that Santa knows his name, but this isn’t the first time they’ve met, nor will it be the last! Elmo also stars in the second video, singing ‘Everyday Can’t Be Christmas’ from Elmo Saves Christmas. Again, is this special just a way to show old clips? Is it a Best Of? I just can’t tell the purpose of this thing. We do get a little educational content, because of course we do.
That crazed Marley is back, to deliver the final Ghost-O-Gram, but not before asking if Oscar would mind doing a survey. It’s a funny sequence. In fact, all the original material here is great! So why couldn’t we get a full special with that, without the crow-barred in old clips? Ricky Boyd has built some compelling characters, even if some of them are CGI, so it would have been nice to see more of the original stuff.
The final Ghost-O-Gram, a remote, brings the Ghost of Christmas Future, i-Sam, a robot voiced by Kevin Clash. This is maybe the only character where I can see why they went computer animated with it, but remember this is a show that introduced an actual puppet robot in the earlier seasons, with, coincidentally (or not) the same name! The future, wisely, doesn’t use any past clips, instead showing an animated short on what Christmas could look like going forward. Perhaps this is what should have been shown instead of the old clips – funny, short, animated videos about the history of Christmas and how people have celebrated over the years. It would be educational, enlightening, and it would ultimately show Oscar how great Christmas and the holidays around the world are. Plus, you could use the Sesame Street characters as the ghosts, instead of these CGI ghosts.
Oscar is awoken in the morning by someone who looks and sounds just like Joe Marley, named Joe Dickens. Could it all have been a dream? Who’s to say? But it looks like Oscar didn’t learn anything after all, because after giving Joe a smelly old sneaker, he happily says ‘Bah Humbug’ and retreats. The narrator returns, having not been heard for the past 42 minutes, to wrap up the special, and then the credits roll.
…So we just sat through a 46 minute special, where 3 ghosts and a mail man show up to teach Oscar about the Christmas spirit, and in the end he really learns nothing? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting Oscar to be jumping for joy, running through the streets yelling ‘Merry Christmas, movie house!’ or singing ‘Thankful Heart’, but I thought we’d get more than this!
And was it a Best Of special? I think so? In a 46 minute special, only 19 minutes and 19 seconds are old clips (I did the math), so if less than half are old footage, is it classed as a Best Of? I just don’t get what they were going for here, after all, none of the old footage had Oscar in it, and he’s done a lot of grouchy things at Christmas over the years. So how is this A Christmas Carol, when he doesn’t learn anything about his past behaviour and doesn’t grow at the end of it? I just don’t get why this special exists. It’s a good special, it made me laugh, it was nice to see Ernie and Bert, and Mr Hooper, and Big Bird. I just think there were other avenues to go down to make it relate more to A Christmas Carol, or to make it a whole separate thing to begin with. It’s harmless fun, its existence is just baffling.