Christmas is the summer of the soul in December —The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Charles Dickens might not have written those splendid words that songwriter Paul Williams put in his characters’ mouths almost 150 years later. But Dickens would undoubtedly have appreciated the sentiment in this and the more than 100 other versions of his holiday classic that have appeared on film over the years. Let’s take a look at some of the earliest—and best—holiday movies of all time.
It should be no surprise that my alltime favorite Christmas movie is a version of A Christmas Carol, and The Muppet Christmas Carol is the best of the best. From the genius casting of Jim Henson’s Muppets in the various roles—Gonzo as Charles Dickens! Statler and Waldorf as the Marley Bros.! Fozzie Bear as Fezziwig!—to the irreverent humor, to the emotional soundtrack that evokes Dickens’s sentimentality without ever becoming sappy… the film is a technical and artistic triumph. And for me, the holiday season isn’t in full swing without at least one annual screening.
But The Muppet Christmas Carol was at least the twentieth time Dickens’s tale had made it to the big screen (and that doesn’t include countless small screen and stage productions). The first version we know of is 1901’s “Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost” by British filmmaker Walter R. Booth. Originally running around six minutes long, only three minutes of the silent film have survived—but they tell the tale so familiar to viewers then and now. Watch for the masterful special effects, like the appearance of Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present at the Cratchits’ holiday feast:
Just like today, Victorian audiences and filmmakers loved seeing—and putting–Christmas on film. Pioneering French filmmaker Georges Méliès made his own holiday movie, The Christmas Dream, in 1900. And Clement Clark Moore’s The Night Before Christmas made it to film for the first time in 1905, thanks to the Edison Company.
But possibly the very first depiction of the wonder of Christmas on film is 1898’s Santa Claus by British filmmaker George Albert Smith, in which two children are visited by Father Christmas himself. Watch the onscreen magic unfold:
This and many other classic early British films are available at the British Film Institute.
For my festive Victorian heroine, Myrtle Hardcastle, Christmas 1893 (the setting of Cold-Blooded Myrtle) is a bit too early for motion pictures. But I have a good feeling Myrtle would appreciate the humor, festivity, and faithful adaptation of its source material of The Muppet Christmas Carol.
The Muppet Christmas Carol is now streaming on Disney+ by subscription, or check your local TV listings for upcoming air dates. But if you want my advice, just pick up a copy to watch all year. Even Scrooge would think that a worthwhile expense, if it means honoring Christmas and keeping it in your heart.