The Muppets Christmas Carol is a fan-favorite Muppets movie and one of the best takes on the classic Charles Dickens novella. It’s a holiday hit that countless audiences toon in for every year. Not only is it a Christmas masterpiece, but it served as a lot of firsts for the Muppets franchise. It was the first Muppets movie to be made without Jim Henson, the first time Brian Henson directed a feature film, the first time Steve Whitmire took on the role of Kermit the Frog which he would play for 27 years, the first Muppets movie in which Kermit was not the main character, and the first time special sets were built with holes in the floors and environment for the Muppet puppeteers to be hidden in while filming.
This movie is a massively important part of Muppets history. It’s beautifully made. However, there’s one odd detail that people often forget: the Ghost of Christmas Past is unnecessarily terrifying.
Yes, they’re a ghost and ghosts are often spooky. However, this one seems unintentionally unsettling. Let’s look at the other ghosts in the film. The Marleys are Statler and Waldorf, and they’re the same grumpy-yet-lovable old guys they always are. The Ghost of Christmas Present is a jolly giant. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is dark, cloaked, and menacing, and yet nowhere near as scary as the Ghost of Christmas Past.
In the book, the first of the three ghosts who visit Ebenezer Scrooge (after Jacob Marley), is described as white-robed, androgynous, with indeterminate age and a binding light on their head. They’re supposed to represent innocence, fond memories, and happier times. It’s clear that there was an attempt to take inspiration from the source material for this take on the character, but the design came out much creepier than intended. This version is something between human and Muppet. It’s some unsettling blend of the two.
Instead of helping Scrooge explore his memories, it feels like they would rather devour his soul and laugh about it. This thing is pure nightmare fuel, so much so that it almost distracts from the holiday cheer at Fozziwig’s. It’s shocking that Scrooge didn’t run for dear life upon seeing this ghost.
In order to create the floating hair and robe effect for the ghost, the filmmakers put the puppet under water and shot its scenes while it was submerged. While this is a neat idea in theory, the final product looks like a drowned little girl, which is especially dark and horrifying.
Imagine that not-so-human face flying into your bedroom late at night to whisk you away. Imagine its cold eyes staring at you through your window. I know if I was Scrooge in that scenario, I would have reformed right at that moment and not have needed to be visited by any more ghosts after that.