The Muppet Christmas Carol director Brian Henson explains why Kermit plays Bob Cratchit in the film rather than taking on Gonzo’s role of narrator.
The reason Gonzo is front and center in The Muppet Christmas Carol instead of Kermit has finally been explained. The 1992 film, which was the fourth theatrical venture for The Muppets, and the first since 1984’s The Muppets Take Manhattan, was helmed by Brian Henson, the son of Muppet creator Jim Henson. It starred Michael Caine as Charles Dickens’ iconic miserly protagonist Ebeneezer Scrooge opposite a cast of Muppets including Kermit as Bob Cratchit and Gonzo as the narrator, Charles Dickens.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Muppet Christmas Carol, Henson sat down with Entertainment Weekly for an interview about the holiday classic, during which he revealed why Kermit didn’t take center stage in the film. He revealed that the idea for Gonzo to narrate the film came from screenwriter Jerry Juhl, and they seized on the idea because it presented them with the opportunity to spend more time making sure they got Kermit right, especially as it came on the heels of Jim Henson’s 1990 death. Read the full quote below:
Jerry [Juhl] had the idea, because he was a big fan of Gonzo. I was a big fan of Gonzo, so we were totally in sync there. Kermit was going to be tough because Jim had just passed away, and Steve Whitmire was maybe going to be ready to do Kermit. But I knew Kermit was going to be really hard work on set. We were going to have to do it very carefully. Basically, we had Frank's characters, we had Piggy, Fozzie, but we knew we were going to have to be very careful about Kermit and what he does. So Jerry had the idea of letting Gonzo be Charles Dickens and to actually do the prose and basically have a narrator who's there on screen.
Steve Whitmire, a puppeteer who had been working with The Muppets since The Muppet Show season 3 in 1978, would go on to play Kermit for the next several decades until he was fired from the role in 2017. This includes every follow-up theatrical film since The Muppet Christmas Carol, spanning from 1996’s Muppet Treasure Island to 2014’s Muppets Most Wanted. However, the 1992 film was the first time he was ever tasked with taking over the iconic role, so it made sense to give him extra time to perfect the performance.
In addition to being a logistical necessity for Gonzo (played by consummate Muppet puppeteer Dave Goelz) to take on the narrator role, it also worked for the particular version of A Christmas Carol that they were telling. Even though Caine was on hand to play Scrooge in a traditional manner that was reminiscent of classic performers in the role, including Albert Finney in Scrooge (1970), this iteration was also jam-packed with The Muppets’ typical mayhem. Opening the film on one of the Muppets’ wackiest characters insisting that he is, in fact, revered real-life author Charles Dickens, was the perfect way to introduce the blend of sincerity and absurdism that Henson and company would be bringing to the proceedings.
This Muppet Christmas Carol role, in which he largely shared the screen with Whitmire’s Rizzo the Rat, also gave a meaty role to one of the key Muppets that might not otherwise have found a place within the structure of the original story. The film invented many new Muppets to portray various characters including The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come rather than replace the ghosts with more recognizable characters. Because of this, the added role was a way to make sure that the core Muppet Gonzo had a major part in the entire project.