Here is our Xmas special of ‘What Can TV Teach L&D?’! In this extra-special episode, Tom Hickmore explores what we can all learn from this muppet-style spin on the classic tale from an L&D perspective – as well as a moral one!
If you’re a fan of The Muppet Christmas Carol, you’ll find this episode particularly entertaining!
Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!
Hi, everyone, my name’s Tom Hickmore and this Christmas, I’m looking at The Muppets Christmas Carol.
I make drama for learning, so I’m looking at popular TV and film drama with an analytical eye asking, what can we learn from this that can be applied to the field of learning and development?
Welcome to my Christmas special edition, The Muppets Christmas Carol is, of course, the comedic and puppet-tastic retelling of Dickens classic.
In case you don’t quite recall the story, it’s about Ebenezer Scrooge, a very mean boss who is reluctant to give his staff a day off at Christmas.
Then, after many complaints, he relents “Take the day off” but the staff must report extra early on Boxing Day.
That night, Scrooge is visited in a dream by the ghosts of his former business partners, the Marley brothers, who are in chains. They warn him that he must mend his ways or forever be in bondage as they are.
Furthermore, he will this night be visited by three more spirits. The first is the Spirit of Christmas Past, who takes Scrooge back to review his youth, first at school and then with his young love, whom he lost because he was unprepared to marry till his income was sufficient.
Next, the Spirit of Christmas Present takes him to the house of his clerk, Bob Cratchit, where Scrooge is particularly affected by the plight of Cratchit’s sickly, disabled child Tiny Tim.
Finally, the Spirit of Christmas Future shows Scrooge how people will mourn him with derision and disrespect and that tiny Tim has died and the Cratchit family is devastated.
And as a result of all this, Scrooge turns over a new leaf, gives money to charity, presents to all and gives Bob Cratchit a pay rise!
His character is transformed, a Christmas Carol is a meta narrative. The tale is framed as a story told by Charles Dickens and his friend Rizzo the rat, who also comment on the story as it goes down and generally provide comic asides.
Then there’s the core story itself, which bounces from past to present to future and is structured rather like a flashback, with the protagonist within each of the scenes at one remove and discussing the rights and wrongs of the action with the Spirit.
And then there’s even a further level of commentary, which are the songs. In this musical version of the story, every song is used for exposition and commentary not to express the emotion of the scene, which is the usual way with musicals.
The events related are very emotional and harrowing but because the story is designed with these storytelling devices setting us at various levels of remove from the action, it allows great variation in the emotional intensity of the presentation.
We can steer the audience to immerse themselves in the pain of Scrooge and Tiny Tim or we can skip over the events and experience the story as just a cautionary tale.
The Muppets, of course, keep it light as the film is for children and they are a comedy team. I’m often asked how to incorporate comedy into drama for learning and here’s a good example. Comedy is criticism, so a core narrative with distanced characters commenting on the action provides a good structure to achieve it.
We once made a learning film in which an angel character advises a manager how to improve his technique. This used a similar structure. Show a scene in which the meaning is clear but implicit then allow the protagonist to have a conversation about what just happened with a third party, in which the learning points become explicit.
For a final bit of festive fun before I go today, do you know Michael Caine’s real name?
There’s a clue in this shot from The Muppets Christmas Carol.