The Muppet Christmas Carol is, without certainty, one of the most perfect holiday films to ever be released, and it’s place in cinema history is deserved due to its brilliant blend of heart, humor, and wit. This season, Disney is back to capitalize on the nostalgia of the film with the release of The Muppet Christmas Carol: The Illustrated Holiday Classic, a new book celebrating the original film, written by former Disney author/editor Brooke Vitale and illustrator and Muppet super-fan Luke Flowers. To celebrate the release of the new book, we sat down with the two to learn a bit about the creation of the series and the inspiration that brought it to life.
“The most difficult part of creating this book was adapting many of the memorable elements from the film to the written word”, explains author Brooke Vitale, in an interview with The Mickey Mindset upon the book’s release. “Because so many of The Muppet Christmas Carol utilizes visual gags and jokes specific to the screen, it was a bit of a challenge to find ways to translate that to the book”. For writing the book, Vitale had to dive deep into the world of The Muppets to bring the characters to life in this newly published work. “When I had got the call to work on this book, I realized it had been far too long since I’ve actually seen The Muppet Christmas Carol, so I had to fix that immediately. As I watched the film (and several times too), I kept a notebook with me to mark down the elements I knew we needed in the book.”
Once those elements came into place, illustrator Luke Flowers took over in creating all of the visual aspects of the book. Flowers’ whimsical design styles make him the perfect fit for the job; on social media long before signing on to this project, his Muppet fan-art work caught the attention of publishers at Disney, who knew he’d be perfect for the job. “Being such a lifelong fan of The Muppets and an admirer of Jim Henson, working on this project was a dream come true, and an item to cross right off my bucket-list” said Flowers in an interview with The Mickey Mindset. When it came to translating the film from the screen to paper, there were many challenges. “At first, I struggled with how to adapt some of the characters from the film; mainly the Ghost of Christmas Past–a beautiful puppet in the feature film, but for the page, I felt I need to adapt some of the design for a different two-dimensional look.” Elsewhere, I knew we had to be able to convey certain ideas through illustrations that the movie conveyed through music; such as “[Wherever You Find Love] It Feels Like Christmas” or Tiny Tim’s poetic song, “Bless Us All”. So a lot of it was finding the heart in the scenes in a different medium”.
Vitale faced similar struggles when it came to taking the feature film, that features the Muppets portraying characters from The Christmas Carol tale, including Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as Emily Cratchit, Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens, and (in the best on-screen credit of all time), Rizzo the Rat as Himself. Books, however, don’t have the luxury off on-screen opening credits, but Vitale didn’t see this as an issue. “When I wrote the book, I wrote it as true to the film as possible, I didn’t want to take the time in stating the obvious–I referred to Kermit by his character, Bob, because I felt that the story is so pure and the characters are so well-known for their ability for storytelling performance.” In response to where she turned to for inspiration in keeping it as true to the original, Vitale stuck straight to the film itself. “I didn’t feel the need to pull inspiration from the Charles Dickens story, because I wanted to stay true to the characters. This is their story after all.”
Continuing with the dedication of sticking to the true Muppet spirit of the book, Flowers had his own ways of ensuring that the super-fan within him had the chance to make this book fit well within the realm of the Muppets. Scattered throughout the book are dozens of hidden Muppet gags, references, and hidden characters that are sure to please even the most hardcore Muppet fans. “It was such a fun pleasure to have the free-range to add many characters in the book that haven’t been seen in a long time. In the party sequence at ‘Fozziwig and Mom’, there was this big group shot of a band playing music, and for fun, I included the animal musicians from the lesser-known special, The Muppet Musicians of Bremen, because I love that special so much. These guys haven’t been seen in such a long time, so it was fun including characters like that in the book”.
Flowers attributes his opportunity to work on this book to his dedication to work on a Muppet project. Having consistently shared his artwork with an homage to Jim Henson and the Muppets, he feels his experience doing what he loved helped him build the experience needed to tackle a project on this scale. “It was always wonderful to create artwork paying tribute to what I loved and to see it so accepted and beloved by the Muppet fan community, I’m thankful for that.” Flowers is also the illustrator of several other children’s books, including the new A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood book, paying tribute to Fred Rogers. Working on projects like these is the full-circle return of the figures who inspired Flowers as an artist, and he is thankful to work on such projects.
The Muppet Christmas Carol: The Illustrated Holiday Classic is a labor of love from the creator behind the book, and it’s a must-own for Muppet fans everywhere. Be sure to read our review, and then purchase the book for yourself and the Muppet fans in your life.
Thank you so much to Brooke Vitale and Luke Flowers for sharing their time for this interview!