Brian Henson inherited the Muppets when his father Jim Henson passed away in 1990. He had barely taken the reins of the company when he directed The Muppet Christmas Carol in 1992 -his first feature film. Along with talking about the choice of material, the casting of the Muppets in each role, the special effects, and Michael Caine’s contributions, he also addressed the high expectations the production laid on his shoulders.
A lot of people who were counting on this to continue your father’s legacy — fans, people who worked on these productions, that sort of thing. I imagine there was a lot of weight on your shoulders when you were, what, 27, 28 when you took everything on. Can you talk a little bit about those pressures in that moment in time?
I mean, it is everything that you would have thought. It was terrifying at the time, and it was a lot of pressure to take over… Just to be running the company was already a big pressure for me, and I’ll be honest, I did not want to direct it. I had approached a couple of other directors that were favorites of mine, and favorites of my father’s, and they both said, “No, you should do it.” At the time, I was really quite terrified of it. I also felt like, “I have an awful lot I need to already be doing, trying to run the company.” Honestly, it was like I had to direct it, because that was just what everybody was saying. Everybody was saying, “No, Brian, you direct it. You direct it.”
I had directed quite a bit. I had not directed a feature. I had directed television, and second units on features, but it was definitely a big step for me. It was scary, and I didn’t want to screw it up. We made it very carefully, and everybody just helped me tremendously. Frank Oz was a huge help all the way through, and the performers were incredibly supportive, and the shop people. It was a really wonderful atmosphere on set, very, very supportive environment, and we all knew it was working. As soon as we started shooting, we were like, “Wow, this is working. This is really working.” It’s a whole new direction, and it’s fun, and it’s poignant. Maybe it’s a little bit more poignant than people were used to the Muppets being, but at the time that felt right, in that it was the first big production after Jim’s death. It is a more touching and heartfelt story than the Muppets had done mostly up until then.
Twenty-three years after The Muppet Christmas Carol, Henson makes it all seem new in an interview at Uproxx.