A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 293 – It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie – December 18th, 2010

While I do consider myself a Muppets fan, I have not seen everything they’ve ever done. I hadn’t seen The Muppet Wizard of Oz until we watched it for this project and I hadn’t seen this until today. I’m a little wary of the made-for-tv stuff, but I was pleasantly surprised by their take on The Wizard of Oz, so I had some hope for this one.

Unfortunately, I was not blown away by it. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s the truth. It wasn’t terrible or anything. I enjoyed it just fine. Parts of it I enjoyed quite a lot. It’s just that it wasn’t great. It was a little messy and a little jumbled and suffered from a lot of dated pop culture references and that’s a pity, because at its core it has a good concept. It’s just got so much else going on around that concept that it gets lost.

The basic storyline of the movie is a Muppet version of It’s a Wonderful Life. And the Muppets have done some great parodies and takes on classics, so I’m on board with that idea. The plot follows Kermit as he learns that the new owner of the theater wants all the money they owe her by midnight on December 24th or she’ll foreclose on them and tear down the theater to build a nightclub. Through a string of events the Muppets miss the deadline and they lose everything and Kermit wishes he’d never been born and you know where this is going.

The trouble here is two-fold: Firstly, the story doesn’t start with the threat of foreclosure. It starts with a dejected Kermit out in the snow and an industrious angel taking note and insisting that someone in Heaven help out. Then he helpfully shows God what’s happened and rewinds the story back to the start so we can follow along. It’s a bizarre choice, probably made to have the It’s a Wonderful Life reference super clear and give the movie a bit of a sense of urgency. But all it makes me think is that the movie laps itself and makes its own timeline needlessly complex. Sure, the original movie goes back a ways, but it’s to show George Bailey’s childhood and early years. We don’t go back and see Kermit as a tadpole or watch him meet Fozzie and ride off in his Studebaker. If we had I might have been more understanding of the narrative choice. As it stands, I think it could have started with the owner’s arrival and threat and we’d have been just fine.

The second half of my issue with the movie is that it is so overly referential it’s easy to lose sight of what the main reference source is. This isn’t helped by the circular timeline either. The movie starts out with a series of admittedly pretty funny Gifts of the Magi references, with various pairs of Muppets gifting each other increasingly bizarre items. There are references to Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer, A Christmas Story and likely a lot more Christmas movies I’m not as familiar with (as evidenced by Jack Frost and the upcoming Comfort and Joy and The Box of Delights, my Christmas viewing is a little atypical for my geographical point of origin). And those I’m down with. I like how the Magi stuff was popped in there, and the bit with the flag pole. It’s cute and definitely works as an overall Christmas parody theme.

The pop culture, on the other hand, dates the movie horribly. There’s a lengthy Moulin Rouge spoof and a scene on the set of Scrubs. A blatant reference to Steve Irwin shows up to track Fozzie through the streets and music that is decidedly Nine Inch Nails-esque plays in at least two scenes. I can live with the somewhat adult-oriented lines from Pepe and the rather dark alternate Kermit-less world. Let’s face it, the original show wasn’t necessarily for kids, even though I was a kid when I started watching it. And I forgive the cameos and celebrities playing themselves because there’ve always been cameos in the movies and the folks playing themselves is a clear reference to the original show. But the pop culture stuff just tries too hard.

I really wish they’d kept it to Christmas references and Muppet homage. Because the references back to the older shows and movies are fantastic. There are a couple of Muppets who show up during a rehearsal for the big Christmas extravaganza the Muppets are planning and they’re straight out of the original show, all long-limbed and fluffy and probably controlled by puppeteers dressed in black using large rigs. In the Kermit-less reality there’s a Doc Hopper’s Frog Legs kiosk at the mall. The whole movie takes place at the Muppet theater, and it’s wonderfully familiar as well as expanded. That and the basic plot of Kermit seeing how much joy he’s brought to the world and how sad it would be without him? That’s really all this movie needed. It’s obvious from the outtakes and additional material that the crew who came together for this movie had a blast making it. They had a good human cast with David Arquette (not a stranger to Muppet films) as the angel, Whoopi Goldberg as God and Joan Cusak as the villain, Rachel Bitterman. I loved having Kermit back in the lead role and it was great to see the Muppets in their home environment. I just wish it hadn’t ended up with such a messy mish-mash covering all that up.

December 18, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

December 18, 2010

It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

It’s time for another Muppet Christmas movie. This time it’s a made-for-TV Christmas special from 2002. I hadn’t watched this before buying it and wasn’t sure what to expect tonight. This is Muppets TNG, as clearly evidenced by the fact that the opening credits don’t contain Frank Oz and have Eric Jacobson in his place.

What’s odd about this movie is that, charming though it may be, it is more a tribute to the Muppets than a real Muppet movie of its own. The story is based loosely on It’s a Wonderful Life, but with many other holiday film references, plugs for NBC shows (and some good natured ribbing,) a lot of references to established Muppet lore and, because it came out in 2002, a lengthy Moulin Rouge parody. As with It’s a Wonderful Life the movie is half told in flashback. Kermit is depressed and disappointed at the start of the movie and we get to see why as a kindly pencil pushing angel named Daniel shows the entire story to a supreme being who we must assume is God.

The Muppets are putting on a Christmas spectacular in the old Muppet theater in an attempt to raise enough money to pay off their debt to the bank so that the theater will be theirs. Unfortunately Miss Bitterman, the new bank manager, has other plans for the theater and will do anything in her power to insure that the Muppets fail. She seduces Pepe, steals and alters the contract with the Muppets and ultimately forecloses and takes ownership. All to erect a seedy nightclub in the theater’s place.

I enjoy a lot of the performances in this movie. Steve Whitmire has, by this time, really mastered his Kermit. He does a great job conveying Kermit’s sometimes short temper, his love for his friends, and his dreams of doing something to help them all. Eric Jacobson likewise does a fantastic job with Fozzie and Miss Piggy. It’s most impressive that Eric has the range to sing in Miss Piggie’s falsetto which always cracked me up so much when Frank did it. Bill Baretta is hilarious as always and it is well worth watching the special features on the DVD for a bunch more Pepe the Prawn. Classic Muppet performers Jerry Nelson and Dave Goelz also appear though Jerry was apparently ill during filming and Gonzo’s role is far smaller than in other recent Muppet movies so Dave also makes fewer appearances.

The human cast is wonderful as well. The two leads are David Arquette as Daniel and Joan Cusack as Miss Bitterman. David plays Daniel as a kind but timid fellow with a great love for Kermit and the Muppets. He’s sort of the voice of the audience in the movie. On the other side there is Joan, who manages to steal scenes from Bill Baretta – which is a pretty major feat. I think Joan’s madcap performance as the uncaring and mercenary banker is my favorite part of the movie. William H. Macy plays a minor role as a middle manager in heaven and as always he’s wonderful to watch. Then there’s Whoopi Goldberg as God – an inspired piece of casting that completely delighted me.

There are also an absolute ton of references sprinkled throughout the movie that tickled me. Mel Brooks voices a snowman that attempts to narrate the movie in a Burl Ives fashion ala Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Not only do we get to see a re-production of the old Muppet theater from the Muppet Show of the seventies but there is a great reference to the first Muppet Movie when Kermit wishes he had never been born and as a result there’s a Doc Hopper’s Fried Froglegs stand in the local mall. There are jokes that play with the old Gifts of the Magi trope of people giving up treasured possessions to give each other gifts based on the other person’s treasured possessions which most reminded me of the Sesame Street Christmas Special when Ernie gives up his rubber duckie and Bert gives up his prized paperclip collection (Mr. Hooper – remember him? – saved the day back then.) There are references to A Christmas Story (“I triple frog dare you!”) and what feels like a too-long plug for the Jim Carrey live-action Grinch movie.

So if the performances are so much fun and there are all these cute references then why does the movie feel so empty to me? I think its because this is sort of the processed fast food equivalent of a Muppet movie. It has a written-by-committee feel to it and it lacks heart. Oh, I can see the clear message wedged into the film about how Kermit and his friends don’t need financial success to be happy, but it feels almost rote. Any Christmas spirit in the movie feels like it comes more from the source material that’s being spoofed than from the Muppets themselves. Although I like the job that Steve does performing Kermit and Eric does with Piggy and Fozzie they’re still sort of impersonations – like homages rather than fresh creations. The whole movie has a slapped together and recycled feel to me. I think it was made with a lot of love and reverence for the Muppets, but it doesn’t feel genuine or original.

December 18, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment