A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , , ,

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