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 | , , , ,

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