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niiice! christmas, day three: “A Muppet Family Christmas” (1987) (or: To Serve Muppets)

18 Dec

We continue our retrospective of beloved holiday entertainments (part one) (part two) with something I just loved to pieces as a small geek.  It’s got Sesame Street Muppets.  It’s got Muppet Muppets.  It’s got Fraggles.  It’s (briefly) got the Muppet Babies.  It is, in short, the ultimate crossover multi-Muppetverse extravaganza.  It’s Justice League-meets-X-Men for the holidays.  It’s “The Five Doctors,” rendered in felt.  

It is A Muppet Family Christmas, and I love it more than Joanie loves Chachi.  That being said, it does raise one or two very interesting ethical questions concerning the dietary habits of our anthropomorphic friends.  The Swedish Chef is looking more and more like a sick mofo’ by the day.  Bork bork bork, indeed. 

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We taped this one off TV when I was eight or so, and I pretty much wore out the tape re-watching it.  Luckilly, we have Daihungath (and a few others) to thank for unearthing this and making it available for digital streaming.  This one clocks in at an hour, so it’s in five parts.  As we join our story, Fozzie’s Mom is off to California for the holidays.  I wish her luck, flying out in a snowstorm like that, but never mind.  She’s renting out the house to Sprocket and the Old Guy From Fraggle Rock so they can have a nice, quiet Christmas.  Little do they know.

Incidentally, Fozzie honks his horn at just the right moment during the song (about 0:08), so it sounds like the Muppets are swearing.  It’s awesome.

Several questions come to mind rewatching this. First, I can understand wanting a stress-free holiday, but isolating yourself in a farm house out in the middle of nowhere with no one for company but your unnaturally perceptive dog seems a bit extreme.  Second, Fozzie has a mom?  Why, then, was Fozzie, in his infancy, shuffled off to the Muppet Babies nursery to be cared for by Nanny?  Aren’t mama bears supposed to be fiercely protective of their young?  Oh, and, incidentally, Han shot first.

A lot of things happen here, and I’m too lazy to talk about them all in detail.  However, long story short, a turkey arrives.  The Swedish Psycho invited him under obviously false pretenses to be the sacrifical meal.  Now, as the show progresses, the turkey, who has the same voice as Rizzo the Rat (my personal favorite latter-day Muppet), finds himself in the clutches of the Chef.  Of course, in order to save his own feathers, he tells our Swedish friend that there’s an even bigger bird in the house.  And guess who that is.

Way to throw a brother under the bus, you turkey.

Yes, the Sesame Street gang arrives, singing that favorite classic carol of secular humanists, “Deck The Halls.”  Oscar refuses to sing his line and the Count changes his, but it’s a nice moment.  Doc’s none too happy, as it means he has to build more bunkbeds for some reason.   

This means we get treated to the Sesame Street retelling of “Twas The Night Before Christmas”, which goes exactly as you would think it would go.  Oh, incidentally, Kermit’s plot thread has him worried about Miss Piggy, who’s stuck in a snowstorm and can’t make it and much drama ensues.  You might notice that I haven’t written very much about this.  This is because Miss Piggy is a psycho hose beast and Kermit can do better.

Big Bird blunders in to the kitchen and convinces the chef not to cook him by giving him chocolate covered bird seed and singing “The Christmas Song.”  It’s really a very odd but touching sight – it’s like the embodiments of light and dark humor in the Muppetverse have come together in the spirit of the holidays.  As a matter of fact, I can’t think of two characters that are as unalike as Bird and the Swedish Chef.  And believe me, I’ve tried.  This is why I’m underemployed.

The Chef instead cooks shredded wheat and cranberry sauce, which can’t be very filling, but Big Bird loves it.  The important question here, then, is this: do the Muppets eat real food, or food made out of felt?  We’ll assume felt, because as organic creatures eat organic matter to survive, synthetic creatures must therefore eat synthetic matter.  So, what felt-based animals or plants create Muppet food?  As most of the Muppets are animals, and even the inanimate objects have faces and personalities, which cute little Muppets had to die so that the other Muppets may live?  One can assume that even the apparently harmless meal of shredded wheat and cranberry sauce the Chef proposes was as one point a wisecracking box of cereal and several singing berries with high pitched voices.   I guess the ultimate question here is, how do ethics and morals work in the Muppetverse.  They must survive somehow, so who decides who dies and who lives? 

As there is only one character we see making such a decision, we must therefore draw the following conclusion: the Swedish Chef is God.

Ooh, hey, it’s the Fraggles!

According to the Fraggles, regifting is awesome.  Suck it, Martha Stewart.  Incidentally, the Fraggles here remain true to their original ethos: Jim Henson created them as creatures who lived in harmony with the Earth, so the passing of the yellow pebble can easily be seen as a form of recycling.

Anyway, Miss Piggy arrives safe and sound.  Too bad.  I was looking forward to bacon for supper.  Everyone sits around the fire and sings Christmas carols.  Janice sings “The Holly and the Ivy”, which is my favorite.  Doc comes in dressed as Santa, playing the role of the cool uncle who used to sneak off and “play Santa” for the kids.  The older members of the audience recognize him, the younger ones think it’s Santa Claus.

…and then Jim Henson shows up at the end to do the dishes, and everyone in the audience cries. 

Snark aside, I still love this one.  It’s not the best, or the most beloved, or the funniest, but it’s my Christmas special.  What’s yours? 

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7 responses to “niiice! christmas, day three: “A Muppet Family Christmas” (1987) (or: To Serve Muppets)

  1. Lauryn

    December 18, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    Andy-
    I think I have vague memories of parts of this one…but speaking of moral/ethical dilemmas, what about that “Nightline” voiceover at the end about keeping a “doomed baby” alive so it can serve as an organ donor?! Yikes!!

    And of COURSE the Swedish Chef is God. Thou shalt not mess with the Bork. Bork. Bork.

    -Lauryn

     
  2. fruitflavor

    December 18, 2007 at 7:24 pm

    this is my fave one too. it’s on VHS with my folks… my mom calls it the “icy patch” video.

    we’re too tight at work- they’re planning find a new office, but not until after long i’m gone. anyway, sometimes I just look at the people all around, on top of each other, and think of Muppets sleeping on clothes hangers. and then i giggle. and everyone thinks i’m crazy.

    come to think of it, maybe i should stop doing that…

     
  3. Muppetfan

    October 9, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    It’s like you’re in my head! Even the part about “The Holly and the Ivy” being your favorite song (as sung by Janice, it’s even appropriately surreal). This video (my grandmother taped it for us) was always part of our annual Christmas tradition (along with the Julie Andrews/Placido Domingo/John Denver “Sound of Christmas” — also very goofy). My favorite part of the Muppet Christmas was always Chef’s “der gobbla gobbla HUMUNGA!!!” reaction to Big Bird. And part of me really wanted that Turkey to get it. He was hitting on Gonzo’s girlfriend, that rotter.

     
  4. Gonz

    December 12, 2008 at 11:59 am

    This is the greatest thing ever on television. OK. Just the greatest thing ever period.

     
  5. Vittoria

    December 24, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    This one. I love it.

     

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