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a very special christmas special (repeat): A Muppet Family Christmas (1988) (or: To Serve Muppets)

11 Dec

Part of the “charm” of Christmas specials is the ability to watch and re-watch them over and over again.  They become familiar, and they become part of your family’s Christmas tradition.  So, in the spirit of that (and to lighten my blog-load while I finish up the next post) here’s a re-run from last year:

(note: certain bits have been tweaked and re-worked.  Original post date: Dec. 15, 2007)

We continue our retrospective of beloved holiday entertainments with something I just loved to pieces as a small geek.  It’s got Sesame Street Muppets.  It’s got Muppet Show Muppets.  It’s got Fraggles.  It’s got the Muppet Babies.  It is, in short, the ultimate crossover multi-Muppetverse extravaganza.  It’s Crisis on Infinite Earths for the holidays.  It’s “The Five Doctors,” rendered in felt.   We taped this one off TV when I was eight or so, and I pretty much wore out the tape watching it and re-watching it.

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.

As we join our story, Fozzie’s Mom is off to California for the holidays in the middle of a snowstorm.  She’s renting out the house to Sprocket and the Old Guy From Fraggle Rock so they can have a nice, quiet Christmas.   OR SO THEY BELIEVE!!!

Incidentally, Fozzie honks his horn at just the right moment during “We Need A Little Christmas,” 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, especially considering the fact that The Old Guy From Fraggle Rock is probably retired and lives alone.  Which begs the question: is he going there to die?  To disappear under the snow drifts?  In short, on this joyous holiday, has kindly old Doc chosen to drink himself to death in Fozzie’s mother’s farm house like Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas? Not necessarily, but the subtext is there if you want it to be.  Just saying.

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, Robin is dead, and the Dark Tower time-scoop looks like a black trapezoid and not a swirly CGI cone thing.   Only Neil, Bill, Shelley, and Dad will get that last one, but it bears mentioning.

The snowman is awesome, but later, he’ll have trouble coming inside.  For now, though, Fozzie and the Snowman sing pretty much the best version of “Sleigh Ride” ever, putting the 1993 version by the Westford Academy Chorus to shame (our take on “Riu Riu Chiu”, however, still beats all.)   It wouldn’t be Christmas without the following gag:

Fozzie: (something about Santa Claus and his eight tiny rein-bear.)

Snowman:  That’s reindeer.

Fozzie: No, that’s snow, honey!

::sigh:: That joke tastes like Hood Eggnog to me.

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 “Here We Come A Caroling”, not wassailing, because wassail is a type of mulled wine and the strongest thing they sell in Hooper’s store is cough syrup.  It then segues into 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.  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.

Way too many things actually happen in this special to go into, so I’ll try and get to the highlights.  Have I mentioned the icy patch yet?  Everyone remembers the icy patch.  The icy patch is one of the great running Muppet gags.

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 – like the embodiments of chaotic evil and lawful, yet bumbling, good in the Muppetverse have come together in the spirit of the holidays; like Benjamin Linus and Hurley joining together in song on A Very Special Lost Christmas*.

(Losties take note: this was originally written before Season 4.  I don’t know what the hell’s going on with those guys these days.)

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.  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.  That’s probably what Jim intended, the old hippie.

Anyway, Miss Piggy arrives safe and sound, and 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 really Santa Claus….

henson

…and then Jim Henson shows up at the end to do the dishes, and everyone in the audience, young and old, weeps a little.

(note: here’s some comments from my original post.  As you can see, people love this special, and everyone has their favorite moment. )

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.

-MuppetFan

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…

-FruitFlavr (Kim D-P)

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

-Lauryn

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1 Comment

Posted by on December 11, 2008 in christmas specials, War on Xmas!

 

One response to “a very special christmas special (repeat): A Muppet Family Christmas (1988) (or: To Serve Muppets)

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