This year we’re celebrating two things at The Christmas Spot. Well, 3 things if you count Christmas by itself, which I suppose you should. Every fifth day, we’re celebrating the best of the best which is why yesterday was A Charlie Brown Christmas. If you read the feature on December 1st for this year, then you also know that I am personally celebrating 35 years of my beloved family heirloom The Christmas Tape. I basically want to cover everything on that tape and the good news is I had already covered most of it going into this year’s countdown. What I had yet to cover was the special Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town which I rectified already. That leaves one other special left: A Muppet Family Christmas.
Oiriginaly broadcast in 1987, my Christmas tape was once a sought after item because of the fact that it contained this unedited broadcast. Future broadcasts were not in primetime and not on broadcast networks so the special was trimmed down to accommodate cable. Subsequent releases of the special on VHS and beyond contained the cable cut, or some stuff was omitted for copyright reasons, I’m not sure. I never actually had to watch them or any rebroadcast because I had the original at my beck and call whenever I wished (provided it was in-season, no watching The Christmas Tape in June, house rule). I did include this special in my original Top 25 Christmas specials, but when I redid those rankings a couple of years ago I actually dropped A Muppet Family Christmas. This puts it in the odd spot of not being in consideration for the every fifth day redo the other specials are getting, but it’s still worthy of a better write-up than the original one I gave it so let’s do that now.
A Muppet Family Christmas was unique at the time because it sought to combine all of the Muppet brands under one umbrella at Christmas. And in 1987, those were primarily the Muppets, Fraggle Rock, and Sesame Street. It aired on ABC and was followed by Julie Andrews’ The Sound of Christmas, a special I will in all likelihood never look at and my parents thankfully did not record it in ’87. The format for this one is nothing special, all of these characters are getting together because it’s Christmas and we have a nice scenic home in the countryside where the holiday can be celebrated. There’s a B plot involving Miss Piggy, and the special does its best to incorporate everyone as best it can. Jim Henson also makes a cameo which gives this one a little added “oomph” given he’s no longer with us and would only be around for a few more years following the broadcast. Let’s not let that get us down though as this musical special wants to make us laugh, and add in a dose of Christmas melancholy, for the next hour.
The special begins with a beat-up pick-up truck driving through a snowstorm. Our driver is Fozzie (Frank Oz) and riding shotgun is Kermit (Jim Henson) with Gonzo (Dave Goelz) seated between them. In the bed of the truck are a whole bunch of characters. Now, I’m a pretty basic Muppets fan and I pretty much only know the heavy hitters by name so I won’t attempt to name everybody, but it sure looks like most everybody is in this truck. And if they’re not, it’s because they’re making their own entrance later. Anyway, the gang is singing “We Need a Little Christmas” as they drive through the snow and I think this is honestly my preferred version of this song (sorry Johnny Mathis), but it also might be the first version of the song I ever heard so that undoubtedly is influencing my opinion.
We get a break in the singing for Fozzie and Kermit to basically set up the special. The whole gang is heading out to the country to surprise Fozzie’s mother for Christmas. She has no idea what’s coming for her. Fozzie assures Kermit this is fine as his mother is likely seated in her farm house all alone and wishing someone would come spend Christmas with her. As he sets the stage, we see a lovely farm house that certainly looks like it’s owned by an old lady. Maybe not a bear, but it has real grandma energy. Fozzie’s mom (Jerry Nelson) comes walking into the scene and she is not some granny looking to sip tea in a rocking chair. She’s carrying a suitcase and sporting some fancy shades as she talks aloud about being bound for Malibu! It seems Fozzie’s mom had found a much more entertaining way to spend the holidays this year. We cut back to the gang in the truck so they can finish their song while also getting a few shots of other occupants of the truck.
After our first commercial break, we return to the farm house where Emily “Ma” Bear is looking over her airplane tickets and getting ready for her departure. A ring of the doorbell interrupts her and on the other side waiting for her is…Doc! Doc (Gerry Parks) is here with his trusty, canine, companion (who is a Muppet) Sprocket (Steve Whitmire) and he is apparently renting Emily Bear’s house for Christmas while she’s on vacation. Both he and Sprocket are surprised to find out that Emily Bear is an actual bear, but they seem to pay it no mind. If you’re unaware, Doc is from the Fraggle Rock show and the premise there is Sprocket sees and encounters the Fraggles, but Doc does not.
As Doc heads upstairs to his room, another ring of the doorbell occurs. This time it’s Fozzie, and Emily is very surprised to see her son, but not disappointed. They do a special greeting and it’s rather sweet as the two embrace. She doesn’t tell him about her vacation, but when she remarks how this is quite the surprise Fozzie lets her know he has an even bigger surprise: he brought all his friends! Since Emily is wearing sunglasses we can’t see how surprised she really is as Kermit and the gang all come barging in. As they do, most, if not all, of them slip on an icy patch she previously warned Doc about who deftly navigated it with little more than a stumble. The various Muppets mostly go head over heels on the thing and it will be a running gag throughout the special.
As the crew comes pouring in, Emily tries to mask her disappointment at this development so as to spare her son’s feelings. Doc is not so concerned and he calls from atop the stairs asking if she remembers him, the guy who wanted a nice, quiet, Christmas? He’s going to say that a lot. All Emily can do is shrug, a gesture indicating she’s just rolling with it, while Doc warns Sprocket to stay clear of these potential aliens. Emily tells him they’re just from television and describes them as Fozzie’s “weirdo friends.” When she does, Dr. Teeth (Henson) confirms this while Sam Eagle (Oz) wonders aloud “Why am I here?” Doc also asks Sprocket, in a whisper, if these characters are like those Fraggles he keeps telling him about and Sprocket just holds up his hand to make a gesture that says “Sort of.” I had no idea Sprocket was capable of communication enough to be able to actually tell Doc the word “Fraggle” at some point in the past.
Fozzie then introduces his mother to Kermit, whom he describes as his boss, friend and inspiration. Emily just responds “Oh yeah, the lizard.” Kermit politely corrects her on his species before apologizing for all of them barging in like this. Emily, ever the gracious host, will here none of it and tells him they’re all welcome while Doc reminds her of his desired nice, quiet, Christmas. She just throws it back at him by saying “You’re disappointed? I just took three months of surfing lessons for zilch!” The telephone rings, which Animal announces, to break up the brief argument. Animal (Oz) is the one to answer it and he seems excited, but then says “Oh…pig” and drops the receiver.
Miss Piggy (Oz) is on the other end when Kermit picks up the phone. He asks where she is as she was supposed to join them at the farm house, but she apparently neglected to tell him about a teensy, weensy, photo shoot she had scheduled. She explains she’ll be heading his way once she’s done, the whole time they’re talking a photographer (David Rudman) is calling out instructions from off camera to Piggy to do various poses ending with a kissy face up close at the camera. Kermit hangs up looking a bit disappointed while Emily is leading a bunch of characters up the stairs to show them to the guest rooms while Doc pleads with her to do no such thing. The door rings and you can see the guy’s heart basically hit the floor as he cries, “Not more!”
Fozzie answers it and it’s Swedish Chef (Henson). He’s arrived with a bunch of cooking equipment and promptly dumps it all as he wipes out on the icy patch. After he gathers himself, Fozzie basically translates his gibberish for us as we find out he’s here to cook the Christmas turkey though we could have figured that out because he says “Gobbly gobbly turkey!” Fozzie is excited to have him and offers to show him to the kitchen. As the two head there, they both basically just sing the melody to “Good King Wenceslas.” I realize that Swedish Chef is considered by some to be offensive these days. I think he’s just called “Chef” now to reflect that. I view him as rather innocuous, but I’m also not Swedish so my opinion might not matter. I’ll probably just refer to him as Chef the rest of the way, mostly because it’s shorter, but also to respect those wishes.
As the two walk towards the kitchen, Gonzo is shown searching for his precious Camilla, the chicken. He’s the original Chicken Lover. The doorbell rings once again and Gonzo stops his search to answer it only to find a turkey on the other side. The turkey (Whitmire) is sporting some shades, a newsboy cap, and carrying a tennis racket for some reason. He’s very colorful too, far more colorful than most turkeys. Gonzo is shocked to see him and ushers him out onto the farmer’s porch. There, he tries to discourage the bird from attending this gathering for he knows what Chef likely has planned, but the turkey won’t take a hint. He says he was invited by some Swedish guy wearing a Chef’s hat and thinks this is a great place to spend the holidays. He just demands to know where his room is and Gonzo tells him if he isn’t careful it will be the oven, but this turkey dismisses his concerns because he’s a survivor. As he walks off, Gonzo calls after him, “See you at dinner!”
In the kitchen, Chef is surrounded by a bunch of chickens, rats, and Fozzie and Kermit. He’s not too happy about this and when Kermit asks what the problem is Fozzie tells him that Chef doesn’t want rats and chickens in his kitchen. Seems reasonable. Kermit suggests that he show them their bedrooms and Chef seems to like that idea so Fozzie does as suggested leaving Kermit and his nephew Robin (Nelson) alone in the kitchen. Kermit remarks how crazy things are getting, but Robin reminds him this is how Christmas usually is. A very sweet, but also loud, version of “Jingle Bells” starts to play in the background as the frogs reflect on their current station. By the way, Robin sucks. I hate Robin, he’s such a dork, and it might be this scene that makes me dislike him as he just starts singing this very sickeningly sweet rendition of “Jingle Bells” in sync with the music. Yuck!
Dr. Teeth apparently agrees with me as Robin’s song is interrupted rather quickly with “Jingle Bell Rock” courtesy of Electric Mayhem. Suck it, Robin! It’s a lively and fun rendition of the song which Robin and Kermit are shown enjoying. The rats like it too, as does Sprocket, though Doc looks a bit befuddled by the whole scene. When it ends we go to a break, but return with Fozzie outside building a snowman that’s clearly a Muppet. A bear and a raccoon are harvesting a Christmas tree and soon Rowlf (Henson) comes upon them. He enters with a joke, “I’ve been chasing a truck the whole way and boy am I exhausted” which Fozzie enjoys. He tells him to head inside and introduce himself to his mother who loves canine humor.
Emily directs the beer and raccoon on where to put the tree and then turns to Doc to help her with the garland for the banister. It would seem since she wasn’t planning on being home for Christmas she decided not to bother decorating and now they have to hastily make the place seem merry. Rowlf comes bounding in and slips on the icy patch momentarily dropping the presents he was carrying in. When he gets up, he informs Emily he’s hear for the holidays and Doc is not happy to hear this. Emily just sighs and indicates she’ll see if there’s a pillow in the kennel. Rowlf seems to get the impression his being there is an inconvenience, but he doesn’t dwell on it since he encounters Sprocket. The two trade barks and Doc actually smiles for once as he remarks “Don’t you just hate it when you can’t speak the language?”
Rowlf soon spies an old piano and heads for it. As he starts playing “Sleigh Ride,” on it he remarks it’s out of tune before adding that he loves out of tune pianos. We then cut to outside where Fozzie comes in with the lyrics as he continues to build his snowman. When he gets to the line “Out here the snow is falling,” it’s not Fozzie, but the snowman, who sings it much to Fozzie’s delight. He and the snowman (Richard Hunt) work their way through the song before breaking into a comedy routine. They trade lame jokes and are soon joined by a bunch of penguins and later some more woodland animals. Doc and Sprocket are also shown enjoying the song from the porch so he’s gradually lightening up.
When the two finish their song, one of the penguins tells Fozzie they’re the funniest comedy duo in the area. This gets Fozzie all excited as he goes running into the house, slipping on the icy patch in the process, calling for Kermit. He finds the frog in the kitchen, but before he could tell him about his new act the phone rings and Kermit goes to retrieve it. It’s Miss Piggy and her photo shoot is done, but she still has to do some Christmas shopping. Kermit is disappointed that she isn’t on the way, but Piggy doesn’t seem to care as she reassures him she’ll be on her way shortly. He hangs up as Miss Piggy starts eyeing some fuzzy, green, slippers and turns his attention to Fozzie. He tells him he’s “All ears,” but before Fozzie can get it out they’re interrupted by the sound of a dog barking. As Kermit goes to investigate, Fozzie remarks that frogs don’t even have ears. Yes they do, you stupid bear.
The source of the barking turns out to be Sprocket, he is under attack from the Chef who seems to think Sprocket is a turkey. Doc is getting quite exasperated with Chef as he explains that Sprocket is a dog, but Chef seems to be rather convinced that Sprocket is not what Doc says he is. Doc can apparently understand Chef and it’s through him we find out that the turkey told Chef that Sprocket is a turkey which causes Doc to remark “The dog is not a turkey, the turkey is the turkey, you turkey!” He leads Sprocket away as Chef seems to head back into the kitchen. Then the turkey comes into the frame to laugh and indicate that he’s having some fun. Camilla then walks in which gets the turkey’s attention. Apparently, she being a chicken isn’t a problem for him as he starts hitting on her.
Scooter (Hunt) then calls out for Kermit’s attention as he found some home movies to share. Doc is seated beside him and seems genuinely interested to watch what Scooter describes as the very first Christmas the Muppets ever spent together. Kermit is eager to see it as a bunch of individuals have gathered in the living room. Scooter rolls tape and it’s basically the Muppet Babies, minus Skeeter, but in actual puppet form. They’re singing “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” with Rowlf on piano. When Fozzie’s part comes on, Mrs. Bear remarks he was still in diapers back then which seems to embarrass him. Someone refers to Rowlf as a wee puppy which just opens him up to make a pee joke while Gonzo thinks the baby version of him was rather handsome. The song ends with baby Animal tearing through a present and they all remark “Oh, Animal” which is his cue to come ripping through the projector screen. Doc enjoyed the show and remarks to Sprocket, “Even weirdos are cute when they’re babies.”
Some clucking from the other room gets Gonzo’s attention and he runs over to find Camilla in the arms, err wings, of the turkey. He angrily orders the turkey to get his hands off of his girlfriend which the turkey seems to find disgusting on account of Gonzo not being a bird! This turkey is a racist, opposed to this sort of inner-species love, so now I’m fine with him going in the oven. Gonzo is ready to throw down and the turkey seems game as well as they both go nose-to-nose until Kermit runs over to break them up. He indicates that he hears something, which Gonzo chimes in with “Yeah, you’re about to hear me make some turkey hash,” but Kermit tells him it’s carolers that he hears.
It’s the gang of Sesame Street that has come a caroling, appropriately enough singing “Here We Come A-Caroling.” As they all come into view for Kermit to enthusiastically point out it’s the Sesame Street Gang, the song stops so Big Bird (Caroll Spinney) can wish everyone a Merry Christmas from Sesame Street! They then go into “Deck the Halls” and characters from Sesame Street get a little face-time in between “Fa la las”. For some reason, a random cow puppet gets a line in(her name is apparently Gladys, but I don’t remember her as being a featured character), while the rest basically just play it straight. The only gag is when it’s Oscar the Grouch’s (Spinney) turn he just says “I will not sing this song!”
When the song is over the gang basically storm the house. Doc seems to be accepting his fate at this point as he remarks to Emily this likely means he and Sprocket will have to give up their hammock in the attic. I get wrecking the guy’s nice, quiet, Christmas and forcing him to adapt, but I do think he’s at least owed a bed, no? It’s not like he’s the host, after all, but I guess it’s just funnier this way. After his remark, Emily says it’s either that or he builds bunk beds so he tells Sprocket to find him a hammer. As Emily leaves, Doc is introduced to Bert and Ernie (Henson). He’s cordial, and when he says his name is Doc, Bert (Oz) replies with “That begins with the letter D!” When Doc confirms it does by saying, “Yes,” Ernie points out that begins with the letter “Y,” and Doc says “True,” and you get it. When Doc asks what’s going on, Bert informs him that this is small talk where they come from. That is a perfect Sesame Street joke that isn’t taking place on Sesame Street.
Doc excuses himself to go build some bunkbeds and Bert and Ernie continue the bit amongst themselves. In the kitchen, Chef has finally got his mitts on the turkey and he isn’t being tricked anymore. He’s literally measuring him to make sure he’ll fit into the roasting pan he brought all the while the turkey tries to convince him he’ll make a terrible meal. He has one more ace up his sleeve though as he leads Chef to the door to show him what just entered the house: Big Bird! Chef is blown away and refers to Big Bird as a “Gobbly gobbly humongo!” He rubs his hands together and tosses the roasting pan aside as that won’t due any longer while the turkey snickers off in the background.
Oscar then tells everyone to be quiet as there’s a news bulletin coming on. A newsman (Henson) comes on to warn of an oncoming blizzard and indicates that barometers are falling sharply. He’s them bombarded with a bunch of literal, falling, barometers. Scooter has a laugh at the newsman’s expense, then reacts to the snow falling outside while The Count (Nelson) tries to count the flakes as they fall, an exercise in futility. Kermit peers out the window with worry on his face for Miss Piggy still hasn’t arrived.
When we come back from a break, Fozzie and his mother are working on a checklist for where everyone will be sleeping. When they get to Oscar, he informs them that he’ll be fine right here in his trash can. Rizzo the rat (Whitmire) then comes to scope it out and asks Oscar if he could bunk with him. Oscar rubs his chin and thinks it might be nice having a rat in his can and I’m not sure how we’re supposed to interpret that thought. Janice (Hunt) comes wandering over baring Christmas cookies and comes upon the wrong guy: Cookie Monster (Oz). He devours every last morsel on her tray leaving her standing there wondering “Who was that strange, blue, creature?” Animal is there to add “That my kind of fella!”
Ernie then calls for everyone’s attention as he and the gang are preparing to put on a play: Twas the Night Before Christmas. He will be playing Papa, and in the role of Mama is a very embarrassed Bert who needs some coaxing to come out from behind the curtain. They all have a laugh at Bert’s expense, including Ernie, before things get started. Ernie reads the poem and after the first line out comes Grover (Oz) dressed as the mouse who is not stirring. We know he is not stirring because he’s carrying a bowl to illustrate that he is clearly not stirring.
Ernie moves on to the next part of the poem, the arrival of Santa, and when the curtain is thrown aside we see a sleigh full of eight…monsters! In the middle is Elmo and I only point this out because this is when he was a new character and not the phenom he would become, so Elmo is seen in this special, but not heard. Bert seems almost disgusted with Ernie for selecting the monsters as reindeer and wants to know who is Santa. Ernie tells him to hold on as he gets to that part and in comes the two-headed monster with both heads sporting hats and beards. Sam Eagle is left to remark, “Is nothing sacred?” as he drops his face into his hands. Bert just tells Ernie to get to the finish, so he does, and it’s the monsters who get the last line. They all leave to raucous applause.
Doc then comes bursting in through the front door to confirm that, yes, there’s quite a blizzard raging out there. A few of them head over to the window to look at the storm and it’s Emily Bear that remarks to “the lizard” that it’s a good thing all of his friends are safe and warm inside the farm house. Kermit basically gulps out, “But all of my friends aren’t safe and warm inside the farm house.” The phone rings and Kermit runs off to grab it and, of course, it’s Miss Piggy. She’s calling from a phone booth (remember those?) to tell Kermit that her chauffer, Jerome, got the limo stuck in a snowbank so she’ll be taking a taxi the rest of the way. Kermit advises against doing so on account of the blizzard, but Miss Piggy dismisses his concerns as “Just some snow.” She hangs up and it takes all of her strength to force open the phone booth doors to get out. As she starts walking up the street, the wind is fighting her the whole way. First her hat sails off, then the phone booth, and soon she follows with a scream and a loud crashing sound is heard offscreen.
Kermit is left holding the phone, worried, as Fozzie comes by to cheer him up. He indicates to Kermit that he could use a dose of comedy right now and tries to take him outside to view his new act. Kermit tries telling him it’s too cold to go out there, but Fozzie insists it’s fine. They get to the door and it swings open and in comes the snowman looking to warm up. Kermit just looks at Fozzie with an “I told you so,” expression, but Fozzie just tells Kermit this is his new partner. The snowman agrees and declares they’re terrific together. Fozzie welcomes him towards the living room and asks if anyone wants to see they’re act. Responding in the affirmative are Fozzie’s mortal enemies: Statler (Hunt) and Waldorf (Henson). They play off of each other with one saying “We’d love to see your act,” followed by, “In fact, we’d hate to miss your act,” and finishing with “In fact, we’d love to hate your act!” As Fozzie bemoans their presence, he finds out they’re friends of his mother who always visit her around the holidays.
Fozzie can’t believe what he’s hearing and as he stands there speechless, it’s Statler who remarks “These two are made for each other; the snowman’s ice cold, and the bear’s not so hot!” They’re killing it, but Fozzie and the snowman try to go into their act, but every time they approach a punchline, Statler and Waldorf beat them to it. The snowman complains he’s starting to melt, though I think it’s his pride that hurts most. Waldorf zings him once more, and Fozzie sadly leads the snowman out of the house and to the back porch.
By the window, Doc and Kermit are just staring out at the snow. Kermit is clearly worried, and Doc mentions that he’s “One worried frog,” to the nearest character, which just happens to be The Count. He restates Doc’s observation the only way he can, and then Robin comes in (I hate that frog) to indicate he’s not the only one worried so Count gets to add, “That’s two worried frogs! Ha. Ha. Ha,” before walking off. Sprocket appears confused and Doc remarks it must be more small talk before saying he should go collect more fire wood. Kermit and Robin are left standing together looking out the window with Kermit draping an arm around his nephew’s shoulders.
In the kitchen, Chef is up to something. Big Bird soon enters and it would seem Chef lured him there. He tries to smack Big Bird with a rubber mallet, but Big Bird doesn’t notice and as he turns around he knocks the chef on his ass with his tail. As Chef prepares to try again, Big Bird tells him he brought something for him: chocolate-covered bird seed. He completely disarms Chef with his generosity as he indicates he felt he must be feeling a little blue since he’s so far from home. Chef is touched and seems to forget about murdering and cooking Big Bird and the two go into the most unlikely duet of the special: “The Christmas Song.” Chef sings in gibberish which is what makes this a rather bold choice. When they finish, he begins to sob as he clearly is lonesome this Christmas. Big Bird seems to pay it no mind, or he wants to cheer him up by changing the subject, and asks what he’s making for Christmas dinner. Chef seems to have had a change of heart as he explains something to Big Bird which the kind, yellow, bird translates as shredded wheat and cranberry sauce. This is apparently his favorite. I say he should go back to killing the turkey, if Gonzo hasn’t already.
Once again, we see Kermit by a window. Beauregard (Goelz) is there with him this time to remark he’s got a lot of shoveling ahead of him. He becomes the latest to remind Kermit of the current situation by asking him, “Aren’t you glad you’re all in here all warm and toasty?” leaving Kermit to remind him that Miss Piggy isn’t. We cut to Piggy and she’s positioned behind a taxi. She tells the driver to “Gun it!” as she’s trying to help get it unstuck apparently, and all that happens is she gets sprayed with mud from a spinning tire. Doc then comes in with the firewood and sees Kermit. He acknowledges Kermit’s worry, and then offers to go look for Miss Piggy. Kermit is surprised since he doesn’t even know her. Doc explains that he didn’t know any of them before today, but now he considers them all friends. He then adds how he and Sprocket were planning on having a nice, quiet, Christmas alone, but this is better! When he asks Kermit what she looks like, he indicates she’s a pig causing Doc to remark, “Well, up until a short while ago I would have thought that strange.” He vows to give it a try and heads out leaving Kermit to remark, “What a sweet guy.”
Robin (ugh) then calls out for Uncle Kermit from the cellar. Kermit heads down there to see what the kid is up to only to find some, weird, tunnel. Robin asks him if this might be a Fraggle Hole, and Kermit seems to think it is so the two investigate further. As they walk in they find an expansive system of caves. As they wander, some beings in the background are poking their heads up to look at the frogs. Kermit thinks he heard something, but doesn’t see anyone. It’s played off as kind of spooky and as the two frogs turn a corner they nearly bump into a Fraggle.
It’s Red Fraggle (Karen Prell) that gives the two a mild start which causes them to bump into Gobo Fraggle (Nelson) behind them. They’re soon joined by Mokey Fraggle (Kathryn Mullen), Boober Fraggle (Hunt), and Wembley Fraggle (Whitemire). They’re pretty confused by what they’ve come across, but Kermit knows that they are Fraggles. He tells them they’re frogs, and that doesn’t clear anything up, but they move on when Kermit says they came down to wish them a merry Christmas. The Fraggles don’t know what Christmas is so Robin explains it as the time of year when you gather with the people you love to wish them peace on Earth. A nice sentiment, but I don’t know if I’ve ever heard Christmas described in such a way.
The Fraggles indicate they have a similar time of year, and it’s going on right now! Mokey says they gather together and give each other presents and says she’s about to give a pebble (which looks like a pretty large, orange, rock) to Boober to mark this occasion. The other Fraggles all chime in that they’ve been passing this rock around for years and it’s Goober who confirms it’s been a gift 37 times. Apparently, re-gifting is encouraged in Fraggle Rock. This prompts the Fraggles to sing a pretty lame song called “Pass it On.” There’s some bongos and they just do a sequence of “La la’s” ending with “Pass it on!” There’s some verses and such about gift giving, and how it’s better than receiving, but little in the way of jokes or anything. The frogs get in on the act and when the song is over it’s Robin who is given the Fraggle pebble.
As the two leave remarking how nice a meeting that was, Scooter calls for Kermit because they heard something outside. He rushes to the window where others are gathered and soon Miss Piggy comes into view. She’s being brought to the farm via dogsled with Doc serving as the driver. She’s no longer covered in mud and looks about as elegant as a pig can. Doc is also wearing a fancy uniform and he laughs as he explains that when he found her she had the costume for him. Kermit is left to remark that Piggy always does know how to make an entrance.
With everyone now outside, Piggy goes into another song: “Home for the Holidays.” It’s played straight, as most of the songs have been, with the whole gang joining in as Piggy makes her way into the house. As the song is fading out, Kermit leads Piggy into the house where she slips on the icy patch. All of the onlookers cry out in unison, “Careful of the icy patch!” I think that’s the last time that joke is recycled and they did save the best instance of it for last.
After the break, Fozzie is putting the finishing touches on the tree to lots of “oo’s” and “ah’s” now that it’s lit. Fozzie then calls for quiet as his mother has an announcement. It’s at this point that Emily Bear formally welcomes them all here, and then follows by asking that they are all here now? She’s relieved to hear it confirmed that everyone is indeed present and then breaks the news that two people are going to have to sleep hanging from hooks on the wall. We cut to Gonzo remarking to Animal what a great idea this was as the two are hanging from said hooks. Animal appears to be in agreement. We find out that’s how Animal always sleeps. Emily Bear refers to them all as weirdos, but nice weirdos.
Kermit, now clothed and seated beside Piggy, tells everyone it’s time for their annual carol sing. He gives Rowlf the signal to start them off, and now my job gets easy because they’re going to sit and sing. A lot. They start with “Happy Holidays,” then move onto the following: Ding Dong Merrily On High, I Saw Three Ships a Sailing, Good King Wenceslas, The Holly and the Ivy, I’ll be Home for Christmas, Happy Holidays (a reprise), Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Caroling Caroling, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, It’s in Every One of Us, Old Friends New Friends. There aren’t really any jokes during those 8 minutes or so of singing, save for Beaker doing some of his weird noises. The Fraggles are also shown ascending from the basement and they’re singing with Doc and Sprocket, though I think the implication is that Doc doesn’t notice them.
When it’s mercifully over, we return to the living room where Emily is finishing hanging Fozzie’s stocking so that Santa can leave him a present. Fozzie indicates he’s embarrassed again, so his mother offers to take it down, but he stops her pretty quickly. This reminds Kermit that he has a present for Miss Piggy. She is quite excited to receiver her gift, and when Kermit announces that he got her a mink she practically faints. Then she gets rather sour when an actual, mink, Muppet named Maureen (Prell) comes into frame. She obviously thought she was getting a coat, but somehow Kermit managed to find her an indentured servant in 1987 (seriously, I get the joke, but this is rather weird, no?). Piggy cheers up when Maureen expresses how she’s a huge fan and worships the ground she walks on. Piggy then gives a little chuckle and embraces the mink to show Kermit she’s happy with her gift, but I’m not convinced.
Off to the side somewhere, Robin and Grover share a moment where Robin gives Grover his Fraggle pebble. Grover is surprisingly delighted by the offering and Robin gets the satisfaction of carrying on the tradition. Or he just didn’t want a rock. The doorbell then rings, again, and in comes…Santa! Well, it’s clearly Doc dressed up as Santa, but the sentiment is nice. He’s got gifts which he starts to hand out while everyone else breaks into song, again, with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
We then cut to the kitchen and diehard Muppet fans are encouraged to reach for the tissues. It’s Jim Henson shown watching his creations celebrate. He’s not alone as Sprocket is at his feet. He remarks how they’re having a good time out there and adds that he likes it when they have a good time. He then gives Sprocket the bad news that there’s a lot of dishes to do. He offers to wash while Sprocket dry, and I’d love to see how that works.
We then zoom out from an image of mistletoe while the Muppets keep right on singing. Underneath the deadly plant are Kermit and Piggy. Piggy tells Kermit to look up and he does remarking “Uh oh,” upon seeing the mistletoe. Piggy plants a gentle kiss on his cheek and wishes him merry Christmas. Kermit returns the favor and expresses the same. They then turn to the camera as the song finishes and the whole crowd shouts, “Merry Christmas everyone!” The title comes back onto the screen and the credits roll to raucous applause from the many Muppets on screen.
Over 6,000 words later, this one is done! These hour long specials take even longer as a write-up, but they’re worth it. A Muppet Family Christmas may have been knocked from the ranks of the top 25, but it’s still a special I enjoy watching each year. It’s charming and there’s a lot of sweetness to it. The jokes tend to be corny, but there’s some good material here as well. Mostly, this one just serves as a celebration of all things Jim Henson in 1987. It’s pretty neat seeing it all come together, and it’s really in the joining of Muppets and Sesame Street where the best comedy is found. The Fraggles do feel a bit tacked on, but I’m sure for fans of their show it was a big deal to see them included. I personally have never been a fan of the show Fraggle Rock so I could do without especially since their scene feels like padding. This probably didn’t need the full hour, but again, if you were big into The Muppets in 1987 this probably hit a lot harder.
Where this one does suffer a bit is in its self-indulgence. It’s greatest strength is it’s greatest weakness. We don’t spend a lot of time with anyone except Kermit as there’s just so many characters here. And even so, around one fifth of the special’s runtime is devoted to a medley of Christmas carols and Muppet/Sesame Street originals. That’s the moment where the special really drags and every time I watch it I’m surprised at how long that segment lasts. It just keeps on going. At the same time though, it’s really impressive seeing all of those puppets in one place at one time all being manipulated. The set must have been fairly large and pretty expensive to construct for a one-off. I’m not a Muppets expert so I don’t know if this set was ever reused or not. There were definitely a lot of extra hands here as Frank Oz and Jim Henson can’t work 8 different puppets each at once so this thing’s existence is special. It’s just more interesting on paper than it is in reality.
If you are a big fan of the Muppets then this is probably a must see each and every year, and I get that. If I were a bigger fan of the Muppets then I’d probably like it more than I do. And I do like it! I just don’t love it. If you wish to view it, it has been released on physical media though I know it’s tricky to find the right one. I want to say the Canadian release has everything, but I’m not positive. It is available on YouTube for free and it’s the 87 broadcast so it has everything, and there’s even one out there with commercials included. Though if I’m being honest, the commercials on my tape for this special are kind of weak, but better than nothing. Maybe ABC just didn’t get the good ones or advertisers weren’t sold on The Muppets? Oh well, as fun as old commercials are, the special is what matters most.
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
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Dec. 21 – Buzz Lightyear of Star Command – “Holiday Time”
When Pixar set out to create competing, fictional, toys in its debut film Toy Story it settled on cowboys and space rangers. The thought being that once upon a time cowboys were the most popular fantasy toy among boys, but were soon replaced by fantastic space voyagers once real-life space travel became possible. In order…Keep reading
Dec. 21 – Nerds and Monsters – “Zanti-Clops”
I was doing a lot of different things in the year 2014. It was a busy one, but one thing I was not doing was watching Canadian children’s animation. Which is why I had zero knowledge of the cartoon series Nerds and Monsters before today. Nerds and Monsters, from what I have read and the…Keep reading