Maybe it is the magic that is in the air that time of year or maybe it is their appeal to the children in all of us, but whatever the case may be, the Muppets always deliver when it comes to Christmas specials and movies. It all started in 1970 with the very first Muppet Christmas television special The Great Santa Claus Switch. By this time, Henson had appeared with his Muppets almost twenty times on The Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan not only produced this special, but also served as narrator. The special starts with Sullivan reading a Christmas book to a group of kids that he introduces as the children of folks that work as part of his production crew. I really loved this opening scene. It reminded me of countless Christmas specials that I would see advertised for what seemed like a month before they aired. The anticipation would build and I would set my VCR to tape each one. I still have my original VHS copy of Pee-Wee’s Christmas Special that I watch every year! In this special, Art Carney, in a dual role, plays Cosmo Scam, an evil magician, who hatches a plan to kidnap Santa Claus, disguise himself as The Big Guy, and sneak into homes and rob people as they sleep. Cosmo said that people don’t like burglars sneaking into their homes at night, but they love for Santa Claus to sneak in as they sleep! For his plan to work, Cosmo must convince Santa’s elves that he is the real deal. An elf named Fred (who looks a lot like Ernie) is the first to figure out that Cosmo is an imposter. Cosmo kidnaps Fred and replaces him with one of his henchmen. One by one, the elves suspect something fishy is going on and are kidnapped and replaced. Apart from Sullivan’s scenes, this is my favorite part of the special and one of the top Muppet moments. “We’re Happy Little Christmas Elves” is a recurring song throughout the special. In the beginning of the special, the elves sing it and there is a part where they call out their names in a Mickey Mouse Club fashion. As each elf is kidnapped and replaced, the sound off changes with a henchman impersonating the elf until they have all been replaced. Cosmo does not have just ANY henchmen, either. Henson developed Frackles for this special. Frackles are a type of monsters which live in caves with Cosmo. They are furry and have beaks like birds. This is the only time that any of the Frackles are mentioned by name. In future Henson productions, Frackles are nameless and have no distinct personalities. They change gender, clothing, and appearances based on the needs for whatever skit or show in which they appear. Their function in future productions is much like Anything Monsters, Anything Muppets, and Whatnots with only two exceptions Thog and Snarl — who is also referred to as the Cigar Box Frackle. Measuring at 9 ½ feet tall, Thog is a full-bodied puppet. Thog is only referred to as a Frackle by Henson once, but he does look like a giant Frackle. This show marks his first appearance along with his partner in crime, Thig, another full-bodied puppet. Sadly for Thig, this is his first and last appearance while Thog moved on to being featured on The Muppets Valentine Special, The Muppet Show, The Muppets, and Muppets Most Wanted. Cue fanfare. This special also marks the first appearance of The Great Gonzo! Before he was Gonzo, a whatever, and then an alien (grumbling disdain for Muppets from Space), he was Snarl, a Frackle who lived in a cigar box in Cosmo’s lair. His voice and demeanor were different, but he was physically an early version of Gonzo. Besides, Gonzo would have loved living in a cigar box, don’t cha think? This show marked yet another first. It was the first time that longtime Muppet performers Richard Hunt (Scooter, Beaker, Statler, Sweetums, Janice, and Junior Gorg) and Fran Brill (Prairie Dawn and Zoe) worked with Henson and the Muppets. Fran Brill was actually the first female puppeteer hired by Henson, aside from his wife Jane Henson. Sadly, Hunt died of AIDS related complications in 1992, a severe blow to the Henson organization. It is interesting that Carney played both Santa Claus and Cosmo. Santa Claus was the epitome of kindness while Cosmo described himself as the prince of evil. Cosmo was a magician and Santa attempted to be a magician. He bumbled a coin trick throughout the special, but his Christmas magic helped save the day, along with Fred the elf. Perhaps Cosmo is Santa’s long lost twin brother or this could represent the dualities of everyone’s personalities, a subtle reminder that no one is 100% good or 100% evil. The production quality is low. There are several times that the dialogue is muffled and garbled. The viewer can also see the holes cut in the set that were used for the Muppet performers to stick their arms and hands through, especially in Santa’s workshop. The camera work in the beginning of the special is also oddly shaky for television. The engaging characters and story quickly pulls the viewer in and all of the offenses are forgotten and ignored. With music by Joe Raposo and a story by Jerry Juhl, this special adds just enough humor with sentimentality to be a perfect example of a Muppets production. Although I had heard about this special before, I had never watched it until this year. I wish I would have seen it as a child because I know I would have loved it even more. The only thing missing from this special was Kermit the Frog. The Great Santa Claus Switch should be included in everyone’s holiday viewing list. I give it 4 out of 5 rubber chickens! Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response Muppets 101 Holiday Specials Round-Up! - Psycho Drive-In December 25, 2015 […] 1970 – The Great Santa Claus Switch […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.