The Muppets appeared in their first feature-length television special in 2002 on NBC. Based on Frank Capra’s Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Very Merry Muppet Christmas marked a return to form comeback for the Muppets. It was enough to rebuild my faith in the Muppets after Muppets from Space and it foreshadowed the Muppets’ return to mainstream consciousness and the big screen 9 years later. Kermit (Steve Whitmire) is the “George Bailey” of this version and instead of the Ol’ Building & Loan, the Muppets are about to lose the Muppet Theater. Kermit worked out an extension on a loan until after a run of the Muppets’ holiday spectacular, but the bank’s owner died. Without having anything in writing, the widow, Ms. Bitterman (Joan Cusack) demands that the Muppets pay up by midnight on Christmas Eve. Pepe (Bill Barretta) becomes infatuated with Ms. Bitterman and all “the monies” she has. He abandons the Muppets to go work for her and takes the original loan contract with him. Ms. Bitterman alters it to state that payment is due at 6pm instead of midnight. Uncle Billy, eh, I mean Fozzie (Eric Jacobson) makes it to the bank on time, but with a bag full of trash and laundry instead of money. Lucky for Kermit, and based on “the world without Kermit” in this special, lucky for us, The Boss (Whoopi Goldberg) sends a guardian angel named Daniel (David Arquette) down to earth to help Kermit see what a wonderful life he has led and how important he is. Fans and viewers criticize this special stating that it contains inappropriate innuendoes and tasteless jokes, but I disagree. One of the best things about the classic Muppets before the death of Jim Henson was the fact that they appealed to both adults and children. At times, jokes and dialogue was somewhat risqué, but not outrageously offensive. Janice, the lead guitarist of The Electric Mayhem Band, provided an edge and often made comments that other characters could not get away with. In The Great Muppet Caper she said, “Look Mother, it’s my own life, okay? If I want to live on a beach and walk around naked…” In Muppets Take Manhattan, she said “Look buddy, I don’t take my clothes off for anyone. I don’t care if it is ‘artistic.’” Viewers not only forgave her comments, but also seem to have forgotten about them all together. At one point, Ms. Bitterman pulls Pepe’s head level with her cleavage and uses her assets to persuade him to give her information and later a pig choreographer that is a gay stereotype comments on Kermits “tushies.” These are some of the more vanilla innuendoes. The only part that bothered me was the version of the world in which Kermit had never been born. Without the Muppets in her way, Ms. Bitterman has already realized her goal of turning the theater’s location into a nightclub with several of the Muppets working there. It is pretty freaky to see Sam the Eagle dancing with glow sticks and a pacifier in his mouth, but it is not nearly as weird as seeing Scooter cage dancing in leather. I kept waiting for Brian Kinney to walk in. The most traumatizing image was not of Miss Piggy becoming a crazy cat lady, but it was a frozen Kermit sitting on a park bench. A frozen Kermit was still not as upsetting as a frozen Red Fraggle! This feature mark several changes in the Muppet world. During the 1990s, Rizzo and Gonzo had shifted into the forefront of the characters in The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island, Muppet Classic Theater, and Muppets from Space. With this special, the focus shifts back to Kermit as the main character and expands out to Miss Piggy, Fozzie, then Gonzo, and farther out among supporting characters we find Rizzo, but he is not as far out as minor and background characters. With a plot centering on Kermit, Fozzie returned to his role as Kermit’s #2 and best friend. Despite his love for Kermit and his good intentions, Fozzie messes everything up. In the alternate universe, however, the writers have switched the personalities of Gonzo and Fozzie by making Gonzo the only one who understands Kermit and the importance of friendship while Fozzie is a heartless pick pocket. It would have been much truer to the characters and writing if Fozzie was the kind mall performer/starving artist and Gonzo was a sneaky thief. Characters are changing on screen while there are also major changes for Muppet performers behind the scenes. Scooter and Janice are significantly featured for the first time since Richard Hunt’s death, both voiced in this special by Brian Henson. Scooter had one line in Muppets from Space. Janice had appeared silently on screen in The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island. I had really missed hearing her say, “Like fer sure, really?!” Bill Barretta performed Rowlf the Dog who also speaks his first full lines since Jim Henson’s death. This film is the first major performance of Eric Jacobson in the roles of Frank Oz’s signature characters Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear. Kevin Clash, mostly recognized as the performer behind Elmo, stepped in to perform Sam the Eagle, but Jacobson would later absorb that role too. Veteran Muppet performer Jerry Nelson was ill during the production of this special, suffering with complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and prostate cancer. Steve Whitmire began performing Statler around this time. Whitmire puppeteered and Nelson later looped his lines. Other performers puppeteered Nelson’s other mainstay characters while he later looped their lines as well. The only exception being Lew Zealand who was performed by Bill Barretta. Sadly, Nelson passed away in 2012. There are numerous similarities between this special and the 2011 film The Muppets. The main foundation of the plot is the same; the Muppets must save the Muppet Theater from a corporate villain. Along the way, a member of the Muppets overhears the villain’s plot to acquire the theater, Kermit reaches out to some celebrities to help by using their star power, the Muppets put on a show to raise money, and must play “beat the clock” by raising the money within a certain deadline. Both movies even feature Muppet renditions of “Smells like Teen Spirit!” I call shenanigans! Both are independently strongly performed and well-written with nearly a decade separating the two. Don’t let it happen again, guys! Ms. Bitterman is also one of the most evil villains to appear in a Muppet movie! She seduces Pepe, which is not really that hard. She also cuts down the Muppets with almost every line of dialogue she has. Not only does she want the tear down the theater, she utterly despises the Muppets. She hates them and everything they believe in like hope and dreams. One of her best lines is when she says, “I thought you figured out I was the bad guy by now.” During this movie, keep an eye out as the Muppets parody other Christmas movies like A Christmas Story, 2000’s remake of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the Rankin Bass version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. There are also several allusions to O. Henry’s short story “The Gift of the Magi.” It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie restores the natural order to the Muppet characters and works as a well-deserved comeback. Although changes in Muppet performers and the voices of characters can be jarring, it is wonderful to see the whole Muppet gang reunited as silent or absent characters are featured in this special. The sharp and witty humor that the Muppets were known for during the 1970s and 1980s adds a colorful spin on the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. I give it 5 out of 5 rubber chickens! See larger image It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie [Blu-ray] New From: $4.99 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response Muppets 101 Holiday Specials Round-Up! - Psycho Drive-In December 25, 2015 […] 2002 – It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.