Most people reach for The Muppet Christmas Carol as December kicks in (this reviewer included), but it’s a shame that more people do not set aside time to watch 1987’s A Muppet Family Christmas. In a nutshell, this 45-minute made-for-television special is pure joy in cinematic form, an underrated gem from the Muppet golden age that’s witty and enjoyable from the first frame till the last. Long-time Muppet fans are destined to love it, and it represents wholesome entertainment for the entire family guaranteed to make everyone laugh and smile.
As the picture kicks off, Fozzie Bear (Oz) and the rest of the Muppet Show gang are piled in a car, on their way to visit Fozzie’s mother Emily (Nelson) unannounced for a family Christmas. Fozzie is certain that his mother has no plans, and that she will be delighted to have company for the jolly holiday. However, Emily is about to leave for a vacation in the tropics, and has rented her warm home to Doc (Parks) and his dog Sprocket (Whitmire) from Fraggle Rock! When the gang show up, Emily is compelled to cancel her plans, and things grow wilder and wilder from there. Before long, the Sesame Street gang drop in to join in the festivities, while Kermit (Henson) frets over a huge snowstorm that may be dangerous for Miss Piggy (Oz again) who’s on her way to the house to celebrate Christmas with everyone.
A Muppet Family Christmas is not burdened with pretences; the filmmakers aimed to capture the jolly spirit of Christmas, and succeeded with aplomb. Its plot is light and flimsy, yet the special provides unbridled joy and wonder. Moreover, A Muppet Family Christmas incorporates all of the characters from Jim Henson’s various shows: The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and Muppet Babies. Watching the worlds come together and seeing these characters interact is a real treat. It helps if you’re already familiar with everyone, but the special still works if you aren’t. And what Muppet picture is complete without songs? Fortunately, A Muppet Family Christmas fulfils this requirement. The gang sing delightful original songs (the Muppets are even singing in the very first frame) and Christmas carols, and the result is the very definition of joyful.
Clocking in at around 45 minutes, A Muppet Family Christmas is short, but it’s a perfect, briskly-paced showcase of everything we’ve come to know and love about Jim Henson’s creations. Admittedly, this isn’t an extravagant production since it looks like it was made in a studio and various rods attached to the arms of the puppets are visible, but the strong script and lively performances compensate for this. The special is beset with one-liners, sight gags, puns and other quality jokes, including a hilarious poke against Sesame Street and a side-splitting comedy routine involving Fozzie and a snowman (Hunt). Statler (also Hunt) and Waldorf (Henson) even make an appearance, and their heckling yields some of the funniest moments in the entire special. Directors Peter Harris and Eric Till have done a marvellous job of capturing the whimsical sensibilities of Henson’s characters without becoming overly sentimental or corny.
In the years since its original broadcast, the special has been trimmed due to rights issues regarding various Christmas carols, much to the disappointment and chagrin of Muppet fans. Trust me, A Muppet Family Christmas should only be experienced in its original, full, uncut form, and the truncated version should be avoided at all costs. Bursting with warmth, fun and humour, A Muppet Family Christmas may lack a coherent story, but it’s nevertheless a deliriously entertaining series of sketches and musical numbers guaranteed to bring a smile to one’s face. And the Jim Henson cameo at the end of the film tops the whole thing off.