Don’t get me wrong. Winter’s my favorite season. It guarantees me three months of blissfully dreary skies, wearing scarves without fear of recrimination, peeling clementines into perfect spirals, and the promise of waking up to a snow-covered city at least once.
Muppets aren’t nearly so lucky. For them, winter means that by the end of the special, somebody’s going to freeze a pair of fleece buns off. Christmas episodes hold a particular danger for Muppets; whether it’s Fraggles freezing solid or Big Bird shivering in two feet of snow, likely to succumb to pneumonia before Santa arrives, the holiday season is wracked with peril.
Sure, Muppets may be regularly tossed over banisters, electrocuted, and set upon by eight-foot monstrosities, but they’ve shown remarkable resilience over the years. We don’t worry about Beaker every time he’s flattened or incinerated or loses a nose, because he’ll pop right back up in the next episode as dependably as Wile E. Coyote.
Frozen Muppets, though, are a horse of a different color. Their cryogenically tragic state, achieved through slow and torturous exposure, serves the storyline more than the sight gags. A frozen Muppet comes both to teach a lesson (Gobo learns that he’d known the Heart of the Rock all along; Kermit learns his own value; Big Bird learns the true meaning of central heating) and to terrify us right out of our long johns.
Hell hath no fury like a Muppet tormented into an eerie unblinking stare. And depending on Punxsutawney Phil’s outing today, we may be in for six more weeks of unfavorable Muppet conditions.
What’s the worst in the Frozen Muppet oeuvre that we’ve had to endure, from mildly disturbing to thoroughly traumatic? We’ve got our Horror-O-Meter up and running, so let’s review.
1. Blanket of Snow, Blanket of Woe
The Lowdown: Mokey, frazzled by too many commitments, forgets to knit a tarpaulin for Marjory the Trash Heap before the first big snowstorm. Unprotected, Marjory freezes over, covered by snow and icycles.
Why So Scared?
Throughout the episode, Philo and Gunge continue talking (and singing) to Marjory, who gives little indications that under all the frost, she’s still alive. The emphasis is more on the Fraggle cast working to thaw the Trash Heap out than on her potential demise. Besides, any episode that includes Junior Gorg dancing to the “Goodtime Goombah Soup” song couldn’t leave any lasting damage.
Horror-O-Meter Rating: 2.3 (Vaguely irritating, largely due to Mokey being Mokey.)
2. Christmas Eve on Sesame Street
The Lowdown: Big Bird sets out to answer Oscar’s stubborn but classic question: “How’s a guy like Santa Claus, who’s built like a dump truck,” going to fit down the chimney? After resorting from everything to statistics (Kermit surveys the neighborhood kids and comes up with the possibility of rubber chimneys) to dubious science (abandoning the customary hypothesis, Big Bird experiments by stuffing Snuffy into a barrel), Big Bird makes camp on the roof for the night, patiently waiting to find out the truth from Santa Claus himself.
Why So Scared?
Fearing for his safety, Big Bird’s friends frantically search for him — and on Christmas Eve, no less — as the snow piles up around his rooftop perch. Fortunately, none of the neighborhood parents worry about their kids as much as the grown-ups in the cast worry about Big Bird. Unfortunately, their worry makes me worried. Maria goes so far as to declare that Big Bird could freeze out there, working up a big tearful pout to spur Oscar into action. (The ploy works on Oscar; anything for ol’ Skinny, I bet.) So while the icicles dangling from Big Bird’s nose may be endearing, I wonder how close Big Bird was to giving in and slipping into sweet, warm unconsciousness when he was found.
Horror-O-Meter Rating: 4.2 (Frightening in its poultry-freezing capacity.)
Violent Bonus: To end the bizarre skating intro sequence, Oscar is tossed into the air and down a flight of stairs, legs flailing limply, until he lands at the foot of the stairs with a dull thud. He emerges a split second later to exclaim, “Let’s go back and do it again!”
3. The Christmas Toy
The Lowdown: Thanks to the foolhardiness of toy tiger Rugby, a human sees Mew the catnip toy out of his spot. In the cold-hearted universe of The Christmas Toy and in concordance with the general sense of foreboding and constant peril that populates it, this means instantaneous death, or in the lingo of the characters, becoming “frozen.”
Why So Scared?
True, he didn’t freeze in the traditional sense, but Mew was the only character I liked in this entire special, and they up and kill him off (for a few minutes, at least, until love saves the day). Then the irksome main character has to go and sing about his grief. That’s no way to treat an audience. Plus, Rugby had started to grow on me by this point, and I had to admit that I felt his pain.
Horror-O-Meter Rating: 5.5 (Tear-jerking.)
4. The Bells of Fraggle Rock
The Lowdown: “Layers of stone cover the great bell; we no longer travel to the heart.” That’s Cantus Code for, “Everyone’s hearts have grown stony because it’s so dang cold at this time of year.” To keep the Rock from slowing to a halt and freezing, Fraggle Rock residents hold a Festival of the Bells, ringing their bells to awaken the mythical Great Bell at the heart of the Rock.
Why So Scared?
Flirting with agnosticism, Gobo points out that no one has ever seen the Great Bell. In a bout of desperation, he vows to bring the Great Bell back to show everyone, “so that this holiday will mean something.” As his friends wait for his arrival before ringing their bells, Gobo’s search proves fruitless and he returns empty-handed, only to find the gang frozen solid.
I haven’t loved Fraggle Rock for as many years as I’ve loved the Muppets, and I’d never believe that any of the five main Fraggles could up and die, so this one never gave me any nightmares. Still, we have to watch the Fraggles shivering together, growing colder and colder until they can’t ring their bells even when they try. (I must admit that at this point I wrote, “Well, I guess I wouldn’t mind losing Mokey.”)
And we see Gobo find them — Boober a wordless bundle of blankets; Mokey and Red with their eyes facing downwards, their pupils obscured, so we only see the whites of their eyeballs; and Wembley staring straight ahead, mouth agape, as though he’d been in the middle of declaring his faith in Gobo’s return when he froze. Luckily, the scene doesn’t last long, as Gobo figures out how to thaw everyone out, and realizes that he’s already found the heart of the Rock.
Gobo: The Great Bell is — is my bell! Is Wembley’s bell! It’s our music that keeps the Rock alive!
Still. They had me for a minute there.
Horror-O-Meter Rating: 6.2 (Briefly distressing.)
5. It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie
The Lowdown: David Arquette, playing the most lovable character in this movie by far, travels down from Heaven to help Kermit learn the true meaning of dated references. He arrives too late. Kermit, wallowing in self-loathing, has huddled on a bench for the night and turned himself into a frogsicle. (How much do you suppose Doc Hopper would ask for one of those?)
Why So Scared?
Arquette’s landing flips the bench, launching Kermit into the air and clinking him head-first into a garbage can. Mortified, Arquette fishes him out and sets him upright, only to have Kermit clatter backwards against the back of the bench.
There’s a reason I hadn’t watched this again since it aired. The viewers never see Kermit freeze gradually the way the Fraggles did, or hear him moaning like the Trash Heap did, indicating some possible revival. His frozen state just hits us in one shocking revelation — and before we can recover, his froggy corpse starts flying into things, threatening to shatter to pieces. To make matters worse, as soon as Kermit defrosts, he becomes unbearable. When he launches into his highly unnerving “I wish I’d never been born” speech, we start to wish he’d stayed frozen.
Horror-O-Meter Rating: 9.6 (Possibly damaging to people who like the Muppets.)
Melty Reverse Bonus: I’d forgotten all about Mel Brooks as Joe Snow, the ambitious snowman, and I’ll probably forget again within a year. But the deleted scene featuring him melting into oblivion is no picnic.
Bonus and Dishonorable Mention: The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz
The Lowdown: Piggy, in the role of the Wicked Witch of the West, orders her henchmen, the Flying Monkey biker gang, to tear apart the Scarecrow (Kermit) and Tin Thing (Gonzo). It may not have happened in winter, but it’s the most gruesome fate I’ve ever seen a Muppet endure.
Why So Scared?
If Dip is the only way to kill a Toon, the Wicked Witch has Muppet-killing down to a science, and she very nearly stops my heart with four little words: “Shred ?¢‚Ç¨Àúem to pieces.” While Kermit and Gonzo don’t technically freeze, they certainly appear to kick the tin bucket. Piggy’s goons tear our pals limb from limb – yanking Kermit’s arms off and de-stuffing him, and disassembling Gonzo — all while Dorothy watches, helpless.
I managed to see this made-for-television movie at a New York premiere (I don’t know about “lucky,”) in a real theater, and I’ve avoided watching it again until now. At this point in the screening, my arms shot out (inadvertently, I still argue) and grabbed the hands of the two friends sitting on either side of me. If Kermit’s disembodied head lolling about on the ground and groaning in agony as his body is dismantled doesn’t traumatize you for life, then the scene’s final shot — with Kermit and Gonzo’s heads and various body parts lying scattered, perfectly still and awfully lifeless — certainly will. Wouldn’t you want a hand to hold?
Horror-O-Meter Rating: 9.7 (Deeply disturbing.)
Suddenly I’m looking forward to Groundhog Day.
Click here to prevent hypothermia on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Michal Richardson