On December 14th, 2020, Julia Gaskill and her boyfriend, Stephen, watched A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa. Julia has gone on record multiple times in ToughPigs articles about how much she loves this special. Stephen had never seen it and knew nothing about it except his girlfriend’s defensive rants, and just knew he really wanted to see Lew Zealand. What follows is a (condensed) transcript of their conversation during their viewing.
Stephen: [reading a selection on the title menu] What’s “The Muppets’ Stocking Stuffer Smorgasbord”?
Julia: I don’t know! Hold on! [big deep “here we go” breath] Hello! This is Julia Gaskill, and I’m back with my maybe reluctant boyfriend to do another commentary on a Muppet Christmas special that he’s never seen before. This year we are doing A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, which I like more than a lot of people with ToughPigs, so this one’s gonna be an interesting watch. Stephen! What do you know about this special?
S: Nothing! I just asked what “The Muppets’ Stocking Stuffer Smorgasbord” is and haven’t gotten an answer!
J: I don’t know what it is, but maybe we’ll find out when this is over!
Spoiler alert: they completely forget to check it out. Oops.
J: Do you have any questions or should we dive in?
S: Is Lew Zealand going to be in this movie?
J: That’s a solid question. I feel like… yes? But I guess we’ll see.
Julia and Stehpen begin the movie. They immediately get off topic.
S: It seems interesting that we just watched Klaus last night, which is also about letters to Santa.
J: Klaus is a very good movie on Netflix. It has nothing to do with the Muppets, but we both thoroughly recommend it.
S: There was a little girl just now writing a letter, and Klaus is about a mailman that delivers kids’ letters to Santa. I think the connection is very clear in terms of subject material.
J: Spoiler alert: the whole opening song is going to be about delivering Christmas mail, so… you might not be wrong.
S: Is there a Muppet mailman?
J: No, but we are going to see Muppets as mailmen shortly.
S: It’s not the same. They have a Muppet Newsman. They have a Muppet janitor. Why don’t they have a Muppet mailman? They have a Muppet dedicated to making things blow up.
J: I don’t have an answer for you.
S: Whose name is “Explode-y Muppet” for all the Muppet fans listening!
Opening credits finish, the movie’s story begins.
J: I love all of the sweaters and scarfs that the Muppets wear in this movie. Whoever did the costume designs did a great job.
S: I’m pretty sure the Muppets choose their own costumes. If anything, it’s like a combination of Piggy and Uncle Deadly.
J: Oh yeah, we’re going to get a cameo from [laughs] could-have-been-president Michael Bloomberg. [beat] And that’s it. He’s gone. He doesn’t come back.
S: So he comes to the Muppets to tell lies, then he leaves.
The Muppets begin singing about Christmas and their mail.
J: Also, I love all the music in this movie. It slaps.
S: Who’s Kermit mailing all these letters to?
J: His family in the swamp! He’s got a bunch of frog cousins and other folks back home.
S: Fair enough, but what about Gonzo?
J: He’s probably got chickens all across the country.
S: That feels bad for Camilla, who is in line with him. You could have acknowledged that potentially Gonzo was mailing stuff to the Muppets from space from the movie Muppets from Space.
J: I don’t know if the postal service was delivering to space back in the early 2000’s.
The Muppets have gone inside of the post office, still singing.
S: It feels dangerous to have someone like Big Mean Carl in the mail room.
J: He probably eats a lot of mail.
S: He’s probably gone postal a number of times.
J: They should’ve used this song, “Delivering Christmas,” to rally people to support the post office earlier this year. Postal people deliver dreams!
S: We still need to be supporting the post office, Julia. There’s a decent chance that we aren’t going to have a post office going forward.
J: That’s sad.
S: Welcome to America!
J: [still feeling this opening number] Paul Williams wrote the music for this movie. That’s why it’s so good.
Lots of dancing is happening in the post office.
S: [deep sigh] This actually feels like a video that you don’t want to show for supporting the post office, seeing as they are just throwing mail around.
J: Maybe in the Muppet universe there’s a system to chucking the mail everywhere.
S: Who’s that chimpanzee?
J: I am sure that chimpanzee has a name, and I will be completely honest, I don’t know off the top of my head.
Update: the Monkey’s name is Quongo.
S: [sigh] Julia
J: I know, I’m a disappointment as a Muppet fan.
S: I can make up Muppet names left and right.
J: Make up a name for that chimpanzee.
Gonzo has flipped a lever and now everything’s going crazy in the post office.
S: Uh oh.
J: See, Gonzo kind of messes everything up. Though I’m surprised that we haven’t seen Big Mean Carl eat anything – oh, never mind, he literally just ate some mail.
S: I told you!
Muppets are kicked out of the post office and head back to their apartment.
S: Is this the same house that was used in Home Alone 2?
J: It’s more of an apartment building. They’re all neighbors in the same building.
S: Where does this fall in the Muppet timeline? Cause they drove to Los Angeles, and one would think they’d live in LA for a while. This is like after they failed at breaking into Hollywood and they’ve moved back to the realms of public television in New York?
J: Every Muppet production is a standalone story. Cause, I mean, Muppets Take Manhattan came after The Muppet Movie, and in that one they’re trying to break out on Broadway.
S: Oh yeah, I forgot they took Manhattan following their trip to LA.
Crazy Harry pops up in the apartment’s hallway.
S: It’s Explode-y Muppet!
Claire’s talking about how she’s sad the Muppets are all going away for the holidays.
S: To Fozzie’s mom’s house?
J: No, they were talking in line about how they’re all going to different places. Gonzo’s going skiing in Hawaii, Fozzie’s doing a comedy tour, I’m assuming Kermit’s going to the swamp – no! I think it’s going to be revealed him and Piggy are taking a trip together.
Claire and her mom head off.
J: It is weird that the Muppets all live in an apartment building together, but then they do have just two random neighbors who are humans.
Gonzo realizes he has several letters to Santa in his backpack, including Claire’s. Instead of focusing on that, Stephen focuses on, like, the four Muppets milling about in the background.
S: I feel bad for all these background Muppets. It’s like, “Hey Beauregard, you wanna just do some sweeping in the back of this shot? Just so we can say that you were in there, union rules or whatever.” Beauregard never gets a story.
J: Y’know, they need ambience Muppets, Muppets doing busy work in the background, and Beau’s good at that!
Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo go back to the post office, but it’s closed for Christmas.
J: So this is setting up the crux of the movie, that Gonzo’s got this neighbor kid’s letter to Santa and they’re gonna try to figure out how to get it to Santa. Also, Pepe is going to hate on the idea of Santa the entire time.
S: Pepe doesn’t believe?
J: Nope, neither does Rizzo.
They’re back in the apartment’s hallway. Beaker wishes for a hot lady with Bunsen’s wishing invention.
J: This is one of the gags that I don’t super love in this film.
S: Makes sense. Beaker needs tips on how to be hot. I’ve seen the other movie with Beaker. I know what Beaker’s getting into.
J: Which movie are you referring to?
S: Where Scooter’s a go-go dancer!
J: Oh, you’re talking about when he’s beefed up.
The Muppets are brainstorming other ways to get the letters to Santa.
S: I still don’t understand how the Muppets were allowed to sing and dance their way into the mail sorting room at the post office.
J: Because they’re the Muppets and everyone loves them! Jesse L. Martin was happy to invite them back and ask if they wanted to help, but it was only until they messed everything up –
S: Yeah, he didn’t look super happy then.
J: – which he should have expected that would happen since they are the Muppets.
The Muppets go to a roof top to talk to a carrier pigeon.
J: Here are some very Jewish pigeons.
S: I don’t like these pigeons
Literally twenty seconds later.
S: I like these pigeons.
The Muppets move onto an Italian restaurant.
J: This part definitely dates the film as to when it came out.
S: I don’t care about The Sopranos. Oh! New idea! The Muppets Sopranos: a relaunch! Kermit is Tony, Miss Piggy is Edie Falco’s character, somebody is the therapist, but I’m trying to figure out who Kermit would have an affair with on the side.
J: Would it be, like, Denise from The Muppets sitcom?
S: Oh yeah, she’s got therapist vibes.
J: She’s got therapist glasses.
The Muppets are back in that hallway again.
S: Is the hallway just going to be, like, joke sequences between other joke sequences? Is Lew Zealand going to be in the hallway?
J: Well, now I’m not sure if Lew Zealand’s going to actually be in it till possibly the end of this film. [Stephen says some explicit profanity] Cause I feel like this is the last time we’re going to see the hallway until maybe the end of the movie – I don’t know if we’ll actually see the hallway after this, which is weird since so much has already been set in this hallway.
Gonzo rallies Kermit and Fozzie to go with him to the North Pole. They start singing “It’s All About Heart.”
J: I love this song so much. [probably is dancing at this point] It doesn’t really make sense though since it’s already evening on Christmas Eve in New York, and they think they’re going to be able to get to the North Pole in time to see Santa. That doesn’t seem doable.
S: I feel like this song doesn’t know what song it wants to be.
J: I disagree. I think this song is the slap.
Whoopi is revealed to be their taxi driver.
J: She was already established in one of the previous movies we watched. Do you remember who she played?
S: She is the Lord!
J: This movie came after that one.
S: It makes sense. Y’know, what if God was one of us, just a taxi driver fleecing us for $85.
Muppets arrive at the airport. Some penguins are there speaking in midwestern accents.
S: Have we seen Muppet penguins talk before? Did I know that they were from the Midwest?
Uma Thurman appears as Joy behind the counter.
S: Who is this lady?
J: Are you asking who is playing this lady or –
J: Who do you think this lady is? Just out of curiosity, with your gut, who do you think it is? Cause it is someone you know and she’s pretty famous.
Uma Thurman introduces herself as Joy the ticket agent.
S: Joy the Ticket Agent.
J: Okay, you have solved who she’s playing.
Stephen refuses to guess and sits in silence for ten seconds.
J: [caving] It’s Uma Thurman.
S: That’s what I thought! I couldn’t tell! I couldn’t even recognize the other guy and I’ve watched The Flash more recently than I’ve watched whatever movies Uma Thurman is in. Kill Bill. Oooooh, hot take: Muppets Kill Bill. Piggy is the Bride, Kermit is Bill so you don’t really see him in this one, Fozzie is Bud –
J: I don’t know how on board Disney would be with a Kill Bill adaptation.
S: Oh it would be so good! Muppets doing kung-fu-esque karate stuff? It’d be amazing!
Nathan Lane and Bobo take the Muppets to a back room to interrogate them.
J: I like Nathan Lane a lot.
S: [very suddenly] So that’s Timon! That’s who I thought it was! But I didn’t want to be wrong!
J: Were you just sitting silently waiting for me to announce who it was?
S: [laughing] Yeah.
J: I mean, sure, he was Timon, but he’s maybe more well known for the work he’s done on Broadway.
S: As Timon.
J: He did not play Timon on Broadway, that was Max Casella, who was in the film version of Newsies, but then wasn’t in the stage production of Newsies.
S: What if following the Disney live action remake movies, hot take, Disney’s Muppets: The Lion King.
J: You’re saying the Muppets should recreate all of the classic Disney movies?
J: I wouldn’t put it past Disney.
Nathan Lane lets the Muppets run to catch their flight.
S: That was a really fast change of heart.
J: Y’know, it’s a made for TV special, they can’t linger on things very long.
The Muppets hold onto the outside of the North Pole airplane and then plummet to the ground.
S: The ability of the Muppets to survive the fall off of the wing of an airplane is impressive.
J: They’re made of felt and stuffing, Stephen.
S: [offended] Don’t – No! I guarantee you the Muppets have flesh and souls like any other living creature.
The Muppets realize they landed right by Santa’s workshop.
J: Rizzo and Pepe do such a quick one eighty. They spend the entire film disbelieving in Santa, and now they’re not acknowledging how wrong they were.
S: It’s weird that Rizzo and Pepe are in these roles. I accept that Rizzo is the side assist to Gonzo when Gonzo’s not crewed up in the main Muppet squad, but I’m surprised there’s not more of the main Muppet squad happening.
J: Y’know, it’s a short film, so they probably picked the few Muppets they wanted to focus on.
The Muppets find out that Santa has already left and they don’t know what to do next.
J: This film might be shorter than what the Internet told me.
S: Is it over? This is it? They made it to Santa’s mansion –
J: – and then they saw he already left and were like, “Welp, that’s it! The end!” [laughs] No, there’s just like 20 minutes left.
S: Where the [expletive] is Lew Zealand?
J: I’m pretty sure he’s in the closing number. All the Muppets come back.
At this point Julia accidentally unplugs the microphone and there’s some rushing to replug and rewind everything.
J: Okay, we’re back, let me take this back a little…
S: So you can go back to [does a voice] Paul Williams again?
J: No, I’m not going back for Paul Williams! Just for transparency, I unplugged my [expletive] microphone from my laptop and we had to take a quick pause.
S: I thought you were just transcribing this, you don’t have to say all this!
“I Wish I Could Be Santa Claus” starts playing.
S: This is a perfect scene for Lew Zealand! Here’s all I’m saying, Gonzo’s all “I want to be alone” and everyone’s like “Oh Gonzo” and then Lew Zealand pops up! And so you’re alone, but also you’ve got some fish boomerangs!
J: Okay, so Gonzo is singing a nice, heartfelt song about wanting to be Santa Claus – I think it’s super sweet, I’ve learned other people don’t love this song, I do, y’know, it’s a nice song – I don’t think Lew Zealand would fit the vibe.
S: I do.
J: I also love this number cause we don’t get Fozzie and Gonzo paired up very often.
S: Like where’s Rowlf then? This whole movie?
J: He’s gonna pop up in the last song.
S: How come Rowlf isn’t part of the orig crew?
J: I think this was during the time when they were still working Rowlf back into productions, cause they retired Rowlf for a good amount of time after Jim’s passing. They did that in honor of Jim since that was his first Muppet. He is going to be in the final song, but I think Bill Barretta had only just started playing him more.
S: Okay, scratch my Lew Zealand idea! Gonzo’s like “I just need to be alone”, he walks over, and what’s that? It’s a beautiful grand piano, and who’s twinkling the keys? Your favorite elf Rowlf!
J: [laughs] We talked over this entire song.
S: You told me to talk a lot!
J: It’s okay, I can make you listen to the song later, it’s on my iPhone.
S: I got the gist of the song. The gist of the song is: no Rowlf! No Lew Zealand! I get why Muppet fans don’t like it!
Santa and Uma Thurman fly down to the Muppets.
J: I don’t remember this actor’s name, but that’s Mr. Dursley in Harry Potter.
S: [shocked whisper] And he’s Santa??
J: Yeah, so, Uma Thurman’s character is kind of my least favorite part of this, cause first she works at the airport –
S: She’s my favorite part of this!
J: – and now she’s working for Santa, it’s very unclear.
S: She’s been manipulating the Muppets the whole time!
Santa and the Muppets start flying in his sleigh. Pepe admits that he lied about not believing in Santa and also wrote a letter.
J: Toxic masculinity is real.
S: Yeah, that’s maybe one of the reasons why I don’t like Pepe that much.
J: I like Pepe in doses.
S: I like Pepe in the Weezer music video.
They read Claire’s letter about how all she wants for Christmas is that her Muppet friends spend the holiday with her.
S: Man, they could have solved this whole movie by reading her letter.
J: But then they wouldn’t have gotten that mean Nathan Lane TSA agent off of the naughty list.
S: I kind of feel like his life was destined for the naughty list considering that his last name is Meanie.
J: The Muppets do like giving their antagonists obvious last names, like… Dominic Badguy. Frank Meanie. Mrs. Bitterman.
The Muppets all show up at Claire’s apartment.
J: There’s Lew Zealand! In the very back row!
S: In the hallway!
J: He is in the hallway! It always comes back to the hallway!
All the Muppets start piling into Claire’s apartment.
J: That turkey is carrying a turkey dinner.
S: That’s dark.
J: There’s Rowlf! And Lew just gave her some fish!
S: I’m aware of what he do! That’s why he’s so great!
J: Lew must have an amazing fish hook up.
Claire’s mom screams when seeing some Muppet rats enter the apartment.
J: That’s rude. She’s probably met those rats before. They live in the same building.
S: I feel like it seems out of character for any New Yorker to have that reaction to rats.
J: She’s probably seen bigger ones in the subway.
Zoot wishes everyone a Happy Hanukkah.
S: [is also Jewish] Nice, good one Zoot.
J: This is the production where we learn that Zoot is Jewish.
S: I think that any keen eyed observer of the Muppets would know that Zoot is Jewish.
The last song, “My Best Christmas Yet,” starts up.
S: Is this still the Heart song?
J: No, this is a different song.
S: The Heart song is like ten different songs.
J: The Heart song is only a minute and a half long. It is not… it’s good… this is a different song! This is a song about how the greatness of Christmas is about spending it with the people that you love.
Lew Zealand is hanging a fish ornament on the tree.
S: Lew Zealand is maybe the best Muppet. He’s just got that peak sort of… Muppet uniqueness.
J: I like all the Christmas decorations in this scene too. I think a lot of what I like about this movie is the aesthetic. I like all the costumes. I like this whole ending scene, I think it’s so pretty. I think the songs are beautiful. So I dig it.
The movie credits start playing.
J: The Internet definitely lied to me, cause it said the run time was an hour and twenty minutes, and I believe we finished in under an hour.
S: Maybe we got a version that cut out some of the best songs. I’m fairly certain that Muppet productions are notorious for cutting out the finest songs from their Christmas movies.
J: Well, that was A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa. What are your takeaway thoughts, Stephen?
S: I thought it was fine. My major takeaways? Not enough diversity of Muppets. I want more Rowlf! I want more Lew Zealand! More Floyd! Less Bloomberg! Those things! I know he was the mayor, but that’s like when Donald Trump walks through the hotel in Home Alone 2, it doesn’t age well when you put these caustic billionaires into your movies. It’s horrible for everyone. The Sopranos sequence, I… I didn’t know why they were doing it, and I don’t have a connection with The Sopranos, but on the plus side it does make me want to see a wealth of HBO Muppet projects – all the dark Muppet stories that could be out there. I also think exploring Gonzo’s time designing and also being the participant in numerous death defying stunts, like, think of Muppets Jackass, but it’s all Gonzo! And then all the other Muppets are like, “Wait, Gonzo, what are you doing – ”
J: Wait, I’m so lost in your tangent right now, are you saying you wish there were more Gonzo stunts in this? And that that was worked into Gonzo’s backstory in this forty-five minute Christmas special??
S: I’m just wheeling and dealing with my Muppet feelings right now! Could Gonzo have been vaulted into the chimney of Santa’s mansion and broken in that way? Yeah!
J: But Santa was already gone so there wouldn’t have been any point?
S: Oh it would’ve been great! Could he then have been thrown out the door by Paul Williams?? Double yes. Even better sequence! Then the rest could have been like, “Gonzo! You’re back! How was it inside?” And Gonzo would have said, “There’s no Santa! I want to be alone! Plus Rowlf is here!”
J: Would Rowlf have just been inside Santa’s workshop hanging out?
S: Sure! Rowlf is the keys man!
There is a long lull of silence, presumably Julia is giving Stephen a look.
S: Why don’t you go on to explain your defense of this movie!
J: I mean, I wrote a piece for ToughPigs that I will probably link RIGHT NOW so people can read if they want to understand why I like this film. I dunno, it’s a short little thing. I think the writing is a lot better than It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, and those two always get lumped together cause they came out in that chunk of time where there were no full length Muppet films. And y’know, it’s a fluffy piece, but at the same time it has more of a Christmas feel. I already talked about the music, and just the general aesthetic, but also I feel like since the passing of Jim we don’t get a lot of Fozzie, Kermit, Gonzo team ups.
It’s been a lot of – y’know, in the previous feature films Gonzo was with Rizzo and was more of a storyteller or sidekick of the human lead, and everyone else was playing a role. And even in Muppets From Space it was Gonzo’s story with all the Muppets around him. In this one Rizzo and Pepe are there, but Fozzie and Kermit are essentially teaming up with Gonzo. So, I dunno, it just makes me feel good. It gets more hate than I wish it would. I don’t super love Uma Thurman’s character, and there are a couple jokes that don’t land for me. Like Beaker wishing for the hot meeping lady. It felt a little unnecessary, I wish he had wished for… a sandwich? Or a contract termination with Bunsen since all Bunsen does is hurt him?
S: I wish there had been a little more continuity between this and Very Merry Muppet Christmas. Just a little nod that Whoopi was reprising her role of god. Or, in addition to wishing for a hot lady, you got to see ripped, shredded Beaker.
J: But ripped, shredded Beaker doesn’t live in our world, he was in Kermit’s It’s a Wonderful Life other world, so Beaker doesn’t even know that he has the potential to be ripped and shredded!
S: I think that Beaker knows. I think the power of Beaker… I don’t think Beaker gets to the gym because he’s so traumatized by Dr. Bunsen Honeydew so repeatedly. And I think if Beaker had the ability to get free of that contract he would get ripped. He would look just hulked out and crazy. I’m just saying. You’ve heard all of my immediate thoughts.
J: And with that. Those are our takes on A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa. I guess we’ll probably be back next year for, I don’t know, The Great Santa Claus Switch? The Bells of Fraggle Rock? The Christmas Toy? Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree?
S: Oh! Hot take! Muppets Black Christmas! Kermit could be the stalker in the house with the knife! It’d be intense and amazing! Imagine it! And Kermit’s calling, but they don’t know where! I haven’t seen the remake but –
J: [starts talking over Stephen’s ramblings] All right, on that note, I’m gonna close us out. Thanks for reading y’all. Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and/or wonderful holiday season. Stay safe. Wear a mask. We love you. Be well. Take care.
Click here to have a hot take about Lew Zealand on the ToughPigs forum!
by Julia Gaskill and Stephen