Five years ago, I was a relative newbie here at ToughPigs, and to celebrate A Muppet Family Christmas’ 25th anniversary, I put the special through a gauntlet of fellow Muppet Christmas specials to earn the title of The Greatest Muppet Christmas Special Ever. Now I’m five years older and five years wiser, and just in time for the special’s 30th anniversary, I’ve come to a realization:
A Muppet Family Christmas isn’t the greatest Muppet Christmas special ever.
It’s the greatest Christmas special ever, period.
And how did I come to this realization? Naturally, I’ve put together a collection of some of the greatest and most beloved non-Muppet Christmas specials ever, a veritable “Sugarplum Dream Team,” as it were, and I’m going to explain why a special featuring a two-headed Santa Claus, the Swedish Chef’s attempted murder of Big Bird, and Doc dressed as a Canadian Mountie blows them all away.
DISCLAIMER: For the sake of my sanity and yours, we obviously can’t get to every classic holiday special. If I don’t get to your favorite, but feel free to keep the conversation going on the ToughPigs forum, or on our Facebook or Twitter!
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
In this 1970 special featuring Santa’s origin story, we see Kris Kringle, a young orphan raised by elves, lead a toy-based resistance against an authoritarian city government. Along the way, he meets the future Mrs. Claus and helps an evil warlock see the good in himself. It’s all well and good, but Kris is focused primarily on one thing: giving toys. It’s kind of his sole purpose in life.
There’s plenty of giving in A Muppet Family Christmas, and it’s not all toys: there’s Fraggle pebbles, Christmas cookies, chocolate-covered birdseed, and a mink (who doesn’t mind being a Christmas gift, because it gets her to meet her idol, Miss Piggy). But more importantly, it’s about people giving of their time and their talents. The Electric Mayhem throw an impromptu concert, to everyone’s delight. The Sesame Street monsters put on a play to show their excitement. Oscar the Grouch welcomes Rizzo to sleep in his trash can for the night. And Doc, sensing Kermit’s anxiety, braves a blizzard to try and find Miss Piggy. That’s generosity that can’t be gift wrapped.
In the 1974 pseudo-sequel to the previously mentioned special that has practically nothing to do with its predecessor beyond having Santa voiced by the same actor (Muppet movie cameo-haver Mickey Rooney!), Santa Claus has fallen ill right before Christmas, and following the advice of his doctor (who believes that people no longer believe in Saint Nick), he decides to sit this Christmas out, and it’s up to Mrs. Claus and two elves, Jingle and Jangle, to prove that he needs to make his annual trip. So the world realizes that it does believe in Santa Claus, and Santa Claus believes in the world again.
You know who was even firmer in her belief? Miss Piggy. She was willing to rough it out through a blizzard, help a taxi get out of a snowbank, and trek through the woods just to spend Christmas Eve with the frog she loves, and show him that she loves him. There is a woman of faith. Faith in herself, but faith nonetheless.
In this 1988 prime-time Pee-wee’s Playhouse special, Pee-wee celebrates the holiday season in his usual kooky way, and learns that Christmas is a time where we should give to others rather than focus solely on ourselves (y’know, because we should only do that at Christmas).
While Pee-wee needs a special to learn about that, the Muppets all know this going in, which is why everyone is so willing to go out of their way to accommodate one another as more Muppets arrive. And let’s be honest, as impressive as their list of guest stars are, boasting the likes of k.d. lang, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Little Richard, Cher, and Joan Rivers, well, c’mon…it’s the Muppets. Would you rather see Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon make Christmas cards, or Statler and Waldorf heckle Fozzie Bear and a talking snowman? That’s what I thought. But to be honest, those are some pretty cool guest stars. Thankfully, most of them have appeared with the Muppets. (Some of them more than once. I’m looking at you, Whoopi.)
Okay, I figure I don’t really need to summarize the plot of this 1962 classic. It’s A Christmas Carol, and Mister Magoo plays Ebenezer Scrooge. Easy peasy. It’s a well-done version of the classic Dickens tale, but let’s be honest…there are a lot of versions of A Christmas Carol. So many characters have put their imprint on the story, from Mickey Mouse to Batman to the Flintstones to even the Muppets (just, like, so many times), that it’s made the story repetitive. Let’s be honest, there’s only so much you can do with the tale before you start to distort it beyond its message.
That’s why the story of A Muppet Family Christmas is unique: it doesn’t try to force in a message, other than “the holidays are a great time to be with the people you love.” And in the end, sometimes just being there for someone is the best gift of all.
Nearly everyone knows ‘bout this 1966 holiday story
Of an outcast who steals, and makes Christmas his quarry,
But he changes his heart and returns the presents, decorations, and foods
After learning Christmas isn’t about mere material goods.
The Muppets, perhaps, are more idealistic
In that their holiday plans aren’t materialistic.
Companionship and generosity are the gifts the Muppets bring
And anyone with a heart knows that’s better than anything!
(I know that this sounds like what I said the previous time
But it sounds even cooler when you do it in Dr. Seuss rhyme.)
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. This is not better than A Muppet Family Christmas. This isn’t even a good special. After watching this infamous special, you may honestly say, out loud, “I’m sorry, Jar Jar. We were too cruel to you.” A bottle of Romulan ale is recommended to get through this. Do you hear me, The Star Wars Holiday Special? YOU’VE GOT ME MIXING STAR WARS AND STAR TREK REFERENCES! THAT’S WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME!!!
Frosty the Snowman
We’re into the nitty gritty now, folks. This 1969 tale features a snowman that magically comes to life when a top hat is placed on his head. After a brief celebration of being brought into existence, he heads to the North Pole so that he doesn’t melt. What gets me about this special is that Christmas and all that it entails is used as a plot device. Frosty only comes to life because he’s made of Christmas snow. Santa Claus proves to be Frosty’s salvation when a magician attempts to murder him for his top hat. There’s nothing in the crux of the story that has to do with Christmas.
You can’t say that about A Muppet Family Christmas. The Christmas turkey uses his wits to survive. The Muppets endear themselves to Doc through sharing their Christmas traditions. You can have Frosty the Snowman without Christmas. You can’t have A Muppet Family Christmas without it.
Okay, this is the last Rankin/Bass special, I promise. We all know the song that inspired the 1964 stop-motion classic, so let’s run through this: A reindeer is born with a shiny nose. This nose makes him an outcast amongst his fellow reindeer. He runs away with an elf with a passion for dentistry. Blah blah blah, island full of misfit toys, abominable snowman, monomaniacal prospector, down in history. There has been some criticism leveled at this special in recent years for Santa and the reindeer only accepting Rudolph once his shiny nose serves a need they have.
For those who don’t like the message that sends, I say this: try A Muppet Family Christmas. While Doc and Ma Bear may have their doubts about the Muppets, they still accept them for who they are. Even Ma concedes: “they’re weirdos. But they’re nice weirdos.” And by the end of the special, they embrace the gang fully. That’s a far more positive message of acceptance, and I’d expect nothing less from the Muppets.
Yeah, I should really start doing the toughest ones earlier. Okay, here goes…this 1965 special might be the most beloved in the history of Christmas specials, and with good reason. It manages to cut past the commercialism that surrounds Christmas and get to the heart of what the holiday is really all about.
Even though there’s no religious mentions in A Muppet Family Christmas (pretty much all of the songs in the carol singalong at the end with religious-themed lyrics are cut off before they get to them), the symbols of love and hope enduring under harsh circumstances still ring true. Miss Piggy, powered by her love of Kermit and her faith in her own strength, manages to make her way in a blizzard to the farmhouse. As more strange Muppets begin to inhabit the house, everyone makes room so that no one is turned away. And as Doc and Ma begin to embrace to the weirdos around them, they find a Christmas better than anyone could have imagined. Even the Christmas turkey gets to enjoy the holiday! (Even though Gonzo’s likely keeping an eye on him until they part company.) And in the end, isn’t the message “open your heart to everyone and wonderful things can happen” the true message of A Muppet Family Christmas?
Okay, maybe it’s just about making sure to prevent icy patches from forming in your doorway. Not as spiritual, but still important. Happy Holidays, everybody.
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by Matthew Soberman – Matthew@ToughPigs.com