Anthony Strand: So Evan, you and I are both big fans of Muppet Babies 2018, and yet we’ve never done an in-depth look at it on ToughPigs. It’s Christmas! Let’s give ourselves the gift of correcting that mistake!
Evan G.: Absolutely! Everyone knows the greatest gifts of all are children, then ice cream, then laughter, and the 2018 Muppet Babies has two of those three. Like you said, we both love this show. You watch it with your toddlers, and I watch it because I am the kind of adult who just says, “Hey, I’m going to watch all of the 2018 Muppet Babies show.”
Anthony: Both valid reasons, because I would definitely be watching this show if I didn’t have kids. So let’s talk about the show in general. Personally, I think it’s better than the old one (which is heresy among people who haven’t seen the old show in 25 years, I’m sure). The characters feel more like themselves, the jokes are funnier, the stories are faster-paced.
Evan: Yeah. I know there was some “controversy” early on because the show has much fewer pop culture references and pastiches (which the original show was kind of known for) and also has a much smaller core cast of Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy, Gonzo, Animal, and newcomer Summer Penguin. But the tighter focus allows for some great character work, which honestly is what the Muppets in general have been lacking lately.
Anthony: Right! I don’t want to rag on Muppets Now anymore, but one of my biggest problems with it was that Piggy was so one-note. She’s just grumpy and demanding. That’s her whole character now. Baby Piggy is often grumpy and demanding, to be sure, but she also gets to be excited, and silly, and a team player. All of that feels more like “classic Piggy” to me than her current puppet incarnation.
Evan: Definitely, and all of that is really highlighted in these episodes. Do you have anything else general to say, or should we dive right into this holiday spectacular?
Anthony: This episode has some great examples, but I want to talk real quick about how great the songwriting is in general. We have the season 1 soundtrack album and my kids want to listen to it in the car constantly. And yet, I’m not even a little bit sick of it. The songs are short, clever, and in a wide variety of styles. Any fan of Muppet music would dig them, I think.
Evan: A Muppet show with a song in every episode! Can you imagine it, Anthony?
Anthony: It feels like a miracle, which is so sad! So anyway, let’s jump into this episode:
Evan: So the first episode here is “A Very Muppet Babies Christmas,” and it involves the kids and Nanny participating in a Secret Santa gift exchange. I don’t know about you, Anthony, but I always get super stressed out by Secret Santas.
Anthony: For me, it depends on the situation. If I know the person pretty well, I’m excited to get them something. If it’s a bunch of strangers, less so. Fortunately, all of the babies (and Nanny) know each other extremely well, so I wasn’t stressed out here.
Evan: Well yeah, and everyone gets a gift they absolutely adore.
Anthony: They do! I’m especially fond of Gonzo’s gift, a Zorna the Intergalactic Princess Action Figure. First of all, I really love the idea of Gonzo as an action figure guy, because it makes total sense. But also, I like that it’s just casually a female hero.
Evan: Also an obvious reference to the legitimately great 90s show Xena Warrior Princess. Gonzo’s love for Zorna of Zornupiter actually comes up a couple of times throughout the series, and every time it makes me smile.
Anthony: You know, I didn’t even make the Xena connection, although I’m sure you’re right. I’ve always thought of her as an homage to Meteora from The Christmas Toy.
Evan: Wow, that’d be a deep cut if it’s true. Anyway, just like in The Christmas Toy, everyone loves their gifts… except for poor Kermit, who got a mysterious green lump instead of a pack of Super Ultra Mega Robo Dinosaur Trading Cards. And let me tell you, as a Magic the Gathering kid, I understand his pain. For years, all I wanted was trading cards. Listening to the ToughPigs podcast about The Muppets (2015) reminds me that they tried so hard to find the right balance of Kermit being nice, but also fallible and mean sometimes, and Kermit’s reaction to getting a green lump is a great example of it done right.
Anthony: That’s a really good point. He knows that he should be positive about (especially if he wants to unload it on someone), but he also doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Remind me, were you a fan of The Office (the US version)?
Evan: Nope! I have maybe never seen an episode of The Office, because it does not have any Muppets in it.
Anthony: That’s true, it doesn’t. But in one of their classic Christmas episodes, Michael Scott (Steve Carell’s character) hates what he gets from Secret Santa, so he decides that Secret Santa is now a White Elephant exchange instead. Kermit reminded me a little bit of Michael here, except that he’s more mature and adult about it.
Evan: Kermit is also different because he’s a Muppet. Anyway, so Kermit tries to trade his gift away to the other characters. As he’s trying to do this, you see Fozzie just looking increasingly devastated in the background. Anthony, could you guess why Fozzie would be upset by Kermit trying to trade away his lump, or were you caught in this strange mystery?
Anthony: Ha! I don’t think even my 2-year-old son was surprised to find out that Fozzie gave Kermit the lump, but I’m really amused by all the shots of Fozzie lurking in the background looking sad. There’s so many of them, and he’s such a sad panda that it tips over into being hilarious.
Evan: Yeah, Fozzie is ridiculously cute on this show, both in appearance and personality. He’s just so eager to please and friendly, and having his gift rejected like this is really hurting him. So he finally explains the gift to Kermit.
Anthony: And it turns out that it’s a sculpture of Kermit! Kermit was carrying it around that whole time and didn’t even notice that it had two bulgy frog eyes on the top! That’s also pretty hilarious, if you ask me.
Evan: Yeah, it’s one of those super convenient plot details, but I’ll forgive it because it’s a show for toddlers and also super cute. So Kermit realizes that Fozzie really does care about him, and he understands that most importantly, Fozzie’s compassion matters more than any Super Ultra Mega Robo Dinosaur Trading Card. (This is probably because Kermit has yet to pull the Super Ultra Mega Robo Dinosaur Trading Card equivalent of Black Lotus.)
Anthony: Toddlers can’t take care of trading cards anyway! You know those corners would get bent. So he should wait until he’s Swamp Years age.
Evan: True. I wouldn’t want him hurting the resale value. Anyway, so Kermit and the gang sing a song about how being with friends matters more than giving or getting presents on Christmas, and Anthony, it hits harder during 2020 than previously, you know?
Anthony: Absolutely, and the same is true of the episode’s second story. Should we move on to that?
Evan: Sure, let’s talk “Summer’s Super Fabulous Holiday Surprise.” Before we do, we should clarify: Super Fabulous is a recurring phrase on the show: it’s one of Piggy’s catchphrases and her superhero alter-ego.
Anthony: And also the title of one of the show’s best songs, about how the titular hero works alone and/or needs help.
Evan: Really, I could talk all day about the superhero universe built within the Muppet Babies’ imaginations, but that’s for a different time. For now, let’s talk about Summer. She’s a penguin, and she’s just very enthusiastic about everything. I don’t love Summer, but I can’t hate her either. She’s cute! Even in the context of the show, she’s new: we get the sense she recently moved to town from the South Pole.
Anthony: I actually do love Summer, mostly because of that enthusiasm you mention. Jessica DiCicco’s voice performance is just so spirited that I fell in love with her right away. Also, one of her songs (“I’m on the Case”) is maybe the thing my two children agree on most. Every time it comes on, they both start bouncing off the walls with excitement. They think of her as a core member of the Muppet gang for sure, which definitely helped me accept her too.
Evan: Yeah, you gotta figure kids aren’t sitting around going, “Um actually, the Muppet penguins can’t talk and aren’t purple; this kid should’ve been Baby Mildred.”
Evan: And this episode is all about the kids accepting Summer. Summer is very upset because her flight back to the South Pole has been canceled, so she can’t see her family and do all of her holiday traditions, like ice fishing for presents and riding on a sleigh.
Anthony: I love the idea that Summer just recently moved to (generic United States somewhere) from the South Pole and still has family there. Much like Zorna’s low-key feminism, it’s a subtle message to kids that immigrants are just regular people and are your friends at school (or for immigrant children that they’re part of the gang.) Am I reading too much into this?
Evan: No, it’s totally a valid take! They play up a lot that Summer has different customs than the other kids, but they’re still cool (pun intended). And the kids decide that they want to bring these customs to Summer by creating a “South Pole” in the backyard while Animal keeps Summer busy.
Anthony: I really love the scenes of Animal and Summer running around in the playroom. Sure, we’ve seen Animal have drum battles before. But have we ever seen him breakdance?
Evan: No. And it’s great. So the kids are setting up activities for Summer, and this is where we really get to see the Muppet Babies version of Piggy. Because Baby Piggy is self-centered, not selfish. She wants to make Summer’s holiday as wonderful as possible, but she just can’t envision that anyone would have a different idea of what’s good than she does.
Anthony: Right, she actually reminds me a lot of my daughter here. She always tries to be helpful, but sometimes it’s hard for a 6-year-old to grasp that what’s fun for her isn’t always fun for everyone.
Evan: It’s absolutely true for 6-year-olds, but I’m convinced it’s also a good mindset for writers to put modern adult puppet Piggy in. If Piggy doesn’t want what’s best for her friends, there’s no reason why the Muppets should put up with her. But she does love her pink and sparkles and assumes everyone else should agree with her because she’s super fabulous.
Anthony: Her heart’s in the right place, but she destroys the hard work her friends put in. Fozzie’s Grandpa Pepper Penguin Snowman is especially tragic. Summer and her Grandpa always make a snowman that looks just like her Grandpa, so Fozzie lovingly makes one for her. But after Piggy glitter bombs it, the poor guy’s head keeps falling off.
Evan: It’s very sad. But of course, there’s a valuable lesson to be learned here. Your friends’ traditions are horrible and need to be improved. That’s what the Muppet Babies learn, right? I don’t remember.
Anthony: No! They learn that it’s good to let everyone celebrate their own traditions, and then they sing a totally killer song called “Family” about how they’re all a family.
Evan: It’s very good, like all the music in the show. Anthony, I really like it when Muppets sing songs.
Anthony: Yeah, they should do that in puppet form. Do you think Disney knows they can do that? We should write Disney a letter to make sure they know.
Evan: Well, they’ll read this article for sure and they’ll find out. Anyway, do you have anything else to say about the Muppet Babies’ super fabulous holiday episodes?
Anthony: We haven’t really talked about Miss Nanny, the babies’ young, hip, Jenny Slate-voiced guardian. Much like the old Nanny, she isn’t featured all that much, but I enjoy that she has thematic leggings to match every episode.
Evan: Yeah, it’s very good. Pre-pandemic, I would dress according to what I was going to be teaching my students, but that’s gotten a little harder these days. Miss Nanny is fun though, and Jenny Slate is always delightful.
Anthony: For sure! In these episodes, I really like that she makes sure all of the babies have coordinated holiday items. Every baby has a gift box and a stocking featuring their personal logo, like they’re the baby Justice League. That’s personalized learning at its finest!
Evan: It’s just a sweet, cute show that clearly has a lot of love and care put into every episode. I think Muppet fans would like these holiday episodes, and the show in full! You can find it on Disney+ when you’re done seeing what Grogu is doing for Life Day.
Anthony: And if readers want to check out this one in particular for a little holiday cheer, it’s season 1 episode 17. Merry Christmas, Muppet Babies! Happy Summer’s super fabulous holiday, Evan!
Evan: Happy Zorna’s Day, Anthony. I got you this lump of pink clay. It’s shaped like your head, but you won’t realize it until you look at it the right way.
Anthony: Just what I wanted! I got you a Muppet Rocksplosion poster.
Evan: You’re a great friend, but I am going to trade it away for some Super Ultra Mega Robo Dinosaur Trading Cards. Happy holidays, everyone!
Click here to go ice fishing for presents on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Anthony Strand and Evan G.