Missed the special? It’s available online here until December 31!

This week, the Muppets did something we haven’t seen them do in about three and a half years: they made a new TV movie. And SPOILER ALERT: It’s pretty dang good.

In A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa (sometimes incorrectly, yet better-sounding, “A Muppet Christmas: Letters to Santa”), Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, Pepe and Rizzo embark on an international voyage northward to deliver mail to an old man who has some shipments to deliver himself. And someone might or might not learn the true meaning of Christmas.

The story was pitched by Paul Williams, who you should know as the writer of the Carpenters hit song, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and as Virgil from Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Oh, and he wrote the music from The Muppet Movie and Muppet Christmas Carol and appeared in the Paul Williams episode of The Muppet Show. I know, I just blew your mind.

Having grown up in a Jewish household, I never paid much attention to Christmas specials. Only in the past few years have I bothered with the non-Muppet ones, and really appreciated the Frog-centric ones on the same level as any other fanatic. So it’s with thought in mind that I say this: This movie had too much Christmas.

What I mean by that is that Christmas movies tend to come with a certain level of schmaltz, and a story about delivering a little girl’s letter to Santa Claus is chock full of it. But what saved us all from ODing on schmaltziness was the Muppet’ new writing team of Hugh Fink, Scott Ganz, and Andrew Samson. Their combined knowledge of Muppet history and their ability to write a successful prime-time special turned this movie from a potential schmaltzfest into a wonderful movie that’s both great for the family and fun for nostalgia buffs.

Despite the schmaltzitude, Paul Williams did come up with a fun story to toss some Muppets into. He also wrote four new songs for the special. The first, “Delivering Christmas,” was the absolute best. It was maybe even the best Muppet song since the Muppet Christmas Carol soundtrack. That also might be due to the myriad of Muppets and choreography going on in the background of the song. Next was “What’s in Your Heart,” which was nice, though not the most memorable song I’ve ever heard (I’m trying hard to hum it right now, and it just ain’t happening). The next song, “I Wish I Was Santa Claus,” was the clinker for the special. I found it hard to believe that Paul Williams wrote it, as the lyrics were eye-rolling and the tune made me want to use the song’s 45 seconds to run to the bathroom. Though it did give us (as far as I know) Gonzo and Fozzie’s first duet, which is nothing to be ashamed of. The final song, “My Best Christmas Yet,” picked the pace up again and sounded like a song on the Muppets’ repertoire for years. Whether Paul’s music was a success or not, he made it up to us by appearing as an elf, which is the most appropriate casting in the history of motion pictures.

Letters to Santa brought the Muppets back to A-list (or at least close to it) celebrity cameos. Uma Thurman was utterly adorable as Joy the ticket agent. Nathan Lane stole the spotlight as TSA Agent Officer Meany. Those two guys from the Sopranos reprised their roles as Ernie and Bert from Elmo’s Christmas Countdown. Jesse L. Martin did a song and dance, just like he does on Law and Order. Petra Nemcova has a name that’s hard to pronounce. Whoopi Goldberg portrayed God, taking human form and judging mankind in the guise of Alex Reiger. Michael Bloomberg ran for a third term. But the star of the cameo show was Jane Krakowski, whose every smirk was hilarious, and not to mention realistic for someone who shares a brownstone with a bunch of weirdos.

The terrific Muppety moments were a-plenty. The stamps on the intro. The Muppet employees of the post office. The Great Muppet Caper-esque “delivery” to the apartment. Fozzie being funny instead of pathetic. Sam’s PSA for the USPS. Beaker’s wish (and her speech impediment). Bunsen’s latent jealousy. The Swedish fish head pizza. The Electric Mayhem’s voices (especially Zoot’s trailing off). The two names being paged at the airport. Where Gonzo stores his trumpet when he travels. Bear-on-bear violence. A worse way to travel than like your luggage. A turkey serving a turkey. Lew Zealand’s Christmas present.

Of course, nothing is perfect. Some moments left me a little flat. For example: Gonzo not acting like Gonzo. He was surprisingly melancholy and muted, only breaking out to have fun in the mail sorter, in the x-ray machine, and possibly while jumping off the plane. Also, Rizzo was given very little to do, considering he had just as much screen time as the other leads (I’m ok with Piggy’s lack of screen time, as we shouldn’t be forcing her into the main story just because we can). I thought David Rudman did a fine Scooter voice, but he’s got to work on that “Scooter Fist.” The scene with the pigeons was completely forgettable (and I’ll bet it took you a few seconds to remember what I’m talking about). Everyone’s favorite Muppet, Animal, was given a total of one joke, which is more surprising than upsetting. But these are all minor complaints, and I’m sure Messrs. Fink, Ganz, and Samson are hanging on my every word and will write the next Muppet movie specifically to my personal tastes.

Despite my complaints (because we really do like to complain ’round these parts), I thought Letters to Santa was a great success. The Muppets sounded and acted like Muppets. There was comedy and heart. And there were times when it really felt like it could have been from the era of the original Muppet movies. The Muppets very well might be moving into a new age for a new audience, and we’re off to a great start with a genuinely good movie.

But I do have one last nitpick. The plot revolves around a little girl’s wish to spend Christmas with her friends, the Muppets. But she lives in an apartment building with all of them for the other 364 days of the year. Greedy much???

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Joe@ToughPigs.com

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