25 Days of Christmas: ‘A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa’ boasts a ton of cameos

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Throughout the month of December, TV Editor Kate Kulzick and Film Editor Ricky D will review classic Christmas adaptions, posting a total of 13 each, one a day, until the 25th of December.

The catch: They will swap roles as Rick will take on reviews of classic television Christmas specials and Kate will take on Christmas movies. Today is day 13.

A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa (2008)

Directed by Kirk R. Thatcher

Teleplay by Hugh Fink & Scott Ganz

What’s it about?

A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa is a hour-long Christmas special starring the Muppets, which first aired on December 17, 2008 on NBC.

Geared exclusively toward a younger audience, the plot involves the Muppets mistakenly intercepting three letters sent by children to Santa Claus after they get thrown out of the post office for causing too much “Muppet” mayhem. When Gonzo realizes the post office has already closed, he and his friends attempt to personally deliver the letters to Santa himself – even if it means travelling to the North Pole.

Review

The Muppet Show lasted but five short years and after Jim Henson’s surprising early death, the Muppeteers tried several times at attempting a comeback on the small screen. Long before Jason Segal ever stepped in, there was Muppets Tonight, a sitcom about a variety show that nobody seems to remember, Cinderelmo, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, Kermit’s Swamp Years, It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, Elmo’s Christmas Countdown, and finally, A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa.

The Muppets have always been among the most loveable characters to spend the holiday season with, and while Letters to Santa may not be as famed as the television special/album collaboration with John Denver, nor It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, Letters was certainly an improvement for the Muppet gang, who spent years struggling after the heartbreaking loss of their creator.

Opening with a song-and-dance number (essentially a peculiar and over the top tribute/promo spot for the United States Postal Service), the special features the standard brand of corny Muppets gags one expects. Propelled by the same variety of natural charm and offbeat humour we remember from the Muppet gang, “Letters” was the first one-hour Muppets television Christmas special since 1987. The makers promised audiences would get the old Muppet magic from their golden years, and while they fell just short on their promise, Letters is still consistently funny, balancing the signature mix of craziness, cleverness and camp that made the Muppets the multimedia sensation they are.

As with all of the Muppet projects since Henson’s passing, the new voices aren’t always spot on, and those with sharp ears will pick up on the differences. Steve Whitmire has been voicing Kermit for decades now, but still hasn’t perfected his sound, but the biggest disappointment comes with the bland uninspiring songs, featuring poor production values and synthesized music by Paul Williams (who previously penned the memorable tunes of The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Christmas Carol). Thankfully there is a barrage of celebrity cameos and the writers show a willingness to be modern without being dated – with references to Blackberrys, the internet, social networking sites and cameos by the cast of The Sopranos (Tony Sirico and Steve Schirripa), the script assuredly speaks to a new crowd as well as touch an old one.

Nathan Lane and Uma Thurman both turn in big laughs in their brief screen time. Beaker lands a dream date with Petra Nemcova using Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s “wish machine,” and Pepe has grown to be one of the funniest of the new generation of Muppets, stealing the spotlight with every appearance. Some cameos (as always) serve no real purpose other than to pad out the thin storyline. An appearance from New York mayor Michael Bloomberg misfires and Jane Krakowski’s comparatively bigger supporting role is pretty much wasted. Other celebrity appearances include Whoopi Goldberg , Richard Griffiths, Jesse L. Martin and Madison Pettis.

Despite a few shortcomings, Letters captures both that old Muppet magic, and the spirit of holiday cheer and togetherness. In a closing number, the Muppets proclaim this to be their “best Christmas,” but we can all agree we’ve seen better.

– Ricky D

How Christmassy is it?

100% – The Muppet gang travels to the North Pole, meet up with Santa Claus, ride his magical sleigh and throw the biggest Muppet Christmas bash ever seen.

You May Like It If…

The pervasively child-friendly atmosphere ultimately cements A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa for anyone under the age of 12 or those already fans of the Muppets.

Other observations:

A DVD of the special was released on September 29, 2009. The disc’s bonus features include deleted scenes and interviews with the cast. A soundtrack album of the four original songs from the special was released for download on the iTunes Store and Amazon.com.

Here is the list of the original songs written by frequent Muppet collaborator Paul Williams, who appears in the special as Santa’s chief elf.

  • “Delivering Christmas”
  • “It’s All About Heart”
  • “I Wish I Could Be Santa Claus”
  • “My Best Christmas Yet”

Final thoughts:

While I do still like this special, it pales in comparison to the film A Muppet Christmas Carol, so I’ve embedded a clip from that one below.

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