This past week, Lady Gaga hosted a fun, somewhat psychedelic hour of television on ABC: Lady Gaga and The Muppets’ Holiday Special. In many ways, the special transported me back to the mid-80s, when a post-Muppet Show troupe of puppets were still dominating all facets of media at the time. Now that the Muppets are successfully making a comeback, this led me to reminisce about the numerous Muppet holiday films over the years and question which one is my favorite.
Growing up as a kid obsessed with any and everything related to Jim Henson, the magic of the Muppets always brightened my spirits with laughter, wonder and imagination. Christmastime was always a magical time of year, but in my home, Christmas was about more than stuffing stockings with candy. Christmas was about stories, and sharing the wonder and belief of the holidays with friends and family. Every year, like stockings filled by Santa, Henson and Co. would fill their characters with life to create new Christmas memories that, for some, would also become tradition. Just as we continue to watch Rudolph and the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials of the 1960’s, the Muppets have also found their way into the nostalgic annals of our holiday experience.
Of all the Muppet Christmas specials and movies, everyone has their favorite. Whether the cutesy kindness of Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, The Christmas Toy, or the classic Muppet Christmas Carol, most fans of Christmas movies can align themselves with at least one of the Muppets specials. For me, it has always been A Muppet Family Christmas.
Going back to the nostalgia idea, A Muppet Family Christmas successfully taps into the multitude of Muppet-centric characters Henson and Co. had at their disposal without relying on the niche-value of celebrities of the era. It’s this kind of meta-Muppets conversion that preserves A Muppet Family Christmas’ relevance even today. Henson didn’t write or direct the special though he played a major role as executive producer and Muppeteer for Kermit, Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, The Swedish Chef, and others. Jerry Juhl wrote the story, which is actually a quite simple and sweet tale about coming home for the holidays. Fozzie Bear is bringing the Muppets gang home to surprise his mom at her country farm. The whole Muppet cast is present, all acting within the well-defined constructs of their characters. It’s perfect, especially with the Swedish Chef chasing around the Christmas turkey throughout the special. The best part of all is who shows up next.
Instead of relying on B-list celebrities and variety show musical numbers like other Christmas specials have, A Muppet Family Christmas is cast almost entirely of Henson’s creations. A group of carolers show up halfway through the special led by the cast of Sesame Street. Everyone’s there from Big Bird, Elmo, Grover, Herry Monster, Bert and Ernie to the Two-Headed Monster as Santa. Soon, the Sesame Street cast are performing a makeshift Christmas pageant and spending the night at Fozzie’s mom’s house with the rest of the Muppets. There’s even a wonderful moment of fellowship between Animal and Cookie Monster. If that’s not enough, a cave inside the basement turns out to be a Fraggle hole that leads Kermit and his nephew Robin to meet the cast of Fraggle Rock to whom they explain the meaning of Christmas. Even the live-action versions of the Muppet Babies show up during a flashback. Not since The Muppets Take Manhattan had all of these beloved characters come together. It’s this collection of characters from various Henson properties that really sets A Muppet Family Christmas above the rest.
All of these different creatures, the combination of Fraggles, Muppets, Big Birds, and monsters, represent everything Jim Henson stood for in his work. Togetherness is such a universal subject and coincidentally remains at the heart of Christmas. Sharing the fun, laughter, and joy of Christmas with the bouquet of characters in A Muppet Family Christmas seems strangely more satisfying and familiar to me than most Christmas movies do. Perhaps it’s my memories and love for these characters that warms my heart when watching, or perhaps the bearded Henson, like Santa himself, knows what it takes to create true magic.
— Tony Nunes