Universal // 2002 // 89 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 13th, 2010
An inspirational, celebrational Muppets Christmas!
Since Jim Henson's tragically early death in 1990, many have attempted to find a way to keep his beloved Muppets alive. Sadly, the results have been rather hit-and-miss (with an emphasis on "miss"). Reviewing A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa a while back was a somewhat depressing experience, so it was with a bit of trepidation that I approached the 2002 made-for-TV flick It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. Happily, this particularly Christmas special is a good deal more entertaining, sporting an involving plot, a generous dose of humor, and more clever Christmas-themed pop culture references than you can shake a candy cane at.
Our story begins on a somewhat depressing note: On Christmas Eve, Kermit the Frog is forced to tell all of his friends that the legendary Muppet Theatre is being shut down. He's now in financial ruin, and wanders off into the night to freeze to death on a park bench. What a downer, huh? Fortunately for Kermit, an angel (David Arquette, Scream) is observing from his celestial corporate office. Unfortunately, the angel has to fill out all sorts of paperwork before he can actually do anything to aid the little green amphibian. Determining to bypass the red tape, the angel marches right into office of The Almighty (Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple) and makes a request on Kermit's behalf.
The Almighty determines that she needs time to examine Kermit's case before she makes a decision. She pulls out her all-seeing video monitor, rewinds a few days and examines the events that led Kermit to this point. After she watches his valiant efforts to save the theatre from a villainous banker (Joan Cusack, Grosse Point Blank), will she agree to intervene?
The framework is obviously based on Frank Capra's holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life, but it draws at least some measure of inspiration from countless films, television specials, and stories (everything from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" is gently lampooned). Traditionally I'm not a big fan of the manner in which children's entertainment relies on of-the-moment pop culture references rather than good storytelling, but one should remember something before harshly judging The Muppets for this: they've always been about lampooning popular culture. Ever since the beginning of The Muppet Show, Kermit and friends have been taking friendly jabs at the entertainment world. That this special continues that tradition in an amusing manner is by no means a liability. And while we're on the on the subject, it should be noted that the actual story is reasonably compelling. There's even a bit of surprising relevance, with the banker's evil scheme offering echoes of some of the nation's recent financial woes (if only the real-world corporate villains would operate in such a blatantly straightforward manner).
The Muppets actually seem like themselves, which is about the nicest compliment one can pay the famed puppets these days. Their original, unmistakable personalities seem fully intact and the vocal performances are all pretty much spot-on. The human actors are less reliable, with an obnoxious turn from Matthew Lillard (Scooby-Doo) and an ineffective one from David Arquette. Still, it's not all bad news: Whoopi Goldberg is warm and appealing in her role, while William H. Macy (Fargo) and Joan Cusack seem to be having a good time in roles that are clearly beneath them. You'll also find cameos from Carson Daly, Kelly Ripa, Molly Shannon, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and the entire cast of Scrubs. Oh, plus Mel Brooks turns in a vocal performance as the voice of a put-upon narrating Snow Man.
It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie received a solid DVD release back in 2003 (and an enthusiastic review from Chief Justice Michael Stailey), but the re-release makes a major correction by returning the film to its original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio (the previous DVD was full-frame). And what a handsome transfer it is, offering sharp detail, vibrant colors and considerable depth. The surround audio is solid too, offering a fairly busy and immersive mix. However, it's not cool that some of the original DVD extras have been snipped: all that's left are some bloopers and deleted scenes. In an attempt to compensate, this release provides a compact disc containing nine Christmas carols: "The Twelve Days of Christmas," "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Deck the Halls," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "Joy to the World," "Jingle Bells," "Silent Night," "Here We Come A-Wassailing" and "O Come, All Ye Faithful." Eh, okay.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Music CD