It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (Jim Henson Productions, 2002)

This umpteenth offering from Henson Studios is a parody-laden tribute to It's a Wonderful Life (among others) starring Joan Cusack as villain Rachel Bitterman, David Arquette as Daniel, a social-worker/angel (Heaven is implied, but never said outright) who wants to take Kermit's case, and Whoopi Goldberg as "The Boss" (see?). Also appearing are William H. Macy and Matthew Lillard along with a host of cameos from television personalities (Kelly Ripa, Molly Shannon, Carson Daly, the cast of Scrubs), including a misguided appearance from Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and a hilarious turn from Mel Brooks as a lost snowman narrator.

In fact, the main thing I noticed about It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie was the amount of sexual innuendo. Not only is the "Voulez vous coucher avec moi, c'est soir" line from Moulin Rouge featured (and given a funny twist) in the "Moulin Scrooge" centerpiece (the highlight of the feature), but lines about topless bars, ogling of cleavage, and a stereotypically "dramatic" gay character (who admires Kermit as he walks away) round out the mix. There is also a dark layer to the proceedings that, while seemingly appropriate, given the source material, seemed not at all suitable for the target audience. Kermit screaming "I wish I'd never been born" over and over was nothing short of disturbing. However, as an whole, the movie succeeds admirably.

The normally frantic Arquette tones it down considerably, settling into a mildly annoying tone that suits the character. And all the muppets are in fine form. Given that I grew up continually exposed to these voice artists, the fact that many of the characters are now embodied by different performers would hardly escape my notice. But I am happy to say that it was not a distraction and, actually, I did not realize that the characters formerly voiced by the legendary Frank Oz (who left recently to focus on directing) -- Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Animal, and Yoda in a cameo -- were not Oz until doing the research for this review. (Kudos to Eric Jacobson, who makes it seem easy to fill those shoes.)

The story involves the normal crew and their attempts to retain the Muppet Theater by delivering their rent on time to Cusack's Bitterman. Unfortunately, Bitterman changes their contract and the time of delivery of the money is moved up six hours -- unbeknownst to the rest until it is almost too late. It is then up to Fozzie to deliver the money before the deadline. This leads up to a painfully funny suspense- and slapstick-filled action sequence involving mistaken identity and various obstacles that eventually ends up ... but that would be giving it away. The eventual solution to the problem, while surely obvious to a town official, escaped me until it was delivered -- but it was glossed over in favor of wrapping up the proceedings.

While it's difficult to recapture the original nostalgic joy that came with The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie (or even the early days of Sesame Street), anything involving our felt friends is worth a watch. It's always good to see them in action, and It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie is no exception.

 

[Craig Clarke]