Sometimes when you rewatch children’s movies that you loved as a kid, you sadly realize how stupid they actually were. You may have loved the movie as a child, but as an adult you can understand why your parents hated when you would put it on. But every so often you rewatch one of your favorite movies from when you were young and are filled with a warm glow because it’s just as heartwarming and beautiful as you remembered. For me, this was the case with A Muppet Family Christmas, one of my all-time favorite childhood Christmas movies.
It has come to my attention recently that a lot of people have never seen A Muppet Family Christmas, and that just baffles me, because it is by and large the absolute best Muppet Christmas movie. Yeah, it is better than A Muppet Christmas Carol; it really is.
The movie was first broadcast on ABC in 1987 and tells the story of how the Muppets travel to Fozzie Bear’s mother’s farmhouse for Christmas. Fozzie has not told his mother that he is coming home for Christmas, nor that he is bringing the entire Muppet gang with him, because he believes his mother will love the surprise. Unbeknownst to him, though, his mother, Emily Bear, was planning to leave and go to California for Christmas and planned on renting out the farmhouse to Doc and his dog Sprocket. In case you didn’t realize it, Doc and Sprocket are both characters from another Jim Henson show you may have heard of called Fraggle Rock. Emily is forced to stay home when Fozzie shows up with the Muppets, and the quiet Christmas Doc wanted is disrupted as well. As the movie progresses, we learn that Miss Piggy didn’t travel with the Muppets because she was doing a photoshoot and some last-minute Christmas shopping, but she assures Kermit over the phone that she will still be there for Christmas. The Muppets continue to settle into the farmhouse, decorating for Christmas and watching home movies of the Muppets when they were babies, when they hear carols outside, and lo and behold, the carolers are the Sesame Street gang. They too move into the farmhouse to enjoy Christmas with the Muppets.
However, we learn that a huge snowstorm is coming and Kermit becomes concerned about Miss Piggy. Miss Piggy calls again, claiming that her driver got the limo stuck in a snow bank but is still confident that this major snowstorm won’t affect her making it to the farmhouse. Doc, seeing how worried Kermit is, offers to go out and look for her. Meanwhile, Kermit’s nephew Robin calls him down into the basement because he believes he found a Fraggle hole. Together he and Kermit travel into Fraggle Rock and meet the Fraggles. The Fraggles don’t celebrate Christmas, but celebrate something similar and share their traditions with Kermit and Robin. When they leave Fraggle Rock, Kermit is called upstairs because the Muppets think they see Miss Piggy outside. Miss Piggy arrives with Doc in spectacular fashion, dressed to the nines and in a sleigh. Now all together at last, the Muppets celebrate Christmas by singing carols together. And if all this isn’t enough to tug at your heartstrings, the movie ends with Jim Henson himself in the kitchen smiling at the Muppets as they enjoy Christmas together.
I haven’t met anyone who has watched this movie and didn’t absolutely love it. It is just so heartwarming. The nostalgia alone from seeing all your favorite Jim Henson characters together is enough to make anyone happy, but on top of this, the whole Muppet gang is at their best in this movie. The jokes, even now as an adult, are still so funny. My favorite is definitely when Doc meets Bert and Ernie and this exchange happens:
Ernie: Oh, hi there. Hey, we’re Ernie and Bert.
Doc: Hi there yourself, I’m Doc.
Bert: Did you know that Doc starts with the letter “D”?
Doc: Why, yes.
Ernie: Yes! Yes starts with the letter “Y”.
Ernie: And true starts with the letter “T”.
Doc: [chuckles] Hey, what is this?
Bert: Where we come from, this is small talk.
Doc: Well, whatever you say, nice to be meeting you, but I’d better go up and build some bunk beds.
Ernie, Bert: Bunk beds!
Ernie: B words.
[he and Bert laugh]
And the whole movie is like this; just joke after joke while still having a beautiful message. One of the things I actually adore about the message in this movie is that the holidays are all about friends and family. I know that seems obvious and even cliche, but the Muppets manage to pull it off without being preachy or trite. It really is the subtle things that bring this message home: Fozzie’s overall desire to have everyone together for Christmas, the way that Emily Bear abandons her solo plans to be there with her son and his friends, Kermit’s general concern for Miss Piggy, and even how Doc is initially annoyed that his Christmas has been ruined, then comes to acknowledge that it’s better with people around. The commercial aspect of Christmas is also subtly downplayed. We see the Muppets bringing a few presents to the farmhouse, and we see Miss Piggy and Kermit exchange gifts, but that is really it. The emphasis is that gift-giving is just a small part of enjoying each other and being together for the holidays.
This theme is also emphasized with the Fraggles, who teach Kermit and Robin about their holiday tradition. They give away the same shiny pebble to a different Fraggle every year. That same pebble has been a gift a bunch of times. At first, this might seem a sad state of affairs to us; the idea of only having one present that gets passed around to one person every year seems awful, but the Fraggles seem to delight in this gift and view it as a heartfelt present every year. They even give away their one gift to Robin before he leaves with Kermit, and Robin in turn, carries on the Fraggle tradition and gives away the gift to Grover at the end of the movie. Despite the Fraggles’ holiday not being named, it is still great to see a movie that is predominantly about Christmas showing how to share in other holiday traditions instead of being judgmental and closed-minded.
A Muppet Family Christmas really is one of the most heartwarming movies I have ever watched as an adult or a child and was definitely formative for me growing up. Sadly though, if you attempt to buy this movie on DVD or an old VHS, you won’t get to enjoy the whole thing, because the Jim Henson company didn’t have the rights to all of the Christmas carols sung in the movie, and so some of the best moments are cut from the film. So, if you are interested in watching this, I would suggest finding it on YouTube, where you can find the whole movie as it originally aired. As we get closer to Christmas, I would definitely recommend that this classic Muppet movie find its way into your usual holiday movie watch list. Happy Holidays, everyone!