The Muppets are about as joyful as things gets at the best of times.
But how much is the joy factor increased when its Christmastime and Kermit, Fozzy and Gonzo and the gang have to go all the way to the North Pole to deliver some letters to Santa that have gone astray?
Quite a lot, in fact!
First broadcast, fittingly enough, on 17 December, 2008 on the NBC network, A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa is as goofily happy as life gets, a joke-filled, heartfelt missive to the exuberant wonders of the festive season and the power of friendship to get things done.
The celebrity-studded special centres on a quest to get the aforementioned errant letters to Santa, with one of the letters, written by the Muppets’ neighbour Claire (Madison Pettis; her mum is playing to comedic perfection by Jane Krakowski), the key to the lonely girl enjoying a very special Christmas.
There is singing – longtime creator of memorable Muppets tunes, Paul Williams penned four original songs for the show, as well as playing the part of Santa’s slightly cranky chief elf – a slew of visual gags, some delightfully cringeworthy festive jokes from Fozzy and exactly the right amount of heart to balance out the hilarity.
It all begins, as you might expect from a Christmas special centred around letters to Santa with Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and Camilla, Pepe the Prawn and Rizzo the rat waiting less than patiently in line on the morning of Christmas eve for the post office to open so they can mail last-minute cards and letters.
Leaving aside the fact that mailing Christmas letters on Christmas Eve is just asking for trouble, the scene does a perfect job of setting up the story with everyone excited to mail the letters and then get away to their very individual holidays far away from the cold of New York City.
Gonzo and Camilla are off to ski the lava fields of Hawai’i (when Camilla demurs about going, Gonzo encourages her not to be chicken; boom tish!), Kermit and Miss Piggy are planning to soak up the sun in the Caribbean and Fozzy is off on a big stand-up tour.
Importantly, no one is willing to spend Christmas together which is what you might expect of the Muppets but given they are all live together in the one apartment building – a building by the way, in which Statler and Waldorf have a ground floor apartment, the better to heckle everyone entering the main lobby – separate vacations might not be such a bad idea.
Except that Claire’s one wish is that she has her friends around her at Christmas, something which won’t happen if Kermit, Miss Piggy et. al. all go their separate merry ways.
All that festive aloneness goes the way of the ordered queue at the post office when the gang get a little too involved with following the sorting belts in the post office’s sorting room – postal worker Jesse L. Martin is none too pleased with the very Muppet-y chaos that ensues – and find themselves in possessions of letters to Santa that really should have gone to the North Pole.
What to do? What to do?
Everyone tries various ways to get the letters to their intended destination with visits made to the United Pigeon Service and even the mafia (who find they may like Scandinavian food after all, thanks to the Swedish Chef) but nothing works and it looks Christmas might be over for the senders of the three letters which include … big reveal and happy plot contrivance – Claire!
Everyone gets a but down in the dumps but thanks to perky North Pole Airlines worker Joy (Uma Thurman), who pops up in the delightfully strangest of places, they make it to Santa and everyone gets the Christmas of their dreams including cranky disillusioned TSA worker Officer Meany (Nathan Lane).
A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa is the perfect festive special, and the epitome of what makes Muppets anything such a delight.
There are visual jokes aplenty (rats a-caroling anyone?), hilarious asides (Dr Teeth – “I’m all about far out, but the Pole is way too cold!”), appearances by all your favourite Muppets and then some including Lew Zealand, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, Scooter, Rowlf the Dog and Animal, a sense of the lovably ridiculous and a tremendous amount of heart.
What makes this special such an enduring classic is that it not only captures each of the characters perfectly but distills the essence of the Muppets as a whole, bringing their warmhearted and hilarious mix of silliness and sentiment to the festive season in a way that makes you realise why it’s called the most wonderful time of the year.
It is, of course, just that, especially when the Muppets are around …