It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/25/07 17:33:15

"It's a very merry disappointment."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

The hardest thing for me to do as a lifelong hardcore Muppet fan is to want to give up on the Muppets. And yet, that’s pretty much what I feel like doing lately, between the forgettable direct-to-video “Kermit’s Swamp Years” and the made-for-TV holiday flick “It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie,” a movie which at best provokes a few random chuckles and at worst makes me weep for the future of the Muppet gang.

As a holiday, Christmas used to be the Muppets’ bag. Kermit and company hit big with that John Denver TV special and its accompanying album, which became a yuletide staple at my house and perhaps yours as well. Then there were more TV specials: the cheesy but charming “Christmas Eve On Sesame Street,” “Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas,” which still provides warm smiles, and the all-star “Muppet Family Christmas,” a special which still gets me to laugh after all these years. Heck, even “Elmo Saves Christmas” has a few choice moments.

And let’s not forget “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” the feature film that proved the Muppets could keep going following Jim Henson’s death. That was a wonderful film, full of the usual magic touches that have come to make the Muppets so special to so many fans around the world.

Which brings us, sadly, to “Very Merry,” which will very doubtfully find its way into holiday rotation in most households. Whereas the previous Christmas efforts were timeless and heartfelt, “Very Merry” crams itself so full of parodies, references, and in-jokes that the whole thing becomes too disposable for its own good. Add in a sloppy, unimpressive storyline and a hit-to-miss joke ratio that heavily favors the miss column, and you’ve got another sign that the Muppet empire is in deep, deep trouble.

The plot. Yes. Hmm. The Muppet Theater is about to be foreclosed by wicked bank owner Ms. Bitterman (Joan Cusack), unless they can pay off the loan by Christmas Eve. And so the Muppets put on the biggest Christmas show of their lives - capped off with a “Moulin Rouge” spoof called - gulp - “Moulin Scrooge.” One decent jab at that lousy movie notwithstanding (“Will everyone stop singing different songs!!”), it’s annoying. Really, really, really annoying. Almost as annoying as “Moulin Rouge” itself. And hey, what kid’s going to get the reference in the first place?

Anyway, Fozzie’s trusted to take the money to the bank before the deadline, only, in a series of coincidences too silly to describe, he’s mistaken for the Grinch. Not the cartoon Grinch, but the Jim Carrey one. Ugh. Another parody of a horrible movie, and this one doesn’t have any good jokes to it. Long story short, Fozzie loses the money, Bitterman prepares to turn the theater into a trendy nightclub, and Kermit starts thinking he’s ruined Christmas.

Enter Daniel (David Arquette), an angel who’s been monitoring the situation from the start and who has convinced The Boss (Whoopi Goldberg) to let him intervene. I repeat: Whoopi Goldberg plays God. Sigh. (I’d complain about Arquette playing an angel, but he’s actually kinda charming here.)

The rest of the picture is a weak “It’s a Wonderful Life” knock-off, with Kermit discovering that without him, the world would be full of Doc Hopper’s restaurants and Bitterman-owned shopping malls. Gonzo would be homeless, Fozzie would be a pickpocket, and Miss Piggy would be the creepiest Muppet spinster you’ve ever seen. Good times.

Hidden throughout this mess are some jokes that really do work - I loved the ongoing spoof of “Gift of the Magi” that fills the opening sequence, and, as usual, pretty much anything Pepe did got me to giggle. And, hey, just seeing the Muppets back in action won a few smiles.

But the rest of the film is packed with too many useless parody-driven gags (the movie also riffs on “The Crocodile Hunter,” “A Christmas Story,” Cirque du Soliel, Yoda, and, in the outdated reference of the year, Riverdance) and pointless cameos (Muppets make appearances on “Fear Factor” and “Last Call With Carson Daly,” while Molly Shannon, Kelly Ripa, and Matthew Lillard pop up for no reason; the only cameo I liked was William H. Macy as an angel), leaving the viewer groaning more than grinning. Then there’s the big song, “Everyone Matters,” a crapfest if ever there was one.

Sure, kids might enjoy this one for one viewing, but why bother when there are so many better Muppet holiday treats out there? “Very Merry” is a messy, lifeless attempt at keeping the franchise alive, and it’s another step in the wrong direction for the Muppet crew.

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