Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, AReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/18/08 16:48:18
This was it, the latest in a decade-long line of last chances to revive the Muppet franchise, and this time they meant it.The makers of “A Muppet Christmas: Letters to Santa” promised us that this time, the old Muppet magic would be back, for real, no kidding. That’s a tall order, considering the giant failures of the past few years, results of ever-changing hands of ownership struggling to figure out what to do with the characters.
“Letters to Santa” doesn’t quite get us back to the franchise’s golden age, but it’s a certain improvement for the Muppet gang. Not counting an iffy opening scene that threatens to set everything off on the wrong foot - the song-and-dance number is, essentially, a five-minute commercial for the United States Postal Service (be kind to your friendly postal employees, who work so hard at Christmas!) - the story is packed with the same brand of natural charm and offbeat humor we remember from the Muppet brand.
After getting thrown out of the post office for causing too much Muppet mayhem, Gonzo discovers three undelivered letters to Santa, including one from his human friend Claire (played by hammy child star Madison Pettis, well on her way to becoming this generation’s Hallie Kate Eisenberg). Upset that holiday wishes may go unanswered, the Muppet gang sets off on Christmas Eve to find Santa’s workshop and deliver the letters before it’s too late.
The whole thing’s just a series of barely-connected episodes, but that works in providing the show with a much needed dose of Muppet randomness. The writers show a willingness to be modern without being dated - that is, the reference alone isn’t the joke, so even if kids don’t know who the Sopranos are, they’ll still laugh at the silliness. Scenes like the one where Scooter discusses the internet exist not merely to dump “new” things onto “old” laps, but instead as simple set-ups to goofy punchlines. Other recent Muppet projects revealed scripts that were trying way too hard to update the old gang; “Letters to Santa” reveals a script that fully comprehends what works about the Muppets, and then plops them into our new world.
Not everything works. A cameo from New York mayor Michael Bloomberg fizzles (precisely because the cameo is all there is to the gag, unlike later cameos that click because they’re about the punchline, not the guest star). Claire is shoved so far off to the sidelines that she only matters to the story because the story tells us she does. The tight running time leaves the whole thing overly rushed; despite the giddy chaos this creates, there’s not much here that connects as fully as other Muppet Christmas stories have.But it’s also consistently funny, sometimes achingly so. Nathan Lane and Uma Thurman both turn in big laughs in their guest roles. Beaker lands a rare victory as Dr. Honeydew’s assistant. Pepe reminds us why he’s the funniest of the “new generation” of Muppets. The whole thing zings with jokes that fly high, capturing that old Muppet magic. “Letters to Santa” may be too sloppy and too short to be the grand return Muppet fans have wanted for years, but it’s a nice first step.
|© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.|