Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, Part 1: So Lamé

2002 was an odd time.  It had been 3 years since Muppets from Space and 5 years since the cancellation of Muppets Tonight.  The Muppets weren't really doing a whole lot at the time.  So, when a new Christmas movie was announced, I was excited.  When it became clear that it would be a made-for-TV movie, I was disappointed.  Oh mighty Muppets, how you have fallen.  Still, 3 years without Muppets was a long time so I tuned in.  And we got the wonderfully titled It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie.

Rolls right off the tongue.

Now, I just watched It's a Wonderful Life yesterday, so I'm going into this loose-Muppet-adaptation with validly high expectations.

As the opening credits roll (and we ignore the numerous celebrity cameos listed for now), we see the hustle and bustle of Christmas Eve evening.  Muppets and people share the streets as everyone finishes their last -minute shopping and revels in merriment.  This is a very Christmas-y opening, reminicent of various other movies and specials and, as if to drive the point home, a snowman comes in to start narrating the story.

Played by Wilford Brimley.

The snowman is quickly shooed away by the movie director because he's not actually a part of the film.  Funny stuff.  So far so good, movie.

We duck in on the Muppet Theater Christmas party which is strange because it seems to exist in a canon all its own.  This is implied to be the Muppet Theater from The Muppet Show, yet all of our Muppets Tonight friends are there.  What happened to the television studio?  Has the Muppet Theater been in operation all these years with the new cast included?  Apparently.

Anyway, more Christmas tropes are being squashed as three pairings of characters re-enact variations on The Gift of the Magi in less than 2 minutes.  Again, this is funny stuff.

Sal and Johnny's version is the best.  I dare not spoil it.

Kermit, meanwhile, walks through the party, obviously depressed.  Others try to include him in the Christmas cheer and he flips out at them.  This is a side of Kermit we have never seen before!  What could cause lovable, optimistic Kermit the Frog to becomes so jaded?  He walks out to a park bench and bemoans his life.  

Watch out Kermit, it's about to get a whole lot worse.

But all of this is being watched by an angel where...Oh no...This is it.  This is where the movie starts getting...annoying.

David Arquette (great guy, I'm sure) plays Guardian Angel Daniel.  As in It's a Wonderful Life, Daniel is supposed to help our hero see that his life has value and meaning.  But, this is a modern update.  So these angels work in cubicles and watch us on desktop computers.

And have jerk angel bosses played by William H. Macy.

Daniel overacts his way to the head Boss in order to ensure that Kermit doesn't kill himself.  The Boss (played by Whoopi Goldberg, which I'll admit, is a good choice) refuses to assist Daniel, claiming that Kermit always makes the right choice.  So Daniel has to show her what Kermit has gone through and prove that he is in need of celestial guidance, or else he'll be forced to covert her billions of vinyls into mp3's.

Don't mess with God.  She'll make dated references at you.

We rewind to see Kermit building excitement for The Muppet Christmas Show.  Now, this makes sense.  The Muppet Show never had a Christmas episode.  It would be a great way to reunite the gang and update the show (you know, before Jason Segel gets a chance to).  However, Kermit apparently was unaware of what exactly was going into his show because when he stops by the theater to watch the rehearsal, he finds guest director Luc Fromage (played by an irritating Matthew Lillard) showcasing his "masterpiece," "Cirque du So Lamé."

This is funny in theory, but horrible in execution.

Cirque du Soleil was huge when this film came out, so I understand the intention to parody it.  But that title irked me when I first saw it and it still irks me to this day.  Fromage insists that it is referring to the shiny fabric and no the concept of being "lame," which makes no sense because the pun only works if it is pronounced "lame."  I know that's the joke but it really bothered me.  Actually I think it was just the character of Fromage that bothered me.

Get out of our Muppet movie!

Anyway, Kermit agrees that this is a terrible concept and Fromage is fired.  In a bit of poor timing, an executor from the bank named Mrs. Bitterman (Joan Cusack) arrives to announced that unless the Muppets pay their rent by Christmas Eve, she will have to close the Muppet Theater.  She really amps up her evilness because that's how people tend to act nowadays when they find themselves in a Muppet movie.  Now the Muppets realize that they must pull off one spectacular show in order to raise enough money, but they have nothing to work with.

Mrs. Bitterman chides them for working solely for dreams and Pepe the Prawn agrees with her logic and leaves the Muppets to join her (and possibly sleep with her).

At least he makes a great joke as he exits:

"I like my coffee like I like my women -- a latte!"

Check in later to see whether or not the Muppets can save the theater and this movie.

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