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Rated 2.96 stars
by 1349 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Kermit Gets His Groove Back
by Ryan Cracknell

Made for TV, It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie emerges as a medley of familiar Christmas classics such as It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas Ė but with a distinct Muppet spin. Kermit and the gang face losing the Muppet Theater to a miserly banker (Joan Cusack). A depressed Kermit wishes he'd never been born, so you know where the plot is going. And while I think "homages" to It's a Wonderful Life have been overdone, stealing from Frank Capraís classic worked here to frame the story.

The Muppets are first and foremost about humor. That's why The Muppet Show used a variety format and connected several short skits with a simple, often flimsy, running theme. But when you expand from a 30-minute show to a feature-length movie, there simply must be a story line to hold everything together. Itís a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie provides just enough story to get by. The rest is all gags and spoofs.

Like any good Muppet project, Very Merry Muppet Christmas projects a manic imaginative world where anything can happen. Humans and foam figures live in harmony together; eight-foot tall "things" walk down the street without being stared at; and itís not surprising if objects fall out of the sky. No explanations are needed. Itís the Muppets, after all.

Another Muppet staple involves a steady diet of star cameos. David Arquette and Whoopi Goldberg, two of my least favorite Hollywood actors, are among the cameo performers in this movie. I usually find both of them grating and obnoxious. Surprisingly, Goldberg is even tolerable here. More subdued in her role as God, she doesn't try too hard to crack a bad joke. And Arquette is not merely tolerable, heís actually commendable as a rookie angel. With his thick glasses and dorky demeanor, Arquette fits right in with his Muppet costars (in the context of the film, this is a good thing). Like Gonzo or Beaker, Arquette seems sweet and lovable, even though he's often being pushed around. Other celebrities appearing in the film include Matt Lillard (Scooby-Doo), William H. Macy (Fargo), morning talk show host Kelly Ripa and the cast of TV's Scrubs.

What I appreciated most while watching this Muppet movie was its numerous subtle jabs at pop culture. Although youngsters might not understand gags on media synergy or jabs at often-fanatical Internet fansites, their parents do. Very Merry Muppet Christmas even pokes fun at the Muppets themselves. The villain in The Muppet Movie was Doc Hopper, a rich entrepreneur who wanted Kermit as his spokesperson for a chain of fast-food restaurants specializing in frog legs. All but forgotten, Doc Hopper returns. References such as these bring the Muppets into the 21st century and offer a welcome departure from the kid-oriented Muppet films of recent years: The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets From Space.

Currently celebrating their 25th anniversary, the Muppets are symbols of nostalgia. Should their style remain the same as it was 25 years ago, they will never transcend being a novelty. Itís important for the Muppets, or any entertainment franchise, to adopt some changes. Itís a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie succeeds in doing so without compromising the heart of the Muppets Ė the reason they became so popular in the first place. Some might cringe at the sight of Muppets in a rave, or Pepe, one of the few good Muppet additions of the past decade, burying his face in Joan Cusack's bosom, but I say bring it on. The original Muppet fans are adults now. We can handle edgier material.

The filmís early pacing did pose a problem for me. At one point Arquette and Goldberg sit around and shoot the breeze far too long. Later, there's an inexplicable scene involving Fozzie being chased by some Crocodile Hunter wannabe. Unless it's done by the original Steve Irvin, a crazy-Aussie-animal-hunter shtick isn't funny. Here it's downright awful. But these moments are few, and director Kirk Thatcher generally stays with the story, no matter how thin it is.

Iím pleased to see Kermit exuding more attitude here than in any of his previous movie or television appearances. Heís embraced an edgier world, one where both children and adults can laugh with the Muppets and their rediscovered resonance. Hopefully, It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie signals good things to come for all the Muppets.

(Available now for home entertainment from NBC.)

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