It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (review)

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Moi Loves Kermie

I miss the Muppets. The real Muppets, that is. Not The Muppet Christmas Carol. Not Muppet Treasure Island. I want the old Muppet Show back. The other day, somebody’s cell phone rang on the subway, and the ring was the theme from the Muppet Show. I almost cried.

And damned if It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, which aired the other night on NBC, isn’t exactly what I was looking for. Snarky and sweet at the same time and loaded with cameos of celebs having a great time, it’s even set in the old Muppet Theater, like the show was, with the star on the door of Miss Piggy’s dressing room and Statler and Waldorf heckling from the balcony and everything. I felt 8 years old again.

Last week, Kermit the Frog was doing the rounds on the morning shows, promoting the movie, and that was a terrific prelude to the movie itself. Because it’s the rare newscaster, it seems, who isn’t completely delighted to be talking to such a huge star — a cultural icon, really — as Kermit. Seeing Daryn Kagan and Leon Harris on CNN giggling their way through an interview — in awe, truly, of the great frog — was highly entertaining.

That’s the beauty of the Muppets, when they’re on — and they’re on again. They bring out the kid, the creative, playful kid in everyone they come in contact with. It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie is the first time David Arquette (Eight Legged Freaks, 3000 Miles to Graceland) hasn’t been actively annoying onscreen — he’s actually kinda cute here, as a dorky angel named Daniel, who descends from above to help Kermit through his latest crisis. And how could Arquette not be simply delightful? He gets to hug Kermit, and it’s obvious Arquette thinks this is a wonderful thing.

Kermit’s latest crisis stems from the same marvelous “faults” Kermit’s crises always spring from: his generosity, his big-heartedness, his propensity to always see the best in the people and creatures around him. This time, the Muppet Theater is being foreclosed on by the mortgage holder, banker Rachel Bitterman (Joan Cusack: Toy Story 2, Runaway Bride). Heh: Bitterman. She’s given them till Christmas Eve to come up with the money the Muppets owe her, or it’s out. The Muppets — the whole gang: Kermit, Piggy, Dr. Teeth, Gonzo the Great, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Sam Eagle, Fozzie, and everyone — pull together to put on a money-raising holiday show and get a ride on the same emotional roller coaster they always ride: love, rage, hope, despair, up and down, up and down.

All of which gives the Muppets the chance to go on a pop culture rampage, just like they used to, funny and mean and just a tad risqué as they tear through Christmas traditions new and old — Burl Ives’s snowman, A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, the Grinch — with equal measures of respect and irreverence. Non-Christmas pop culture takes a hilarious beating, too: from cell phones to Moulin Rouge, psychic hotlines to Ricky Martin, even — ahem — fawning fannish Web sites.

Well, darn it, I’ll fawn if I want to. The Muppets — the real Muppets — have been gone too long for me not to be excited that they’ve returned. Why, It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie is the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational Christmas movie I’ve seen in years.

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