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Film / A Muppet Family Christmas

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A portion of the cast poses for the closing shot.

"Careful of the icy patch!"

The best-remembered of several Christmas Specials featuring The Muppets, this could probably be better called A Jim Henson Family Christmas. It originally aired in 1987 on ABC in the U.S. and CBC in Canada.note 

Fozzie Bear has packed up the entire cast of The Muppet Show and brought them with him to surprise his mother Emily Bear on her isolated farm for Christmas. There's just one problem: Emily's scheduled a trip to Malibu and rented out the farm house to Doc (from the North American version of Fraggle Rock), who's looking forward to spending a quiet Christmas in the country. Despite his protests, he and his dog Sprocket are soon joined by the Sesame Street gang; complicating the matter, "the worst blizzard in fifty years" is preparing to slam the region, and Miss Piggy is missing in action. Throw in the Fraggles and even a bit of Muppet Babies, and Hilarity Ensues.

Followed by Miss Piggy's Hollywood in 1989, among many other Muppet specials; but in a holiday context, The Muppet Christmas Carol arrived next in 1992. Sesame Street next had a new Christmas special of their own with 1996's Elmo Saves Christmas (note that in A Muppet Family Christmas, Elmo was just a background character with no lines). Both Fraggle Rock series had ended earlier that year, but the computer-animated spin-off The Doozers followed in 2012, with an Apple TV+ reboot of the main series premiering in 2022 (which also includes a holiday episode). Muppet Babies continued first-run episodes until 1991, and saw its own CGI reboot in 2018, which has had two Christmas episodes.

This special provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Even with most of the well-known Muppets here, some are missing in action. To name a few: Sweetums, Uncle Deadly, Annie Sue, Dr. Strangepork, Betty Lou, the Amazing Mumford, the Gorgs, and the Doozers. None of the humans of Sesame Street appear either, nor do Nanny and Skeeter from Muppet Babies.
  • Art Shift: In a meta sense. The Muppet Babies segment is puppeteered, matching the rest of the show but differing from the cartoon. The puppets (with the exception of Baby Animal) were re-used from The Muppets Take Manhattan, officially going from Piggy's dream sequence to actual backstory status.
  • Ass Kicks You: Done for a brief gag when Big Bird is talking with the Swedish Chef—he spins around and inadvertently sends the Chef flying with his tail. It's a good thing, too, because the Chef was coming after Big Bird with a meat tenderizer...
  • Ate It All: No sooner has Janice entered with a big plate of Christmas cookies than Cookie Monster appears and devours the lot.
    Janice: Who was that strange blue creature?
    Animal: Dat my kinda fella! Hahahaha!
  • Bat Family Crossover: The only time you'll ever see the four cornerstones of early Muppetdom (The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street, and Muppet Babies) in the same place. Don't expect it to ever happen again, either, as the Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock characters are now owned by different entities (only Fraggle Rock remains in the hands of the Jim Henson Company) and the original Muppet Babies will be tied up in legal red tape until the end of time.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Receiving a chocolate-coated birdseed gift from Big Bird and being asked nothing in return is what drives the Swedish Chef to tears and to have a change of heart, sparing Big Bird from becoming the dinner and instead befriending him.
  • Beneath the Earth: Kermit had once told Robin about Fraggle holes and that they could go exploring if they ever found one. Robin discovers one in the basement, and he and Kermit journey to the cavernous world of Fraggle Rock, meeting up with the Fraggle Five.
  • Bilingual Bonus: As usual, most of the Swedish Chef's dialogue is a lot of incomprehensible babble interspersed with just enough English to follow. But when he first arrives at the farmhouse, he greets Fozzie with a cheery "Glaedelig Jul!" Yep, that means "Merry Christmas"... in Danish, not Swedish. Later, while talking with the Turkey, one of the things he says is "Pfeffernusse", which is a kind of German Christmas cookie.
  • The Cameo:
    • While he doesn't appear anywhere else in the special, Fraggle Rock's Uncle "Traveling" Matt can be seen singing alongside Doc and Sprocket during the next-to-last caroling sequence.
    • Sam the Eagle seems to think this is his role in the show, since one of his only lines has him asking no one in particular, "Why am I here?"
    • Certain characters, such as Lew Zealand, Elmo, Prairie Dawn, and Herry Monster get reduced to this, since they appear but have no dialogue.
    • David Rudman, a relative newcomer to the Muppets at the time this special was made, is the voice of the offscreen photographer during Miss Piggy's photo shoot. In the decades since, Rudman has inherited Beaker, Janice, Scooter, Cookie Monster, and others.
  • Canon Discontinuity:
    • A possible example regarding Fraggle Rock. The show had aired its last episode nine months earlier, in March 1987, and had concluded with Doc befriending the Fraggles (Sprocket was already friendly with Gobo by that point although they hadn't known each other's names). However, in this special, Doc apparently still doesn't know what Fraggles are, as upon encountering the Muppet Show cast, he asks Sprocket, "Are these anything like those Fraggles you keep telling me about?" Partially justified in that Fraggle Rock was likely a new franchise to many American viewers who didn't get HBO or CBC and/or might be familiar with it only from the animated adaptation.
    • On the other hand, Emily's house just happens to have a Fraggle hole, which would seem to jibe with the Fraggle Rock final-episode concept of "You cannot leave the magic": it's possible the portal to Fraggle Rock followed Doc and Sprocket to Emily's.
  • Carnivore Confusion: One of the Swedish Chef's shticks: in this special, the Turkey tries to get out of being cooked by siccing the Chef on Big Bird instead. Before Big Bird arrives, he also attempts to persuade the Chef that Sprocket is a turkey, which leads to what may be the best line of the entire special:
    Doc: I don't care if the turkey says the dog is the turkey! The dog is not the turkey! The turkey's the turkey, you turkey!
  • Christmas Carolers: The Sesame Street gang arrive as these, performing "Here We Come A-Caroling". And toward the end of the special, all the characters join in a medley of carols.
  • Christmas Songs: Lots of them. Sometimes they're justified, such as the Sesame Street caroling sequence.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Sure, it makes for a heartwarming crossover, but what are the odds that of all the houses in all the world, Emily Bear's basement just so happens to have a Fraggle Hole inside?note  And furthermore, what are the odds that the "main" Fraggles would just so happen to be walking by that hole when Kermit and Robin enter?
    Kermit: You never know where you're gonna find these things!
  • Cool Old Guy: Doc proves to be one of these, once he gets past his initial grumpiness. He's not happy, at first, about having his holiday plans turned on their head; but he accepts the situation, helps Emily decorate the house, builds some bunk beds in the broom closet to accommodate the new arrivals, and starts to enjoy himself. His best moment, however, comes when he finds Kermit worrying over Miss Piggy and promptly volunteers to go out into the storm to find her.
  • Cool Old Lady: Emily Bear is not exactly thrilled to have "spent three months of surfing lessons for zip," but she graciously opens her home to her son's "weirdo friends" and pulls out all the stops to make them feel comfortable.
  • Covered in Mud: When Miss Piggy's limousine gets stuck in a snowdrift, she plans to take a taxi to the farmhouse, but it gets stuck, too. She tries to push it out but only gets sprayed from head to toe with mud.
  • Creator Cameo: Jim Henson himself shows up at the very end, looking on from the kitchen doorway and commenting.
    "Well, Sprocket, it looks like they're all having a good time. I like it when they have a good time."
  • Cross-Cast Role: Bert grudgingly dons a woman's nightgown for the pageant: "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
    Ernie: C'mon, Bert. Somebody has to play Mama, and you lost the toss!
  • Cuteness Proximity:
    • After the Muppet Babies segment, Doc admits that "even weirdos are cute when they're babies!"
      Gonzo: I knew you'd learn to love us!
      Doc: I didn't say that.
    • Oscar, though, doesn't share the opinion of the Sesame Street play:
      Emily Bear: Oh, aren't they adorable.
      Oscar: Don't encourage them!
  • Deadline News: A gag carried over from the regular Muppet Show, when the newscaster reports on the storm and states that barometers are falling sharply. And no, he's not hit by the storm, he's hit by falling barometers.
  • Defrosting Ice King: Doc goes through this—he's at first upset that his plans for "a nice, quiet Christmas" have been ruined by the sudden arrival of the Muppets and Sesame Street gang, but as time passes and he gets to know them, he gradually warms up and starts enjoying their company. It culminates with him being the one to go out and search for Miss Piggy to bring her safely to the farmhouse, citing his new friendship with the group as why he wants to do it.
  • Description Cut: As he and his friends are driving to Emily's farm, Fozzie gives Kermit a nostalgic description of her house decorated for Christmas, with his mother sitting in her rocking chair by the fire, knitting and feeling a little sad. Meanwhile, the shot of her living room shows it free of decorations and fire, while Emily has her bags packed for Malibu.
  • Dirty Coward: The Turkey tries to save himself by getting the Swedish Chef to cook Sprocket and Big Bird.
  • Dragged into Drag: Bert's not happy about having to play "Mama in her kerchief" in the Christmas pageant.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Count von Count IS in this, after all. Also, when the Turkey initially sics the Swedish Chef on Big Bird, we hear thunder booming for no apparent reason except to heighten the drama... except there isn't any lightning at that part!note 
  • Dub-Induced Plot Hole: Or rather, Importation Expansion Plot Hole. The first thought of many young Britons on seeing it was "Why is Sprocket owned by some guy called Doc? What happened to the lighthouse keeper (from the British version of Fraggle Rock)?"
  • Encouraged Regifting: The Fraggles have a nice yellow pebble that they've gifted one another well over thirty times as a sign of friendship. During the special, Mokey gives it to Boober, who gives it to Robin... who then gives it to Grover.
  • Failed a Spot Check: During the next-to-last caroling sequence, the Fraggle Five sneak upstairs and get a chance to observe the action. They hide behind the mantelpiece to watch—and Doc, who's right in front of it, doesn't turn around and see them. Even with Traveling Matt standing right next to him, he's too busy petting Sprocket to notice. (On Fraggle Rock, Sprocket was always attempting to alert him to the Fraggles' presence.)note 
  • Foreshadowing: When the Muppets first show up, Doc asks Sprocket if they're "anything like those Fraggles." Guess who shows up later in the special?
  • Furry Confusion: Several:
  • Good Feels Good: The theme of "Pass it On", which Kermit and Robin sing with a crowd of Fraggles. It's about the joy "of giving love away." Right afterward, Mokey gives the yellow pebble to Boober... who gives it to Robin... who then gives it to Grover.
    Red: [singing] When you're giving love away, love will come again to stay!
  • Gratuitous French: Piggy does this fairly often, although it's not unusual for her.
  • Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: You can tell that the gathering at the end of the show is a special occasion, because even the Muppets who are normally not dressed (e.g. Kermit) have put on special duds.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Lampshaded with Bert and Ernie, who play a couple for a presentation of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. (Bert's humiliated that he's "Mama"; Ernie responds that someone had to be, and he lost the coin toss.)
  • Hurrying Home for the Holidays: The Muppets visit the farmhouse of Emily Bear, Fozzie's mother, for Christmas. However, Miss Piggy is busy with a photoshoot and last-minute Christmas shopping, so she can't join the rest of the Muppets right away. On her way to the farmhouse, the worst blizzard in 50 years hits, and this results in Miss Piggy's limousine getting stuck in a snowdrift. Having befriended the Muppets, Doc volunteers to find Miss Piggy in the snowstorm for Kermit, and he returns with her in a dogsled.
  • I Am Not Weasel: Emily mistakenly refers to Kermit as a lizard several times.
  • I Got a Rock: In this case, it's apparently a good thing. The "nice yellow pebble" has been a Fraggle gift thirty-seven times. During the special, Mokey gives it to Boober, who gives it to Robin... who then gives it to Grover.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: Fozzie wants Kermit to watch his comedy act with his new snowman partner despite a blizzard raging outside. Kermit protests that it's too cold; Fozzie counters that it isn't cold at all; cue the snowman coming inside to warm up.
    Fozzie: ...okay, so it's cold.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition: Kermit and Robin sing a tender chorus of "Jingle Bells," immediately followed by a rock and roll power chord and the Electric Mayhem singing "Jingle Bell Rock."
  • Is Nothing Sacred?: Sam the Eagle is driven to ask exactly this (with accompanying Face Palm) after seeing the Two-Headed Monster from Sesame Street play Santa Claus in a skit.
  • I've Heard of That — What Is It?: When Kermit tells the Fraggles that he and Robin have come to wish them a merry Christmas...
    Wembley: Oh!
    Mokey: Really?
    Boober: Thank you!
    Mokey: That's nice!
    Wembley: Uh... what's Christmas?
  • Let's Meet the Meat: The Turkey initially seems rather nonchalant about being, as Gonzo notes, "in the wrong place at the wrong time."
  • Literal-Minded:
    Fozzie: Kermit, Kermit, now can I tell you about my new act? Huh?
    Kermit: I'm all ears.
    [Sprocket's barking is heard offscreen.]
    Kermit: Now, what can that be? [Walks off.]
    Fozzie: [to camera] What do you mean, he's all ears? Frogs don't even have ears!
  • Meta Guy: Doc, as one of the only human characters (outside of The Muppet Show and its spinoff movies) to ever interact with the Muppetsnote , gets to play this role, as he calls attention to their sheer weirdness and the illogical matchups among them. It's best seen when he asks Kermit what Miss Piggy looks like; upon hearing she's a pig, he remarks that "Well, up to a short while ago, I would have thought that strange."
  • Musicalis Interruptus: When the Sesame Street gang show up outside caroling, the second song they sing is "Deck the Halls". When it gets to the line "Follow me in merry measure" which turned out to be Oscar's part, he grumpily says he refuses to sing as the music halts, before the song continues normally.
  • Now You Tell Me: There's a Running Gag about an icy patch in front of the door. Each new visitor is told, "Careful of the icy patch!"... after they've already slipped.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: The Swedish Chef is preparing to cook Big Bird for Thanksgiving dinner, but as he's getting the dishes ready, the giant fowl gives him a homemade gift (chocolate-covered birdseed) and talks about how sad the Chef must feel to be away from his family in Sweden. The Chef clearly feels terrible about what he was planning to do as Big Bird cheerfully talks, none the wiser.
  • Odd Friendship: Emily and Statler and Waldorf, much to Fozzie's astonishment. Big Bird and the Swedish Chef also form one. There are a few other minor friendly interactions between the casts, like Oscar and Rizzo or Animal and Cookie Monster.
  • An Odd Place to Sleep:
    • With the house crammed full of guests and space at a premium, Emily tells the gang that two of them will have to sleep suspended from hangers on a hook on the wall. Gonzo and Animal are only too happy to comply.
      Floyd: That's the only way Animal ever sleeps, ma'am.
    • Earlier, Emily rattles off a list of other bizarre places people will be sleeping, including a hammock, the bathtub, and a pair of "bunk beds in the broom closet."
  • Offscreen Crash: Can be heard while Piggy is calling Kermit from a phone booth during the storm.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: The Sesame Street gang turns up midway through the special, with no real explanation as to how they knew where everyone else was.
  • Oh, Crap!: Fozzie's reaction upon not only seeing Statler and Waldorf, but being told that his mom is friends with them.
  • Old-Timey Cinema Countdown: Scooter puts on an old home movie of the very first Christmas the Muppets spent together when they were babies. The film reel opens with such a countdown displaying the numbers 4, 3, and 2.
  • One-Shot Character: Maureen the Mink (performed by Karen Prell) makes her first and only appearance here. (Although, judging from her design, she may have originally been one of the Fraggle Rock "cave pals.")
  • On Second Thought:
    Emily Bear: There. Fozzie's stocking is hung by the mantel so Santa can bring him a present.
    Fozzie: Aww, Mom, this is embarrassing. I mean, I'm not a cub anymore. I'm a grown bear.
    Emily Bear: Oh. Well, I'll take it down.
    Fozzie: [quickly] Oh, no! I didn't say that.
  • Original Generation: The turkey and snowman characters were created specifically for the special. Both puppets would be reused again in The Muppet Christmas Carol.
  • The Parody Before Christmas: The Sesame Street cast put on a pageant version of the poem. Ernie is the narrator, Grover is the mouse (carrying a bowl and spoon to show that he's not stirring), Bert is the wife (and is not too happy about playing that role), and the Two-Headed Monster is Santa (causing Sam the Eagle to mutter "is nothing sacred?").
  • Pet the Dog: When trying to figure out sleeping arrangements, Rizzo considers bunking with Oscar... and the usually antisocial Grouch admits he likes the idea of having a rat in his trash can.
  • Plank Gag: While checking out the kitchen, Big Bird unknowingly bumps the Swedish Chef into the counter with his tail.
  • The Power of Friendship: The innocent and naïve Big Bird, who is naturally unaware of the Swedish Chef's initial plans to cook him for dinner, immediately befriends him and offers him chocolate-coated birdseed that Granny Bird made as a gift, in addition to asking for nothing in return. This causes the Swedish Chef to burst into tears and spare him.
  • Pretty in Mink: Piggy's dress for the finale has fur trim, and of course, Maureen the Mink takes this trope up to eleven in the literal sense.
  • Pun: Late arrival Rowlf explains to Fozzie, "I was chasin' the truck all the way, and boy, am I exhausted!" Fozzie lampshades and compliments his wordplay.
  • Revisiting the Roots:
    • This special was an example of this for the Muppet organization. At the time, Fraggle Rock was just ending (the original series had aired its finale in March, and the short-lived animated spinoff airing at the time would not be renewed), Jim Henson was working on the concept of The Jim Henson Hour, Frank Oz was busy getting his film directing career going, and in general there was a lot of activity happening on a lot of different projects.
    • Speaking of The Jim Henson Hour, the idea for this special actually came out of that show's development, albeit indirectly: Henson, Oz, and writer Jerry Juhl had a lot of fun working together on its pitch reel, and the experience led them to decide to make a Christmas special where the core Muppet Performers could get together and just do an old-fashioned comedy-variety show.
  • Riddle for the Ages: It's never explained how the Sesame Street gang knew about Kermit and the others being at Emily Bear's house and where it was in the first place.
  • Running Gag:
    • "Careful of the icy patch!"
    • Emily Bear thinking Kermit is a lizard.
    • Sesame Street small talk.
  • Santa Claus: Santa appears at the end and starts handing out presents — and sounds rather suspiciously like Doc, who is suddenly nowhere to be seen.
  • Shaped Like Itself: Doc has to remind the Swedish Chef that the turkey is the turkey... and the dog isn't.
  • Shout-Out: When it's pointed out that Gonzo's not a chicken like his girlfriend:
    Gonzo: Well, nobody's perfect.
  • Snowed-In: The gang must weather "the worst blizzard in fifty years," while Kermit worries about Miss Piggy, who is apparently lost in it.
  • Snowlems: Fozzie builds a snowman who promptly comes alive and shares his sense of humor.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Crossover: Most of the focus is on the Muppet Show and Sesame Street casts plus Doc and Sprocket, with Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies getting only one major scene each (though the Fraggles are later seen showing up for caroling). As a result, most Fraggle and Babies secondary characters (like the Doozers and Gorgs for the former and Skeeter and Nanny for the latter) don't appear at all. Worse, most of the Babies scene was cut from later releases due to rights issues.
  • Stealth Pun: The Turkey is a 1960s-hip, urban jazz type who speaks in a slight dialect. He is, of course, a jive turkey (but not enough to be the trope).
  • Tearing Through the Movie Screen: The gang watches an old home movie of the Muppets as babies. At the end, Baby Animal pops out of a present, causing the audience to go "Aww, Animal." Then adult Animal rips through the screen, and the audience responds with "Aw, Animal!" in a more disappointed tone.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • After the Sesame Street gang arrives and sings, Kermit sighs: "Aw, it's nice to have everyone here. You can feel the peace of the holiday season." Cue the entire group rushing for the door and trampling him while slipping on the icy patch.
    • In a musical variation, Kermit and Robin comment on how wonderful it is to be with family at Christmas, then begin a subdued duet of "Jingle Bells." They get about one line through before the Electric Mayhem bursts into an extremely loud version of "Jingle Bell Rock" in the living room.
  • Terrified of Germs: When the Fraggles first meet Kermit and Robin...
    Boober: Don't touch 'em! Frogs are probably noted germ-carriers.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song:
    Kermit: Well, everybody, it's Christmas Eve and the tree is trimmed, so it's time for our annual carol sing!
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Fozzie actually gets some laughs when he teams up with the snowman. One of the woodland creatures even calls them the funniest comedy team in the business.
  • Toilet Humor: While watching home videos, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew spots Baby Rowlf and comments on how "wee" (small) he was, Rowlf retaliates and says he was paper-trained at the time.note 
  • Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: You know it's cold when the snowman wants to come in and warm up.
  • True Companions: A major theme of any Muppet production, but given special emphasis here. Only two sets of characters in this special are blood-related (Kermit and Robin and Fozzie and his mother), but the special shows everyone coming together in true familial fashion.
  • True Meaning of Christmas: Robin the Frog defines it for the Fraggles as a time when "you gather together with the people you love, and you wish each other peace on Earth."
  • Under the Mistletoe: Kermit and Piggy at the very end.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Gonzo warns The Turkey about The Swedish Chef and tells him to get out of there. The Turkey ignores him and hits on his girlfriend, Camilla.
  • The Unintelligible:
    • Good thing they didn't have Beaker do a solo on the more obscure carols...
    • There's also the Swedish Chef, who sings "The Christmas Song" with Big Bird. The only intelligible words are the ones that end the lines, presumably to keep the rhyme scheme.
  • Villain Ball: The Swedish Chef, of all people, briefly grabs hold of it when he plans to kill, cook, and serve Big Bird for Christmas dinner. Keep in mind that Big Bird is canonically six years old (although it's possible the Chef didn't know that). We even seen the Swedish Chef preparing to use a meat tenderizing hammer on the giant fellow. Thankfully, Big Bird giving him a homemade gift and a few kind words are enough to change his tune.
  • Villain Over for Dinner: Fozzie gets a shock when he finds Statler and Waldorf in the audience for his new act, with Emily explaining that they're friends of hers who regularly visit for Christmas.
  • Visual Pun:
    • Grover plays a mouse in the ''Twas the Night Before Christmas skit, and he's carrying a bowl — which, as he spells out, he is not stirring. (As in "Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.")
    • The news reporter on television that breaks the news of the big blizzard says that barometers are falling sharply, right before a barrage of barometers falls on top of him.
  • What's a Henway?: Fozzie and the snowman's act features two jokes of this type.
    Fozzie: That's pretty good harmony for a snowman.
    Snowman: Actually, I'm a "snoo-man".
    Fozzie: What's a "snoo-man"?
    Snowman: Nothing! What's a-snoo with you, man?!
    Snowman: But it's always cold at Christmas.
    Fozzie: Ah, Christmas, a time when Santa Claus comes down with his eight prancing reinbear.
    Snowman: Um, that's reindeer.
    Fozzie: No! That's snow, darling!
  • You Mean "Xmas": The Fraggles have never heard of Christmas, but coincidentally happen to celebrate a very similar holiday, the Festival of the Bells, at the same time.