A Muppet Family Christmas is a Christmas television special starring the Muppets, first aired on ABC in 1987. It is the only Christmas special to feature characters from Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and Fraggle Rock all together. It won an award from the Writers' Guild of America in 1989, and was also nominated for the 1988 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Program.
The special opens with most of The Muppet Show cast driving through a blizzard in a pickup truck, singing "We Need a Little Christmas". They have decided to spend Christmas at the old farm where Fozzie Bear's mother, Mrs. Emily Bear, lives. And since she loves surprises, they have not called to tell her they were coming. Unbeknownst to them, Mrs. Bear is planning to spend Christmas in Malibu, and to make sure her farmhouse stays in one piece while she's gone, she has rented it to Doc and Sprocket. Considering how much Sprocket keeps trying to alert him of something on their show, Doc is looking forward to having "a nice, quiet Christmas" in the countryside.
Immediately following Doc and Sprocket's arrival, the Muppets themselves show up, slipping on an icy patch at the door. Emily is pleasantly surprised with the appearance of her cub and "his weirdo friends", despite the fact that she now has to cancel her trip to Malibu, and willingly allows them to stay. Doc, on the other hand, is a bit peeved that the house he rented has just gotten so many unexpected visitors, and asks Sprocket if they're "anything like these Fraggles you keep telling me about." Then the telephone rings, and Animal answers it. It is Miss Piggy, calling to tell Kermit that she has a photo session underway and needs to get it done before she can join them.
The Swedish Chef shows up, telling Fozzie he's here to cook the Christmas turkey. Immediately following that, Gonzo greets a real live Muppet turkey, who was apparently convinced by the Swedish Chef to come, claiming it to be a nice vacation. Gonzo tries to tell the Christmas Turkey that this is a dangerous place for him to be, but the Turkey is assured that he will not end up in the oven. Meanwhile, after Kermit helps clear the kitchen so the Chef can work in there, he and his nephew Robin start singing "Jingle Bells", which suddenly segues into the Electric Mayhem performing "Jingle Bell Rock".
Later, Fozzie is outside building a snowman while some of the other Muppets chop down a tree to bring inside when Rowlf the Dog shows up (and slips on the icy patch). He engages in a friendly conversation with Sprocket, and then sits down to Emily's out-of-tune piano and starts playing "Sleigh Ride". Fozzie starts singing along, during which the snowman he's building comes to life and starts a comedy act with the bear. When they get a positive reaction from some woodland creatures watching their act, Fozzie runs inside to try to tell Kermit about his new act with the Snowman, slipping on the icy patch on the way in. But Kermit doesn't get a chance to see the act, for he then puts up with another phone call from Piggy. This time, she's doing some last-minute Christmas shopping. Meanwhile, the Swedish Chef has been tricked by the Christmas Turkey into believing that Sprocket is an even bigger turkey. Doc corrects the Chef on which animal is which, and then the Turkey begins hitting on Gonzo's girlfriend, Camilla the Chicken.
Scooter finds an old home movie of the first Christmas the Muppets ever spent together, so the Muppets sit down to watch it. The footage, based on Muppet Babies, shows the baby versions of Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, and Gonzo singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", all the while the fully-grown characters give comments. At the end, when the baby Animal rips through a gift box in the film, the fully-grown Animal tears through the screen.
Right after the film ends, Gonzo catches sight of the Christmas Turkey flirting with Camilla and picks a fight with him. But then Kermit barges in on the argument and brings them outside. There, they see that the entire Muppet cast from Sesame Street coming up, performing a short medley consisting of "Here We Come A-Caroling" and "Deck the Halls" (with the exception of Oscar the Grouch, who naturally refuses to sing along). Once they finish singing, they all come inside.
During this, the Swedish Chef manages to nab the Turkey, who tries to get out of being cooked by claiming he's a different animal altogether, but the Chef isn't fooled this time and proceeds with the fitting. But the Turkey manages to save himself by pointing out Big Bird, whom the Chef decides would make an even better Christmas dinner. At that moment, the Muppet Newscaster appears on TV to report about a terrible blizzard forming outside, saying that barometers will be falling sharply; he then literally gets attacked by falling barometers. Scooter looks outside and sees that the Newscaster is right, and Count Von Count starts trying to count as many snowflakes as he can while Kermit becomes more worried about Miss Piggy.
Later, Fozzie and his mom are figuring out the sleeping arrangements for all the guests, while Oscar decides to let Rizzo the Rat spend the night in his trash can. Then Janice brings out some Christmas cookies she just baked, only for Cookie Monster to gobble them all. The Sesame Street characters then perform their Christmas pageant, The Night Before Christmas, in which Ernie provides the narration while Bert has to play the mother mentioned in the story. After Grover pops in as the mouse who is not stirring (literally, he is holding a mixing bowl and his hand is not touching the spoon), Ernie signals for the sleigh being pulled by the reindeer, all played by monster Muppets such as Herry Monster and Elmo, and the Two-Headed Monster appears as St. Nick (to which Sam the Eagle replies, "Is nothing sacred?").
Miss Piggy calls Kermit one more time to tell him that her limousine is stuck in the snowbank, so she's going to take a taxi cab to the farmhouse, in spite of the blizzard. Fozzie tries to cheer Kermit up by introducing him to the Snowman. In a piece of irony, the Snowman comes inside to warm up because it's so cold outside. Fozzie brings the Snowman in for the rest of the gang to see, but then sees Statler and Waldorf, who are revealed to be friends of Fozzie's mom who visit her every Christmas. Fozzie and the Snowman try their best at their routine, but they keep getting interrupted by Statler and Waldorf's heckling, until finally the Snowman, realizing he's starting to melt, heads back outside.
The Swedish Chef calls Big Bird into the kitchen and starts shaking salt all over him. Big Bird, completely unaware of the Chef's intention to cook him, gives him a handful of homemade chocolate-covered birdseed. The Chef is touched by this gift, and he becomes even more touched when he and Big Bird sing "The Christmas Song", which moves him to tears so much that he instead opts to serve shredded wheat and cranberry sauce, which happens to be Big Bird's favorite. Meanwhile, Doc, having taken notice of how worried Kermit is about Miss Piggy, offers to go find her and help her get to the farmhouse, telling the frog that he's warmed up to the Muppets and now finds this better than the lonely vacation he and Sprocket would've had if they didn't show up.
After Doc leaves to find Miss Piggy, Kermit heads down to the cellar to find that his nephew, Robin, has found a hole leading to Fraggle Rock. Robin has always wanted to meet the Fraggles, so Kermit goes in with him. In the cave, the frogs soon stumble upon the main characters of Fraggle Rock and wish them a Merry Christmas, and also explain the holiday to them because the Fraggles don't really know what it is. What the Fraggles do have, though, is a time when they give each other pebbles and pass them on to other Fraggles. They explain their ritual in a number called "Pass It On" (from the Fraggle Rock episode "The Perfect Blue Rollie"). Before the frogs head back upstairs, Boober gives Robin the Fraggle pebble used in their demonstration.
When Kermit and Robin return, they're just in time to witness Miss Piggy's arrival. They see her arriving with Doc, wearing a Mountie uniform, bringing Miss Piggy up on a sled and dog team. Piggy then begins to sing "(There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays" as Kermit brings her in with the other Muppets singing along. Right as she finishes, though, she slips on the icy patch, taking Kermit down with her.
With the entire Muppet menagerie all there, they proceed to sing a medley of Christmas songs, where everybody (except of course for Oscar) sings at least one line, including the Snowman and the forest critters outside. Over the course of the medley, the overhearing Fraggles come up to watch, during which we briefly see that Gobo's uncle Matt is also there. Once they finish singing, Fozzie's mom puts his stocking up on the mantle; Fozzie tells her that he's a grown bear and doesn't need to have his stocking hung, but allows her to put it up anyway. Kermit then presents Miss Piggy with his gift for her - a mink, though not what Piggy expects. She is at first surprised when she sees that Kermit has gotten her a live mink (named Maureen), but quickly warms up when the mink says she's her biggest fan. Then Robin gives the Fraggle pebble to Grover. Then Doc gives out presents dressed as Santa Claus while they all sing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", during which Jim Henson himself appears, watching this from the kitchen. The special ends with Kermit returning Miss Piggy's affection under the mistletoe before saying "Merry Christmas" to the viewers.
- "We Need a Little Christmas"
- "Jingle Bells"
- "Jingle Bell Rock"
- "Sleigh Ride"
- "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"
- "Here We Come A-Caroling"
- "Deck the Halls"
- "The Christmas Song"
- "Pass It On"
- "(There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays"
- Christmas Carol Sing
- "Happy Holidays"
- "Ding Dong Merrily on High"
- "I Saw Three Ships"
- "Good King Wenceslas"
- "The Holly and the Ivy"
- "I'll Be Home for Christmas"
- "Happy Holidays" (reprise)
- "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
- "Caroling, Caroling"
- "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"
- "It's in Every One of Us"
- "Old Friends, New Friends"
- "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"
"We Need a Little Christmas" and the "Jingle Bells"/"Jingle Bell Rock" medley are notably featured on the album Nick at Nite: A Classic Cartoon Christmas.
Broadcast history and availability
A Muppet Family Christmas first aired on ABC on December 16, 1987. ABC aired the special again on December 2, 1988. It was then re-edited and aired on NBC as an episode of The Magical World of Disney on December 24, 1989. It was aired on Nickelodeon as an installment of Muppet Matinee in 1993 and 1994, and later on the Odyssey Network in 1999 and 2000, and the Hallmark Channel in 2001.
Home video releases
In the United States, the special was released, in edited form, on VHS by Buena Vista Home Video (under the Jim Henson Video label) in 1994, and then by Columbia TriStar in 1998. It made its DVD debut in 2001. The special is now owned by The Walt Disney Company as a result of Disney's acquisition of the Muppet franchise in 2004, but it has not been released on video since then (the reason being that Disney does not own Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock, and would need permission from Sesame Workshop and The Jim Henson Company to release the special).
When the special originally aired, the full rights to the songs were only secured for television. As a result, commercial video releases of the special in the US cut out several scenes. These scenes, however, are retained on the PAL video releases, as the US song rights are different than for other countries. All video releases derive from the 1989 edit, which contains less incidental music, and puts dissolves between scenes that originally faded to and from black for commercial breaks. (NBC added their own fades when airing the special.) Among the scenes that were cut from the NTSC video releases:
- Fozzie and the Snowman rehearsing their comedy act while singing "Sleigh Ride".
- The Muppets watching the home movies of their first Christmas together. In the edited version, Animal seems to rip through the screen immediately after they start watching.
- Miss Piggy's performance of "Home for the Holidays". This, unfortunately, meant cutting out the topper to the icy patch running gag.
- The original 1987 airing had a brief 5-second shot of Fozzie and Elmo turning on the Christmas lights; this was cut in all subsequent broadcasts as well as the PAL DVD.
- In the caroling medley at the end, Kermit and Miss Piggy singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", and Statler and Waldorf singing "I Heard the Bells on Christmas" are skipped.
- The scene with Fozzie and his mom hanging stockings was removed from later TV broadcasts and the video releases. Henson remastered the special in the 1990s for television reruns, and had to cut this scene to make room for commercials.
Other edits that have been made to the special outside of the NTSC video releases include:
- The logo seen at the beginning was added for the home video releases. In the original cut of the special, the logo is seen over Ma Bear's farmhouse at the end of the song "We Need a Little Christmas." However, it was slightly reworked for future television airings. This brief musical interlude was edited from the master and the logo was reinserted separately.
- The original 1987 airing featured a bumper in between holiday commercials with Kermit, in front of a Christmas tree, saying "A Muppet Family Christmas will return in a moment," as Fozzie is seen behind Kermit playing with two little stuffed animal bears as if they were puppets.
- The ABC airing had sponsor bumpers for Playskool and Toys "R" Us, plus a silent title bumper.
- The ABC, NBC, and DVD versions all have different end credits. The ABC broadcasts had the copyright information right below Jim Henson's name on the last credit. NBC's broadcasts had a completely different font, and has Henson and Disney logos after it. The DVD version is similar to the ABC one, but does not have the original copyright title, and cuts to a Henson logo.
- On Nickelodeon, the following edits were made:
- The music that played before Rowlf arrives at the farmhouse is cut.
- The Turkey meeting Camilla is cut (the scene fades to black after the turkey says, "This is starting to be fun").
- When Fozzie and his mom check off a list of who is sleeping where, a shot of a fireplace is shown over their beginning dialogue (originally, they were onscreen the whole time they were checking off sleeping arrangements).
- A shot of the tree is shown over dialogue of Fozzie getting ready to tell everybody that his mother has an announcement, as opposed to him being seen (this followed Fozzie and Elmo turning on the Christmas lights in the original version).
- Muppet Wiki: A Muppet Family Christmas
- A Muppet Family Christmas at the Internet Movie Database
- A Muppet Family Christmas at TV Tropes