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A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa DVD Review

Buy A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa on DVD from Amazon.com A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa
Special & DVD Details

Director: Kirk R. Thatcher / Writers: Hugh Fink, Scott Ganz, Andrew Samson, Paul Williams

Cast: Steve Whitmire (Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Statler, Beaker), Dave Goelz (Gonzo, Waldorf, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot), Bill Barretta (Pepe, Swedish Chef, Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Bobo the Bear, Husband Pigeon), Eric Jacobson (Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Animal, Sam the Eagle), Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Himself), Whoopi Goldberg (Taxi Driver), Richard Griffiths (Santa Claus), Jane Krakowski (Claire's Mom), Nathan Lane (Officer Frank Meany), Jesse L. Martin (Postal Worker), Petra Nemcova (Beaker's Girlfriend), Madison Pettis (Claire), Steve Schirripa (Mobster), Tony Sirico (Mobster), Uma Thurman (Joy), Paul Williams (Chief Elf)

Songs: The Crystals - "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"; Cast - "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", "Delivering Christmas", "What's in Your Heart", "Deck the Halls", "I Wish I Could Be Santa Claus", "All My Dreams Came True (My Best Christmas Yet)"; "So Glad You're Mine"

Original Air Date: December 17, 2008 / Running Time: 55 Minutes (Extended Cut) / Rating: TV-G

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
DVD Release Date: September 29, 2009 / Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / White Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover

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When Disney bought the Muppets early in 2004, fans anticipated a grand return to form and prominence for the troupe of characters created and developed by Jim Henson. More than five years since the acquisition, Disney has taken baby steps in keeping the colorful puppets active and familiar. On DVD, there have been three satisfying season sets of the 1970s' beloved "Muppet Show" plus re-releases of four films. Statler and Waldorf briefly had a series of web shorts. Disney Cruise Line had a stage show. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker now roam the Disney Parks in audio-animatronic form.
There's also been an original concept CD, three "character-penned" self-help books, and a few appearances on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

Much of this has been stuff that the brand's diverse following has had to seek out. The most conspicuous project, a feature film script being penned by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, has barely left planning stages and, only recently got the ironic working title The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made. While the world awaits that big screen return, the Muppets got to headline a trio of small screen shows in 2008.

The first two were half-hour Disney Channel specials in which Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, et al. were sadly reduced to fawning over the cable channel's young stars and quasi-celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Ashley Tisdale, the Sprouse brothers, and Selena Gomez. The third was A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, an hour-long special that put new Muppets content in primetime on network television (NBC) for the first time since 2005's coolly-received TV movie The Muppets' Wizard of Oz.

Shenanigans leave Camilla, Rizzo, Fozzie, Pepe, Gonzo, Miss Piggy, and Kermit in a mail cart in "A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa." The post office's early closing on Christmas Eve leaves Fozzie Bear and Gonzo the Great with some unmailed letters.

Letters to Santa opens on Christmas Eve, with long-familiar characters like Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and Fozzie Bear awaiting the opening of a New York City post office. They're there among a crowd looking to mail out last-minute cards and presents. The gathering must subscribe to the notion that it's the thought (and postmark) that counts, because there's no way the parcels will reach their intended recipients by Christmas Day. Somehow, this reality is overlooked as we jump to an odd musical endorsement of the United States Postal Service, the first of several songs written by longtime Muppet friend/collaborator Paul Williams.

The Muppets don't sweat or recognize their delivery time problem, because a mishap delays all of the office's mail. Since that group includes a number of letters destined for the North Pole, including one from nice neighbor girl Claire (The Game Plan's Madison Pettis), the Muppet gang puts divergent holiday vacation plans on hold so that they can personally see to it that Santa Claus gets this important mail.

After a couple of options don't pan out, it becomes inevitable that a small group of Muppets will observe that sacred holiday TV special tradition of making the trek to the North Pole. Kermit, Fozzie, a guilt-wracked Gonzo, Rizzo the Rat and non-believer Pepe the King Prawn hop on a plane (literally) from North Pole Airlines. Of course, there are complications in air and on solid ground. I wouldn't even think of revealing whether everything turns alright and Christmas gets saved.

North Pole Airlines and its ticket agent Joy (Uma Thurman) appear to be the best bet for getting the gang to Santa Claus. Gonzo, Kermit, Fozzie, Pepe, and Rizzo hold onto an airplane wing on their Christmas Eve flight to the North Pole.

In a would-be closing number, the Muppets proclaim this to be their "best Christmas yet." That is not true, but then the group has had some sensational Christmases that are hard to live up to. There was 1979, in which the Muppets made a special and an album with John Denver. 1987 gave them A Muppet Family Christmas, the outstanding special with "Sesame Street" and "Fraggle Rock" crossovers. And 1992's The Muppet Christmas Carol remains not only one of the best filmings of Dickens' immortal story but arguably the Muppets' greatest feature.
While Letters to Santa doesn't reach the heights of these past holiday triumphs, it handily surpasses the group's previous two TV movies, Oz and 2002's It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie.

Letters succeeds by toning down some of the unnatural edginess of those two prior outings. While there has always been an element of subversion to the Muppets (the second "Muppet Show" pilot is known as "Sex and Violence"), it has been of a gentle, tongue-in-cheek variety. Certain depressing aspects of Oz and Very, like making Scooter a cage dancer, rang untrue to the universe and fans. This 2008 production gets the tone right, managing to carry some of the gang's old-fashioned charm while telling a completely contemporary story.

Most of the leading characters here rank as the canon's most significant and enduring. Although they have new puppeteers supplying their actions and voices, the personalities are very much on point. Like many Muppet fans, I could do with a little less Pepe (not because he lacks tenure as a '90s creation but because he's kind of annoying). But the Spanish crustacean isn't given free rein; more time is devoted to Fozzie and his so-bad-they're-awesome jokes ("Wacca wacca!"). There is also good use of characters like Sam the Eagle, Animal, Statler and Waldorf, whose support generally amounts to one brief but memorable appearance. Even the semi-retired Rowlf gets to open his mouth.

True to tradition, the Muppets here share the screen with some famous humans in small, fun parts that the movie somewhat conservatively categorizes as cameos. In decreasing order of screentime, Tony winner Nathan Lane is a suspicious airport security guard, Jane Krakowski ("30 Rock") plays Claire's mom, Uma Thurman is angelic airport ticket agent Joy, Jesse L. Martin ("Law & Order") sings as a cheerful mailman, Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter's Uncle Vernon) is Santa Claus, Whoopi Goldberg (God in the previous Muppet Christmas movie) is a taxi driver, Paul Williams is one of Santa's helpers, model/tsunami survivor Petra Nemcova is Beaker's unlikely love interest, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is himself, and "The Sopranos" heavies Steve Schirippa and Tony Sirico are (what else?) Italian mobsters.

A busy, sleigh-flying Santa Claus (Richard Griffiths) makes time for the Muppets and the letters they bear. Pepe's underworld contacts are played by Tony Sirico and Steve Schirippa, identifying the special as following the age of "The Sopranos."

Three months before Christmas and nine months after first airing, A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa comes to DVD exclusively in an Extended Edition. To earn that title, the makers have taken a page from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer's Meet the Spartans playbook. The runtime is padded to 55 minutes with nearly ten minutes of outtakes. These range from innocuous to highly amusing, as Muppeteers again prove exceptional at staying in character and alive after fumbling a line or missing a mark. The content's better than your average bloopers reel and includes what's edited to look like another song performance. At this length, though, it's clearly bonus feature material and not something you'll want to see every time you watch the special.


A true product of the 21st century, A Muppets Christmas is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. The feature is nicely photographed, if a little darker than desired. Even though the hour-long program should have ample space on this disc, large screen viewers will notice some grain and what looks like compression artifacts. Since the bit rate is fine, I have to guess that the problems were a part of the original filming (modest digital video, no doubt). Those watching on a more average-sized screen should notice no such issues. Although crisp and strong, the sound mix isn't too active, with surround channels used sparingly on music and more sparingly on sound effects.

The Muppets Stocking Stuffer Smorgasbord isn't just a nice festive screen to leave on, it's also your portal to the DVD's ten short bonus features. The Smorgasbord's Stocking Stuffers are windowboxed and bordered with lights and holly. Here in the slideshow, Nathan Lane appears alongside his furry co-stars. The DVD main menu for "A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa" is simple yet satisfying.


The DVD lacks a bonus features menu, but that doesn't mean it's void of extras. The main menu's one non-standard listing, "The Muppets Stocking Stuffer Smorgasbord", takes you to a screen displaying a living room decorated for Christmas, complete with Muppets sounds and animated lights and fireplace flames.
Bonus Buy - Muppets checkbook cover, address labels, checks
Throughout this scene, ten items (stockings, ornaments and a gift tag), can be selected to lead you to short clips. Most of these are promotional behind-the-scenes bits featuring an interview by a Muppet or two, or a human guest star. There's also a photo slideshow with sound clips and four brief deleted scenes. This content, which runs over 10 minutes altogether, is all presented windowboxed in a lighted holly border within a 16:9 frame. None of it is really worth the exploratory efforts, fun though they may be.

The case's second bonus feature listing, "deleted scenes", must merely refer to the clips (with Animal, the mail snails, Claire and her mother) seen above. Another announced bonus feature, documentary-style featurette "Searching for Santa Claus", hasn't made the cut.

The DVD opens with a Buena Vista Home Entertainment logo (phased-out branding that Disney somehow has to apply to the Muppets; the phrase "Disney DVD" is conspicuously absent at least from the DVD's front and spine). Trailers promote Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Toy Story 3, Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving 10th Anniversary Edition, and "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse": Mickey's Choo-Choo Express. The Sneak Peeks menu holds additional ads for Santa Buddies, Up, Ponyo, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse, Prep & Landing, Disney Movie Rewards, and Disney Blu-ray.

The jolly main menu animates letters falling behind the special's nifty title logo while an instrumental "Angels We Have Heard on High" plays. Submenus are static, but also scored by other musical excerpts. The DVD's cover artwork is repeated in a stylish, embossed foil slipcover. The only insert is a Disney Movie Rewards code.

Classic Muppets Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, and Kermit the Frog take the lead in this 2008 Christmas special. A happy ending calls for a big group song, on which the Muppets are joined by Claire (Madison Pettis) and her mother (Jane Krakowski).


With the most enjoyable characters in the foreground and a story that's more creative than your run-of-the-mill holiday special, A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa provides a good time in the old Muppet tradition. The songs are unusually forgettable and nothing feels as perfect as on some of the past Muppet works, but perhaps time and repeat viewings will aid the special in those regards.

Disney's asking price is more than it should be for about an hour of featured content, plus both the drawn-out "extended cut" and lightweight bonus "smorgasbord" lightly disappoint. While a more satisfying package could have been put together here, Muppets fans will still want to pick this up at some point, for it is best thing the franchise has done in this nearly-finished decade.

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Reviewed September 21, 2009.