Today I want to talk about It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, or “VMX” for short.
Now, VMX is not my favorite Muppet thing ever, not by a long shot. But I would forgive anybody just about anything for the sake of “Everyone Matters,” a beautiful song from the special:
I love this song, partially because it gives such good Sad-Gonzo. Sad-Gonzo is my favorite Gonzo. As far as I’m concerned, the worst thing that ever happened to Gonzo’s character is when his eyelids became mobile and he could change expressions.
But mostly I love this song because the sentiment it expresses is so Muppety and so true. It seems like a lot of people in the Muppet community have forgotten it, however; and some seem to be actively trying to refute it.
On that note, I wonder if this is one of the productions that Cheryl Henson was thinking of when she opined that Steve performed Kermit as a “bitter, angry, depressed victim.” Kermit is certainly all those things in this movie, particularly in the beginning. But that’s because he’s playing the George Bailey analogue in a version of It’s a Wonderful Life. If he weren’t bitter, angry, and depressed, we wouldn’t know how high the stakes are supposed to be. If Cheryl has a problem with that, she should probably take it up with her brother Brian, who was VMX’s executive producer, rather than taking it out on Steve.
I’ve said in the past that I didn’t have a single problem with VMX that I don’t also have with It’s a Wonderful Life, the classic movie on which it is based. In both cases, they seem to have a disproportionate ratio of exposition (or plot set-up) to actual plot. (I have almost the exact same problem with The Great Muppet Caper, by the way.)
In the case of the original It’s a Wonderful Life, the movie feels like it has to tell George Bailey’s entire life story in order to understand (a) why he’s been driven to the depths of despair and (b) why the town would have been so much worse off without him. The payoff, when it eventually comes, is worth it, but I seem to remember that, the first time I saw it, I felt like screaming at the TV, “Hello? Is there a point to all this?”
While it’s possible that It’s a Wonderful Life could have benefited from being more streamlined, the meandering flashback is arguably justified because, at the beginning of the movie, George Bailey is a completely unknown quantity, so perhaps we need to know who he is and how he got to be where he is before we can invest emotionally in what is happening to him.
On the other hand, VMX did not, perhaps, require the same rich exposition-to-plot ratio because we already know Kermit and are invested in him emotionally at baseline. With that being said, the flashbacking in VMX is quite a bit more streamlined than that in It’s a Wonderful Life, in that it only spans a few days, or possibly weeks, rather than recapping Kermit’s entire life.
The other main criticism of VMX is that the content is–to borrow a word/concept from ToughPigs.com–too “adulty.” And yes, there is “adulty” content in VMX, and yes, I admit that it makes me a little uncomfortable. Although, I think it is important to mention that I have no objections to the “adulty” content of the alternate reality in which Kermit was never born. Yes, some of that content was shocking and upsetting–but THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT! The point of the alternate reality is to show how much worse off the Muppets are without Kermit, and how miserable their lives are. So of course it’s going to be shocking and upsetting…it’s SUPPOSED TO BE!
But of course, the “adulty” content in VMX is not confined to the alternate reality, and perhaps that’s why people find it objectionable. And to be completely honest, there was VMX content that truly upset and offended me, but all of it was left on the cutting room floor and only made it into the deleted scenes on the DVD release. Nothing that made it into the final cut of VMX was any more offensive to me than some of the “adulty” content that made it into the 2015 series.
(On a related note, here is my review of the pilot of the 2015 series, now made public for the first time, the main crux of which is “yes, it made me laugh, but it also made me want to cry…and not in a good way.”)
So I’m not offended by VMX, and I wouldn’t be embarrassed to watch it with a group of adults (well…I guess it would depend on the adults themselves). However, I would be reluctant to share it with my sister’s three kids, especially considering the volume of superior Muppet material that there is out there. (My sister’s kids did not have access to the 2015 series, which I think is probably for the best.)
As it happens, while at my family’s Christmas gathering recently, my nine-year-old nephew told me that he had watched VMX in school. He seems to have enjoyed it and doesn’t appear to have been emotionally scarred at all, so I’m not concerned in that regard. Nevertheless, I was surprised to hear it, and reflected to myself that if it had been my responsibility to choose something from the vast library of Muppet Christmas material to show to a bunch of 4th graders, VMX is not the choice I would have gone with.
But I didn’t say anything about it to my nephew, nor did I imply to him that I think that particular special is in any way inappropriate or substandard. Oftentimes those things are only as big a deal as you make them out to be, and I didn’t want to make it into a bigger deal than it is.