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Showing posts with the label Puppet

Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas (2016)

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I guess at least one good thing has come out of HBO's partnership with Sesame Street: we got a new Christmas special! It's not as charming and perfect as Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, but what is? It does have a lot of heart and humor.

After a warm opening number about the lights of the season (with brief glimpses of Muppet families celebrating various holidays), we get to the plot pretty quickly. Elmo wants to know why we leave cookies for Santa, so his dad tells him a story.

Apparently, back in an unspecified old-timey time, Sesame Street was an unfriendly place to live. This means we get a ton of gorgeous costume design on 19th-century versions of many of the characters.



Elmo's ancestor moves to Sesame Street just before Christmas and is surprised by how rude everyone is - so mean that Santa never visits. He makes a "friend" by declaring that a girl who stole his ball can keep it as a gift, and that act of selfless kindness starts a chain reaction. A magica…

The Muppets: Single All the Way (2015)

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You know how sometimes I use the existence of a Christmas episode to talk at length about the series it's part of? Yeah, this is definitely going to be one of those times.

For decades, The Muppets have been severely hampered by their own past. The 70's series remains one of the television's all-time greatest series, their first movie was brilliant and whimsical, and their early Christmas specials are legendary. But for several decades, the franchise has lived in those shadows. At best, new productions offered a faithful homage to past successes; at worst, they were cheap cash grabs. This is true even of the specials I've loved - basically, anything after Henson passed felt it was retreading old ground.

The 2011 movie deviated slightly by devoting some attention to considering the nature of the Muppets' relationship to their fictitious world, but by and large it was still more a tribute than a new chapter.

Last year's series, however, was fresh and modern. Sure…

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree (1995)

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Relatively unknown Christmas specials are often either terrible or boring, but this one has Muppets! Muppet specials are usually good, right? Not this time. Well, nuts.

In truth, this short special isn't terrible, but it is rather boring. The plot is from a book, and I would venture without checking that the book was short and mostly pictures.

It follows a mouse family in search of a 'perfect Christmas tree' for their holiday celebration. They choose a section at the top of a very tall tree, but then the whole tree is cut down and they go along for the ride. The big tree is for Mr. Willowby's 'perfect Christmas tree', but it's too tall for the room. The top third or so is cut off and sent upstairs to be the housekeeper's tree. The tree is too tall. The top is cut off and thrown out the window, where it's picked up by some bears for their celebration. Still too much tree. The top of their tree is taken by a group of owls, and the very tip is cut of…

Chanuka at Bubbe's (1988)

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We came across a crappy-looking DVD titled, "Chanuka & Passover at Bubbe's" on a shelf of Chanukah (/Chanuka/Hanukkah) books at the local library and decided to throw ourselves on the grenade and save some poor kids from the experience. Naturally, we didn't bother watching the Passover section (we're Mainlining Christmas, not Mainlining Easter), but we sat through the forty-two minutes of low-rent puppetry constituting the Chanukah portion.

I should mention that this thing has neither a Wikipedia page nor an IMDB entry, though it seems to be up on YouTube (at least at the moment), and it has at least one fan. We're not 100% sure of the date - the end of the credits cites 1988, but we're not actually sure whether that's when it was released, aired, or finished.

Like a lot of children's entertainment, this is more premise than plot. It centers around two puppet children bringing their friend to their grandmother's for Chanukah. For reasons …

The Monster's Christmas (1981)

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The first thing to know about this television special from New Zealand is that it is poorly punctuated. As there are multiple monsters whose Christmas is at stake, it should properly be The Monsters' Christmas.

Well, perhaps that's really the second thing.

Perhaps the first thing to know about it is that not a single member of the cast has enough of a resume to have a photo next to their name on IMDB.

Or perhaps it is that, according to the production/distribution company, the film was "written and planned as a location film."

Or that it features most of its actors in full body monster costumes that are... really not that bad for television in the 80's, I guess?

But really, the main thing you need to know is that this might be, minute-for-minute, the weirdest thing I've ever seen.

It opens with a scene that implies a level of horror and suspense that the movie never reaches again. A little girl is reading a picture book to her teddy bear while SOMETHING cree…

Bear in the Big Blue House: A Berry Bear Christmas (1999)

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If you’ve hung out here with us for any appreciable time, you have probably noticed that while we are open to anything with a Christmas flavor, we each have our specialties. Partially because of what we have history and context for, partially just our individual taste. Erin tends to handle the true Christmas classics and the modern mainstream comedies. I take lesser-known classics, the BBC and movie musicals. We occasionally flip for the truly terrible stuff. Erin deals with most horror. I take children’s media, particularly when it involves Henson.

Bear in the Big Blue House is a Henson Company production that aired on the Disney channel from 1997-2006. I may have seen some episodes in 1997 and 98. Yes, I was a teenager, what of it?

It focuses on the titular Bear and his varied friends: a tiny mouse named Tutter, a baby bear, Ojo, two otters, Pip and Pop, and a lemur with a speech impediment who goes by Treelo. They all live together in a, yes, big blue house. The episodes tend to d…

Lady Gaga & The Muppets' Holiday Spectacular (2013)

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Let's take a moment to ponder, in all its complexity and multitude of facets, the phrase, "missed opportunity."

I'm not a fan of Lady Gaga, but I respect her for what she is. I just don't really think she's a singer. It's not that she can't sing - she can. It's just that there's nothing special about her singing, and less than nothing special about her songs. Her music is generic, and her lyrics are gibberish. But that's okay, because - like I said - she's not a singer.

She's a performance artist. And a damn good one, if her popularity is any indicator.

Hell, she's practically a Muppet herself. She should be juggling porcupines with Gonzo - she'd be awesome at that. Why didn't she hang out with Animal or hire the Swedish Chef as a costumer? Her interactions with Miss Piggy should have been legendary, not trivial.

Like I said: missed opportunity. Instead, we got an hour of her singing songs off her new album, broken up …

Wimzie’s House: The Perfect Christmas (1996)

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It was rather odd to find this on the DVD that claimed to be all animated holiday episodes. While intended for children, Wimzie’s House is a show starring puppets. Really boring puppets.

Wimzie and her family are dragons, and Wikipedia helpfully identifies her friends as goblins and a troll, but they might as well have just been kids. Elmo is more of a monster than these guys. And probably smarter.

The plot of this episode revolves around Wimzie’s idea of a “perfect” Christmas, so of course everything goes wrong. Her infant brother misunderstands something and puts all the gifts the kids got for each other in with the gifts her dad is taking to sick kids at the hospital, so the presents disappear. Due to a blizzard, Wimzie’s mom’s plane is late getting home. Her friends’ parents can’t come over to pick them up, so they have to stay over. This is all presented with maximum little-kid whining. “But WHY can’t we [whatever] I don’t underSTAND! Boo Hoo Hoo!”

Oh, and there’s a truly awful …

A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa (2008)

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This is a made-for-television special starring The Muppets, their cute little girl neighbor, and an array of celebrity cameos. The cute little girl asks Gonzo to mail her letter to Santa, but hijinx at the Post Office prevent that from happening, so the Muppets put their various holiday plans on standby while they try to figure out how to get her letter through. Not a terrible premise, but nothing earth-shaking.

If you’re anything like us, you’ll score this special on two separate scales. First, how good it is as a Christmas special, within the scope of Christmas specials. Second, how good it is as a Muppets special, within the scope of all things Muppet.

On the first scale, Letters to Santa does rather well. It’s cute, funny, and at under an hour run-time, doesn’t overstay its welcome.

On the second.... not so much.

Let me put it this way: I’ve seen a lot of Muppet Christmas specials, and this is one of the weakest ones. (I was going to say the weakest, and then I remembered John D…

Dinosaurs: Refrigerator Day (1991)

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God, this series is weird. Part of me wants to see more, just to see if my memories are accurate. There's no question that this show had guts (the last episode ended with the extinction), but without seeing more I'm not quite ready to render a verdict on whether the show was actually good.

This is the only episode of Dinosaurs I've seen in years, but it provides a good example of the dilemma I run into when thinking about this show. On one hand, it's a fairly scathing criticism of capitalism and consumerism. On the other, it's about as subtle as a rampaging T-rex.

The premise is that, due to its importance in their lives, the dinosaurs celebrate the invention of the refrigerator with the same significance (and more or less all the same trappings) as Christmas.

When Earl's Refrigerator Day bonus doesn't materialize, the family winds up having to make some hard choices between material objects (represented by gifts) and spiritual fulfillment (symbolized by t…

Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah (1996)

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Shari Lewis, the late ventriloquist and puppeteer behind Lamb Chop, was a beloved entertainer. That makes this a tad awkward, because this special was a steaming pile of shit.

To be fair, Lewis is a phenomenal ventriloquist. But her sock puppets kind of suck, the writing is idiotic, and this thing makes little to no sense. The main plot revolves around Charlie Horse trying to win a contest by designing a superhero using a computer program which brings his creations to life. There's a subplot about Lewis and Lamb Chop trying to put on a Chanukah party for some washed-up guest stars, but that seemed fairly inane.

The characters are astonishingly stupid, the jokes aren't the least bit funny, and the lessons drag even more than you'd expect.

I appreciate the need for holiday options for Jewish children, but it seems tragic this is the sort of thing trying to fit that niche. Lewis comes off as genuinely talented, and I appreciate that there are people out there who are nostalg…

Howdy Doody's Christmas (1957?)

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This eight minute short came as part of a DVD collection I bought cheap on Amazon, but apparently it's easy to find on Youtube, too. Come to think of it, just about everything in that collection appears to be on Youtube.

At any rate, this has to be one of the strangest artifacts we've come across. I've never actually seen an episode of Howdy Doody before, though of course I know what it is. Or at least I thought I knew: now, I'm not so sure.

First off, let's talk about the horror.

See, every character in this thing, with the exception of Buffalo Bob, is outright creepy. Imagine Chucky but not as cute: that's Howdy Doody. And remember the clown from It? yeah, apparently his older brother's name was Clarabell, and he's in this. Then there's Ugly Sam. I guess he wasn't scary, just weird.

This thing starts a few minutes before midnight, with most of the above characters decorating a tree. They hide at midnight, so Santa won't see them (it's…

Elmo Saves Christmas (1996)

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Like almost everyone who remembers Sesame Street before Elmo took over, I'm not really a fan of the red furball. I generally find him kind of cloying, and I wasn't really looking forward to an entire hour devoted to his adventures.

But this won me over quickly. While it's certainly not on par with Christmas Eve on Sesame Street or a Muppet Family Christmas, this absolutely carries on that tradition. This is everything Sesame Street should be: funny, endearing, and a tad subversive. Oh, I suppose it's got a lesson or something for the kids.

Right off the bat, the premise is explained in a loose frame story narrated by Maya Angelou (I don't think her presence really adds anything to the special, but then tossing guest stars in bit parts is common practice for these specials). Contrary to the title, the story is presented as the time "Elmo saved Christmas, then nearly lost it, again." And the special absolutely delivers on that promise.

Elmo is presented as…

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979)

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I suppose even the Muppets can have an less-than-stellar special. This is far from terrible, but not actually all that good either. Really, the big problem is there aren't enough Muppets.
Whenever the Muppets are on screen, the energy picks up, the jokes are actually funny, and the acting improves. When the camera is focused on John Denver and legions of bland back-up dancers, it's dull as dirt. Now I generally like John Denver, or at least don't dislike him. But here he's incapable of acting like a human being, and he looks sort of like a robot. Plus he keeps adding boring religious stuff in between scenes of Muppets being sweet.
Also this isn't particularly well directed or well shot. Or even well structured: this special flirts with the idea of having a plot, but ultimately abandons it for ill-thought out musical numbers.
It's not all bad: Rowlf and Kermit both get in pretty songs, the opening Twelve Days of Christmas is classic, and Miss Piggy gets in some…

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978)

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I have serious memories tied up in this special. This means I even like the sappy parts. It's such great classic Sesame Street, though, that I suspect you'll like a few of the sappy parts too.

I was going to start off by saying that the opening with the oversized skating costumed characters is pretty useless, but on re-watching, Bird Bird skating with the little girl is pretty cute, even though it isn't the same little girl he's friends with through the rest of the special.

Living in New York City adds a whole other level to watching Sesame Street, and something like this from the 70's makes the original target audience (inner-city kids) really clear. There is a sequence based in the old subway, with beat-up turnstiles and a guy who sells tokens. (The subway car and the station are obviously sets, but I don't know about the platforms.) I love that it's set so firmly in New York.

I love Oscar in this, he's so delightfully snarky. I even love him tryi…

It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002)

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If you're not already a fan of the Muppets, "It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas" is a bad place to start.  In fact, if you're only a casual fan, this probably isn't for you, either.  It's an uneven movie: there's a solid chunk that just throws dated pop-culture references at you, including a particularly painful parody of the Crocodile Hunter I'm betting the producers are now wishing they'd skipped.

But, for all of that, if you are a die-hard Muppet fan, this made-for-television movie is something you need to track down.  It's imperfect, but what it does well it does REALLY well.  Structured like "It's a Wonderful Life," the movie explores a world without Kermit.  For the minor characters, this is accomplished in a fairly unremarkable scene using the movie's villainess (more on her in a moment).  But for the really major characters - Fozzie, Gonzo, and Miss Piggy - another approach is taken.

The events of the 1979 Muppet…

More About "A Muppet Family Christmas" (1987)

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I find it baffling that this isn't better known.  Everyone seems to remember The Christmas Toy, Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas, and John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together, but most seem to have blocked this one out.

It's a shame, too, because this is phenomenal.  Incorporating characters from at least three Muppet productions (debatably more - the Muppet Babies get a nod at one point), this thing is made for longtime fans.  It's just buried in decades of references and continuity.

It's a massive crossover event, sort of a Secret Wars for the Muppet-verse.  Seeing the Sesame Street characters engage in small talk with Doc from Fraggle Rock is awesome, as is seeing Rowlf have a discussion with Sprocket.  When characters come together to sing a medley, the amount of thought that went into determining who gets what verse is kind of astonishing.

My favorite scene comes when the Swedish Chef gets a look at Big Bird and realizes there's a potential for t…

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977)

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Just about everyone my age has some memory of watching this when they were young, although most of us can't seem to remember the details all that well.  Lindsay and I came across this in a drug store about a year ago and snatched it up.

This viewing actually helped me put this in perspective.  By the time we got around to it, we'd already seen around seventy or eighty Christmas specials.  You'd think the burnout would work against this one, but, if anything, the contrast underlined just how good this special is.

Before I get involved with that, let me take a moment to explain why such context might be needed.  The thing about Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (and, just to be clear, it is a THING, not an ISSUE), is that it's slow.  Last year, when I saw this for the first time in two decades, I found it a little too slow for my tastes.  If it makes sense, I wouldn't call the special "boring," but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't bored.

There…

A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)

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Remember how in my review of The Muppet Christmas Carol, I said it wasn't my favorite Muppet holiday thing? This is my favorite Muppet holiday thing. In this rarely seen television special, the Muppet gang is headed to Fozzie's mother's house for Christmas.  Much singing is done.  I watch this entire hour with a big silly grin.

(FYI: Because of rights issues, in the United States three full songs and two partial songs have been cut from all video releases.  Don't believe anyone who tells you this doesn't impact the quality of the special; there are plot points in those songs!  I found a full copy on YouTube. )

The special plays out like a fantastic extra-long episode of The Muppet Show: loosely connected vignettes and songs, and only one human to be seen.  There are ten full songs, plus a medley of eleven more.  There's no new music for this special: it's all classic holiday songs, except Pass It On from Fraggle Rock, and Together at Christmas from The Ch…

Alf's Special Christmas (1987)

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First of all, I'd like to send a very special "thank you, but I thought we were FRIENDS" to Jeff Burns for sending us the link to this delightful holiday classic.

I actually remember seeing this when it first aired.  Hey, I was a child of the 80's, and Alf was a part of that.  I remember Gordon Shumway, Melmac, and even that music video he made for the Tanners' daughter.  I have good memories watching this show as a child.

Yes, Virginia, children are stupid.

That editorial, by the way, gets read twice during the special.  It's the abridged version you hear everywhere, of course, with all the great fairy references omitted.

The "plot" of the hour-long special revolves around Alf getting in a fight with the Tanners and winding up trapped in the back of a van with a bunch of Christmas presents on their way to the hospital.  He winds up getting handed over to a dying girl, who teaches him the true meaning of melodrama in a long, drawn out, sappy sequen…