Holiday Movie Month: "A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa" Review

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Movie Review: "A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa"

Rating: G

Length: 60 minutes

Release Date: December 17, 2008

Directed by: Kirk R. Thatcher

Genre: Comedy / Family / Musical

For decades, the Muppets have been a holiday staple in many households, and they have captivated audiences with their adventures both on the big screen and on television. After creator Jim Henson's passing in 1990, however, the characters faded somewhat from the spotlight, with fewer movies and productions each year. Disney bought the rights to the franchise in 2004 and began a slow process of reintroducing these beloved characters to the public eye. One of Disney's most prominent early ventures is 2008's direct-to-video release, "A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa."

The story opens on Christmas Eve. The Muppets are in line at the post office, sending off their last-minute letters to Santa. When he returns home, Gonzo discovers that he accidentally picked up three letters, and if he doesn't do something, those letters won't make it to Santa this year. Since one of them belongs to the Muppets' neighbor Claire (Madison Pettis), Gonzo convinces the others that hand-delivering the letters is the right thing to do. The group rushes to North Pole Airlines to catch a plane to Santa's Workshop, but a bullying security guard and other mishaps threaten to derail the quest and prevent Gonzo from saving Christmas.

Like most Muppet movies, this one comes packed with guest stars. Uma Thurman plays an airline clerk, Joy, who sells the Muppets their tickets, and Steve Schirripa and Tony Sirico (from The Sopranos) play familiar roles as Mafia heavies. Jesse L. Martin, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Bloomberg, and Paul Williams all have small roles as well, and Richard Griffiths plays Santa Claus. The real show stealers, however, are Jane Krakowski as Claire's mom and Nathan Lane as Officer Frank Meany, the main antagonist of the Muppets. Krakowski lends her signature sense of humor to her role as the long-suffering neighbor of this group of characters, and Lane is as solidly entertaining as always. Paul Williams playing the Chief Christmas Elf at the North Pole is a particularly brilliant bit of casting that allows him to contribute to the film in unexpected ways, rather than with his usual musical offerings.

The movie is full of musical numbers, and the best might be the opener, "Delivering Christmas." The production value helps this one shine, with complicated choreography and lots of background Muppets included to support the main melody. The last song, "My Best Christmas Yet," is also a memorable one, while some tunes in the middle of the film come off a little lacking compared to the highlight musical numbers.

As a reintroduction to the Muppets, "Letters to Santa" does a fine job of choosing the right characters for the job. Almost all of the iconic Muppets from the franchise's long history get some screen time, and even traditional one-joke cameo fodder like Sam the Eagle and Statler and Waldorf get moments in the spotlight. However, with so many Muppets and such a short runtime, many of them only take the spotlight briefly before fading into the background. This includes fan favorites like Animal and Rizzo. Still, people who want to see childhood-favorite Muppets on the screen again will almost certainly be satisfied.

Of particular note is the excellent job the writers, puppeteers, and voice actors have done to maintain these characters over the years. Kermit the Frog is more than 50 years old as of this special, but his characterization is as distinct as ever. All the old favorites maintain the same unique personalities from decades of shows and movies, and any adult who grew up with the Muppets will find this movie a great source of comfort and nostalgia. The new Muppet writing team, consisting of Hugh Fink, Scott Ganz, and Andrew Samson, proves to the fans that it has a firm grasp on what makes the Muppets so special.

"Letters to Santa" does have a few issues. Gonzo, usually the wildest and craziest of the Muppets, comes off as more muted and quiet than usual, only breaking into his typical mania in a couple of scenes. A few of the musical numbers and jokes border on the forgettable, and a few of the Muppet staple characters seem underused. Overall, the film does a fine job of reigniting Muppet mania for a new generation, and it shows that Disney is putting much care into shepherding this venerable franchise into the modern day. "Letters to Santa" may not be a classic on par with "Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas" or the other great Muppet films from the early era, but it is a worthy addition to the series.


Rating: 3 out of 5