A Muppets Christmas: Letters To Santa
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
US DVD Release Date: September 29, 2009
Television Broadcast Year: 2008
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 56 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English (SDH)
Movie: 3 out of 5
I often consider myself a child of the 1970s and early 1980s (I graduated high school in 1983), and Jim Henson’s Muppets have always had a place in my heart. Henson and his team were masters at puppetry, creating such beloved characters as Kermit The Frog, Oscar The Grouch, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Miss Piggy, etc, out of felt and ping pong balls. Their first big break was on Sesame Street, and after a brief stint on Saturday Night Live during the first season, they hit the big time with the syndicated variety half-hour The Muppet Show, and then transitioned to the big screen with 1979’s The Muppet Movie, which may have been at the height of their popularity. With the exceptions of John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together and The Muppets Take Manhattan, none of their projects have come close to capturing that magic from their television series and first feature film. In 2004, The Walt Disney Company acquired the Muppets from The Jim Henson Company, and several attempts have been made to re-launch this once-lucrative franchise.
In 2008, A Muppets Christmas: Letters To Santa premiered on NBC. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Rizzo the Rat, and Pepe the Prawn are waiting in line at the Post Office in Manhattan on Christmas Eve, anxious to send off their letters to Santa. When Miss Piggy becomes impatient, Kermit breaks out into song, leading to a production number inside the Post Office with the postal workers, featuring Law and Order’s Jesse L. Martin. After returning home, Gonzo realizes he forgot to mail three letters addressed to Santa, including one from Claire, the young girl living across the hall with her mother (Jane Krakowski). Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzie, Rizzo, and Pepe begin their desperate quest to get those letters to the North Pole before Santa leaves to deliver his presents. Along the way, they meet cab driver Whoopi Goldberg, North Pole Airlines ticket agent Joy (Uma Thurman), grumpy TSA agent Officer Meany (Nathan Lane), and Santa’s Chief Elf (Paul Williams). In Christmas Television Special tradition, everything works out and everyone has a happy holiday.
Letters To Santa has the usual mix of celebrity cameos with bad puns and jokes, but often the cameos are just that, cameos. Jane Krakowski, in particular, is sorely under-used, never given a chance to be funny, and isn’t even given a song to sing (her vocal talents were a staple on Ally McBeal). Whoopi Goldberg doesn’t get much to do, either, except drive the Muppets to the airport. Uma Thurman and Nathan Lane, on the other hand, fit in quite well and are given substantial roles and obviously show that they are having a lot of fun wuith their characters. The songs, penned by Paul Williams (who wrote the Oscar-nominated Rainbow Connection for The Muppet Movie) are not at all memorable.
The cover for this DVD indicates that this is an Extended Edition. End credits begin at the 46 minute mark, which I assume is where the broadcast version ends. This is followed by nine minutes of outtakes, which belong in the Special Features section of the disc rather than included as part of the feature.
Video: 3 out of 5
The original broadcast aspect ratio is well-represented here in this 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are vibrant, with minimal bleeding in the reds (always a problem with NTSC) and black levels are acceptable. Detail is quite good; the felt textures of many of the Muppets skins are clearly visible. Overall, this is a nice transfer from the original HD source material.
Audio: 2.5 out of 5
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, encoded at a disappointing 384 kbps, is very front-heavy. Dialogue, although intelligible, is delegated to the center channel almost exclusively. Surround and LFE activity is virtually non-existent, even during the brief musical numbers. This is an acceptable, but uninspired, surround mix.
Special Features: 1 out of 5
The only extra included is The Muppets Stocking Stuffer Smorgasbord. You have ten items to choose from by highlighting either a tree ornament or a stocking. Each clip lasts just over a minute each, consisting of interviews, deleted scenes, or alternate scenes. Not exactly what I would call a smorgasbord.
Overall: 3 out of 5
Kids will likely enjoy this holiday special, but for me it does not live up to the Muppet legacy, and many of the human cameos are sorely underused. The video presentation is fairly solid, but the audio was a bit of a disappointment, as were the special features.