In ‘Appreciating’, we either take the time to appreciate some of the Muppet specials that always don’t get the love the deserve, or we attempt to find the good in the bad productions…
Jarrod Fairclough – Ask me at any time throughout the year to sing a Christmas carol, and 9 times out of 10 I’ll begin ‘Powwidge woasting on an open fiyor!’ as Baby Bear does in the opening scene to the 1996 Christmas special Elmo Saves Christmas. When the production came out, I was in that strange age (7) where I knew I was too old for Sesame Street, and yet I couldn’t help but be drawn to it. I saw Elmo Saves Christmas playing on a large screen in a mall while on holiday, and I begged my parents for it. My folks, bless them, have always nurtured my Muppet nerdism (little did they know what it would evolve to) an I was of course made fun of by my older brother and sister (the same siblings who later were more excited than anyone that I interviewed Cookie Monster) but on Christmas Day I opened up a gift from Santa to find a VHS copy of Elmo Saves Christmas.
I think I watched that film on repeat for 3 days, soaking in all the Maya Angelou and Harvey Fierstein my tiny brain could handle. It became a tradition that every December I would sit and watch it, until finally the VHS player broke down. I didn’t bother buying it on DVD, because now I was a teenager and more concerned about girls than I was about why Ernie and Bert had no speaking lines. Now I’m 27, and I’m still concerned about girls, but I can take the time to wonder why Ernie and Bert had no lines… I wouldn’t watch the film again for another 14 years, when all of a sudden I found it on YouTube…
When Elmo saves Santa from being stuck in a chimney, he’s given 3 wishes. After wasting the first on a glass of water, the Christmas spirit overwhelms him, inspiring Elmo to make his second wish – Christmas every day! At first everyone is thrilled, but as Elmo and his new reindeer friend Lightning travel through time to various stages of the year, the joy is sucked out of the holiday and leaves the world in a mess. Snuffy is with his Granny in Cincinnati, leaving poor Big Bird without his best friend. Maria and Luis can’t work at the Fix-It-Shop, and that damn It’s A Wonderful Life is the only thing on television.
This leads to me to my first point – If everyone around the world was sick of Christmas, why didn’t they just say ‘screw it’ and get back to their normal lives? As a kid it always confused me, and as an adult (who, to be honest, doesn’t love the holidays) it still makes me wonder why the world didn’t just ignore it. Not to mention the large chunk of humanity who don’t celebrate Christmas. That said, I’ll take a paid day off over work any day, but that thinking is going to destroy companies, so really this film could be called Elmo Saves The Economy.
The performances in this special are top notch, as per usual. Kevin Clash was really hitting his stride with Elmo by this point, and this was the same year that the infamous Tickle Me Elmo was released. Elmo was a commodity, so to put an entire special in Kevin’s hands was a risky but extremely clever move, that pays off in spades.
Joey Mazzarino’s Lightning is a classic Joey character, with the voice of a calmed down Murray Monster.
Caroll Spinney is heart wrenching as Big Bird, pining for his best pal. The song ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ still brings a tear to my eye, all because of Caroll’s performance.
And then there’s the late great Jerry Nelson, who brings an emotionally effective sadness and anger to The Count when he finally admits that he is tired of counting Christmas’!
Steve Whitmire makes a very brief appearance as Kermit, uttering my favorite line in the whole special when offered $100 for his microphone “You want that wrapped?”
Charles Durning, once the villainous Doc Hopper from The Muppet Movie, returns to his Muppet roots as Santa Clause, but instead of adopted that sickly sweet persona that some TV Santa’s do, he’s a lot more ‘no nonsense’ and tough.
Harvey Fierstein shows up as the Easter Bunny. Look, I don’t understand the appeal. He’s a very talented actor, and he’s great at comedy, but is the gag that he can’t sing? Or have I just not seen him in the right roles?
Then there’s everyone’s favorite soul group, 14 Karat Soul, who apparently hang out with Bob on Sesame Street every Christmas? Or did they live there for a year? According to their site (which hasn’t been touched since 2002) they were big in Japan, so perhaps they were asking Bobu for advice.
When Elmo finally realizes his mistake, he endeavours to fix the world, but shatters the magic snow globe that caused the issue in the first place. Thankfully Lightning can travel BACK in time, too (theoretically impossible, but so is an 8 foot talking bird so I’ll allow it) and they return to the Christmas Eve when Elmo rescued Santa. With his newfound knowledge, Elmo chooses a different gift over the three wishes – a Moo Bunny! All I wanted for years after this film came out was a Moo Bunny, and I’ll be damned if I don’t want one again now. In fact, if someone from Sesame Workshop is reading this now, I’ll give you $100 for it if it’s still in storage somewhere…
Elmo Saves Christmas might not be as recognized as Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, or as new and shiny as Once Upon A Sesame Street Christmas, but it’s still a sweet tale about the importance of Christmas and a true lesson in why it’s only once a year.
Merry Christmas, everyone! I’ll be at my mail box waiting for my Moo Bunny.