It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie Is Bonkers

Kermit the Frog sits on a park bench in the snow, slowly freezing to death.

Screenshot: Disney

I don’t know why the Muppets love Christmas so much, but they certainly do. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and the extended Muppet cast of characters have made nearly a dozen holiday specials, along with a feature-length TV movie and a theatrical movie. That last one is The Muppet Christmas Carol, one of the best-loved adaptations of Charles Dickens’ tale of Ebenezer Scrooge ever made. But I want to talk about the TV movie, which isn’t nearly as famous… but a lot more infamous.

It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie aired on NBC on November 29, 2002, or 20 years ago today. Much like The Muppet Christmas Carol, it’s a parody of/homage to another utterly beloved piece of holiday entertainment, namely the Frank Capra-directed, Jimmy Stewart-starring movie It’s a Wonderful Life. On paper, it makes all the sense in the world; the movie is about George Bailey, a man who’s going to lose his family’s Savings and Loan bank if he doesn’t have $8,000 by Christmas. He has the money, but it’s accidentally misplaced, and he must figure out how to replace it. It’s basically the same as one of the Muppets franchise’s favorite plotlines—Kermit and his friends are about to lose their Muppet Theater by a certain date unless something extraordinary happens.

It’s a very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie – Official Trailer on Quickflix

So far, so good! But the key to It’s a Wonderful Life is that when he loses the money, George becomes so despondent he’s going to commit suicide before being stopped by his guardian angel, Clarence. In his anguish, George wishes he’d never been born, and Clarence gives him a vision of what his family, friends, and town would be like without his existence, and it is bleak—a dead brother, a wife-turned-spinster, an institutionalized uncle, and a town ruled by a financial despot, Henry Potter, who had demanded the money initially as a partial member of George’s bank’s board of directors.

If there was a way to replicate the grim plotline of It’s a Wonderful Life without the tragedy and depression at its core, It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie did not figure it out. Bank owner Rachel Bitterman (a wonderfully mean-spirited Joan Cusack) demands the Muppets pay off their loan by Christmas Eve at midnight, or she’ll foreclose the Muppet Theater. A desperate Kermit manages to cobble enough money at the last minute to pay her bill, but when he gives the money to Fozzie to deliver, he loses it on the way, prompting Kermit to more or less lose his mind as well. If you’ve never seen Kermit scream about how he wishes for his existence to be utterly obliterated, it is something to behold:

Kermit wishes he had never been born.

The person Kermit is freaking out on is David Arquette, playing the frog’s guardian angel Daniel, who of course shows him what the Muppets would be doing if Kermit had never come into their lives, and here’s where things truly take a turn for the mind-blowing. I highly recommend you watch the movie and see what Kermit discovers. (If one were to look online for it, and one found such a video of it, one might consider beginning at 1:02:14.) In case you can’t legally purchase it, let me tell you a few of the things that have happened in a Kermit-less world:

  • Fozzie is a pickpocket
  • Miss Piggy pretends to be a Jamaican fortune teller on a 1-900 pay phone line
  • Rizzo the Rat is forced to torment contestants on Fear Factor and then be eaten alive
  • The Muppet Theater has become a sleazy nightclub holding raves where Dr. Honeydew lets people in, Scooter dances in a cage, and Beaker is a terrifyingly buff bouncer
  • Doc Hopper’s Frog Legs fast food franchise goes national, since Kermit wasn’t there to stop it in the first Muppets film

It’s about the most surreal 10 minutes of television I ever hope to watch, but it’s hardly the only madness going on in It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. Fozzie leaps and cartwheels through a hallway full of security lasers. The Boss—an omnipotent equivalent of God, played by Whoopi Goldberg—only decides to investigate Kermit’s misery because SpongeBob SquarePants isn’t on TV. Pepe the Prawn, in his finest performance, immediately abandons the Muppets to serve Bitterman’s feet. The Muppets stage a parody version of Baz Luhrman’s movie Moulin Rouge, where Kermit’s tiny nephew Robin plays the green fairy that comes out of the hallucinatory liqueur absinthe.

Image for article titled It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie Is the Maddest Muppet Special Ever

Screenshot: Disney

Again, this is all in the “normal” timeline, which presumably takes place in the movie’s reality. But the 2002 movie’s maddest moment belongs in the Kermit-less world, and is completely inadvertent. There, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center can be seen through the window of Miss Piggy’s apartment, indicating that somehow, if Kermit wasn’t alive the 9/11 attacks wouldn’t have happened, meaning Kermit was in some way responsible. The revelation caused quite a stir in 2015, becoming quite the meme. (The truth is the backgrounds of New York City used behind the windows of the set were old and hadn’t been carefully checked.)

Image for article titled It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie Is the Maddest Muppet Special Ever

Screenshot: Disney

Perhaps this is the reason why It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie isn’t available on Disney+—or perhaps it’s the frequent NBC jokes made in the special, since Disney owns competitor ABC. Or perhaps it’s how dated it feels, in ways, starring Carson Daly, The Crocodile Hunter’s Steve Irwin, the cast of Scrubs, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Joe Rogan before all the badness, and more. But that’s a shame, because there’s a really fun, black humor to be found in the TV movie that a great deal of Muppet entertainment lacks. Sure, Very Merry can be hokey as hell, but in a very Muppets-appropriate way, and that makes the weirdness hit even harder. I mean, Scooter gyrates in a rave cage:

Image for article titled It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie Is the Maddest Muppet Special Ever

Screenshot: Disney

While It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie isn’t on Disney+, it’s not hard to find on DVD and Blu-ray. Or elsewhere, perhaps.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water.

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