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In this one-hour Christmas special, Fozzie Bear surprises his mother Emily on Christmas Eve by bringing the entire Muppet gang to her farm to celebrate the holidays. Doc and his dog Sprocket, who had planned a quiet Christmas, end up joining the Muppets in their holiday activities and preparations.
The special kicks off with Fozzie, Kermit, and most of the Muppet Show gang (with the pointed exception of Miss Piggy) driving through a blizzard in a pickup truck, singing "We Need a Little Christmas." They have decided to spend Christmas at the old farm where Fozzie Bear's mother, Ma Bear, lives. And since his mother loves surprises, they have not called to tell her they were coming. Unbeknownst to them, Mrs. Bear is planning to spend Christmas in Malibu, and to make sure her farmhouse stays in one piece while she's gone, she has rented it to Doc and his dog Sprocket. Doc is looking forward to having "a nice, quiet Christmas" in the countryside.
Immediately following Doc and Sprocket's arrival, though, the Muppets themselves show up, all the while slipping on an icy patch at the door (which is a running gag in this special), and Emily is pleasantly surprised with the appearance of her cub and "his weirdo friends," despite the fact that she now has to cancel her trip to Malibu, and willingly allows them to stay. Doc, on the other hand, is taken aback that he now has so many funny-looking unexpected visitors, and asks Sprocket if they're "anything like these Fraggles you keep telling me about." Then the telephone rings, and Animal answers. It's Miss Piggy, who informs Kermit that her arrival will be delayed (due to a photo session).
The Swedish Chef shows up at the farmhouse, telling Fozzie he's here to cook the Christmas turkey. Gonzo greets the arriving (and still living) turkey, who was apparently convinced by the Swedish Chef to come for a nice vacation. Gonzo tries to warn the fowl of the culinary danger, but the latter stubbornly remains self-assured. Kermit and nephew Robin then begin the special's second song sequence. Their pleasant singing of "Jingle Bells" is quickly interrupted by the Electric Mayhem performing "Jingle Bell Rock."
Later, Fozzie is outside building a snowman while some of the other Muppets chop down a Christmas tree, when Rowlf shows up (and slips on the icy patch). He engages in a friendly conversation with Sprocket, and sits down to Emily's out-of-tune piano and starts playing "Sleigh Ride." Fozzie starts singing along, during which the Snowman comes to life and starts up a comedy act with the bear. When they get a positive reaction from some woodland creatures watching their act, Fozzie runs inside to try to tell Kermit about his new act with the Snowman, slipping on the icy patch on the way in, but Kermit is called away by another Miss Piggy telephone message. This time, she's doing some last-minute Christmas shopping. Elsewhere in the house, the Swedish Chef has been tricked by the Christmas Turkey into believing that Sprocket is an even bigger turkey. Doc corrects the Chef's species confusion, and then the Turkey begins hitting on Camilla.
Scooter stumbles upon an old home movie of the first Christmas the Muppets ever spent together, so the Muppets sit down to watch it. The old footage shows the Muppet Babies singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," while the fully-grown characters give commentary. At the end, when the baby Animal rips through a gift box in the film, the fully-grown Animal tears through the screen.
Gonzo catches sight of the Christmas Turkey flirting with Camilla and picks a fight with him. But then Kermit points to the arrival of the Sesame Street Muppets, who sing a medley of "Here We Come A-Caroling" and "Deck the Halls" (with the exception of Oscar the Grouch, who naturally refuses to sing along). They all come inside, slipping on the icy patch as they do so. During this, the Swedish Chef manages to nab the Turkey, who tries to get out of being cooked by claiming he's a different animal altogether, but the Chef isn't fooled, and proceeds with the fitting. But the Turkey manages to save himself by pointing out Big Bird, to the astonished Chef's delight. A TV weather report from the Newsman announces an impending blizzard, causing Kermit to worry about Piggy.
Later, Fozzie and his mom work out the sleeping arrangements for all the guests, and Oscar lets Rizzo the Rat spend the night in his trash can. Then Janice brings out some Christmas cookies she just baked, only for Cookie Monster to gobble them all down. The Sesame Street gang then perform their Christmas pageant, The Night Before Christmas, with Ernie as narrator, a disgruntled Bert as Mama, and Grover as the mouse who isn't stirring. The curtain behind opens to show the sleigh being pulled by the reindeer, all played by monsters (including Herry Monster and Elmo), with the Two-Headed Monster as St. Nick (to which Sam replies, "Is nothing sacred?").
Miss Piggy calls Kermit one more time to tell him that her limo is stuck in the snowbank, and that she's going to take a taxi to the farmhouse. Then, while Piggy gets caught in the wind, Fozzie tries to cheer a fretful Kermit by saying it's not that cold, when the Snowman comes inside to warm up. Fozzie brings the Snowman in for the rest of the gang to see, but he's dismayed to see Statler and Waldorf (old friends of Ma Bear who visit every Christmas). Fozzie and the Snowman gamely attempt their routine, but Statler and Waldorf's heckling interrupts, until finally the Snowman, who's starting to melt, heads back outside.
The Swedish Chef calls Big Bird into the kitchen and starts to salt him. Big Bird, completely unaware of the Chef's culinary intentions, gives him a handful of homemade chocolate-covered birdseed. The Chef is touched by this gift, and more so when Big Bird begins singing "The Christmas Song" (the Chef joining him). The tearful gourmet instead opts to serve shredded wheat and cranberry sauce, which happens to be Big Bird's favorite. Meanwhile, Doc, having observed Kermit's fears for Miss Piggy, offers to find her and help her get to the farmhouse; true, he's never met her, but he didn't know the Muppets until this day and now considers them to be newfound friends.
After Doc leaves, Kermit heads down to the cellar to find that his nephew, Robin, has found a hole leading to Fraggle Rock. In the cave, the frogs soon stumble upon the Fraggles and wish them a merry Christmas, and also explain the holiday to them because the Fraggles don't really know what it is. What the Fraggles do have, though, is a time when they give each other pebbles and pass them on to other Fraggles. They explain their ritual in a number called "Pass It On." Before the frogs head back upstairs, Boober gives Robin the pebble, in a show of friendship.
Kermit and Robin return just in time to witness Miss Piggy's arrival on a dogsled (driven by Doc, wearing a Mountie-style uniform). Piggy sings "Home for the Holidays" as Kermit brings her in and the others join in. Her impressive entrance is undercut by the obligatory slip on the icy patch.
With the entire Muppet family now present, they sing a medley of Christmas songs, and everybody (except Oscar, of course) gets a chance to sing at least one line, including the Snowman and the forest critters outside. During the medley, the Fraggles come up to watch. Once they finish singing, Fozzie's mom puts his stocking up on the mantle; Fozzie tells her that he's a grown bear and doesn't need to have his stocking hung anymore, but lets her keep it up anyway. Kermit then presents Miss Piggy with his gift for her - a mink, not a coat but Piggy's biggest fan. Robin gives the Fraggle pebble to Grover. Then Doc, as Santa Claus, gives out presents and all the Muppets sing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," during which Jim Henson himself appears, watching from the kitchen. The special ends with Kermit returning Miss Piggy's affection under the mistletoe before saying "Merry Christmas" to the viewers.
A Muppet Family Christmas has been released on video in both 1994 and 1998 and on DVD in 2001. However, every commercially available version in the United States and Canada has scenes edited out due to music rights problems. When this special originally debuted on television, the full rights to the songs were only secured for television. Because the US song rights are different than for other countries, the PAL video release available in Europe does not contain the music edits the NTSC videos suffer. All video releases derive from the 1989 edit, which contains less incidental music, and puts dissolves between scenes that originally faded to and from black for commercial breaks. (NBC added their own fades when airing the special.) The 2001 DVD is a shorter cut of the 1989 edit.
- The red "A Muppet Family Christmas" logo seen in the first shot of the film was added for the 1989 airing. In the original cut of the special, the logo is seen over Ma Bear's farmhouse at the end of the song "We Need a Little Christmas." This brief musical interlude was edited from the master and the logo was reinserted separately. Because this new master was of higher quality, it has been used for all subsequent TV airings and home video releases.
- The snowman musical and comedy number with Fozzie is completely gone on home video. In the original version the song "Sleigh Ride" is sung. Rowlf begins playing the song on Emily Bear's out-of-tune piano. Rowlf says he "loves out-of-tune pianos" while Sprocket watches him play. Fozzie, the Snowman, and penguins sing outside. This cut is due to rights with the song.
- The Muppet Babies singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is removed. Included in the broadcast version of the special are the baby versions of Piggy, Kermit, Fozzie, Rowlf, Scooter, Animal and Gonzo. In the edited versions, they begin the home movie and Animal immediately bursts through the screen – the entire song is cut, again due to music rights.
- Miss Piggy and the Muppets singing "Home for the Holidays" is not shown in the edited version. After Miss Piggy arrives and Kermit mentions that she always likes to make an entrance, the edited release cuts immediately to the beginning of the Carol Sing Medley. The entire song, along with Miss Piggy falling on the icy patch is removed. This is due to music rights.
- A brief segment (5 seconds) where Fozzie and Elmo light the Christmas tree only appears in the original 1987 version.
- Kermit and Piggy singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and Statler and Waldorf singing "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" are both removed from the Carol Sing Medley on the R1 DVD, again due to music rights
- The scene with Fozzie and Ma hanging stockings is removed. In the scene, Emily Bear (Ma) hangs Fozzie's stocking on the fireplace. Fozzie mentions that he's a grown bear, alluding to the fact he doesn't need it anymore. When Emily reaches to take it down, Fozzie decides it's OK to leave it up. This was cut from the master used for subsequent TV airings and video releases.
- The original 1987 airing featured a Muppet Family Christmas bumper in between commercials, with Kermit in front of a Christmas tree saying "A Muppet Family Christmas will return in a moment" and Fozzie behind him, playing with two little stuffed bears as if they were puppets.
- The ABC, NBC, and DVD versions all have different end credits (changes to font or copyright info, as well as corporate logos).
- Additional edits to the 1989 master include: The music that played before Rowlf arrives to the farmhouse is cut; when Fozzie and Emily Bear check off a list of who is sleeping where, a shot of a fireplace is shown over their beginning dialogue (originally, they were seen the whole time they were checking off sleeping arrangements); Fozzie and Elmo decorating the tree is cut; a shot of the tree is shown over dialogue of Fozzie getting ready to tell everybody that his mother has an announcement, as opposed to him being seen (this followed Fozzie and Elmo putting the tree up).
- When this special aired on Nickelodeon, the 1989 re-edit was utilized, though the Turkey meeting Camilla is cut (the scene fades to black after the turkey says, "This is starting to be fun.").
- At the beginning, in wide shots of Fozzie's truck, Rizzo can be seen sitting next to Lips near the side of the truck, but in one shot he is with the other rats in a different part of the truck.
- When Fozzie first enters the house, he does not slip on the icy patch, as if it were not there; the second time he enters, after the "Sleigh Ride" number, he does slip.
- During the scene where the Muppets enter the house, a puppeteer's full face is exposed on the bottom right hand corner of the screen.
- Before the second time Kermit answers the phone, he can be seen holding the phone receiver right before it rings.
- Biff and Sully change locations throughout the song "Deck the Halls".
- Louis Kazagger can be seen sitting near the tree during Emily Bear's announcement, but during the caroling medley, as the screen scrolls past that area, he is no longer there.
- Gonzo and Animal are both shown wearing pajamas while hanging from hangers, but at one point during the caroling medley, Gonzo wears a purple suit and is with the other Muppets, and then after singing his verse is missing from the remainder of the carol sing.
- Beaker does not appear during the first half of the caroling medley. He then suddenly appears when he and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew sing a verse, and he is missing again in the last shot of the medley.
- During the carol sing there are two rooms full of Muppets, but some Muppets appear in both rooms at the same time. These characters include Statler and Waldorf, Simon Soundman, The Christmas Turkey, Two-Headed Monster, and a female lavender Anything Muppet.
- During a fade right before the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in the carol sing, the puppeteer that performs Camilla the Chicken and the Turkey drops both puppets too early.
- During the caroling medley, you can see the black sleeve of the puppeteer operating a Muppaphone.
- During the end, Sprocket appeared in the back of the living room with the Muppets, but also appeared with Jim Henson in the kitchen.
- In most wide shots during the caroling medley, Janice can be seen sitting near a stairway at the end of the room, but there are a few shots where she is next to Floyd Pepper, who is always behind the couch during that sequence.
- The special aired after Fraggle Rock ended its run (the previous March), but Doc asks Sprocket if the Muppets are anything like those Fraggles he's been telling him about. This implies that the action occurs before the last two episodes of Fraggle Rock.
- When the Turkey directs The Swedish Chef to Big Bird ("If you think I'm a nice fat bird... LOOK AT THIS!"), a puppeteer's head briefly pops up.
- Muppet Performers: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson, Steve Whitmire, Kathryn Mullen, Karen Prell, David Rudman, Terry Angus (uncredited), Debra Spinney (uncredited)
- with Caroll Spinney
- Muppet Show Characters
- Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Ma Bear, Robin the Frog, the Swedish Chef, the Christmas Turkey, the Snowman, Rowlf the Dog, Animal, Camilla the Chicken, Floyd Pepper, Janice, Zoot, Scooter, Statler and Waldorf, Sam the Eagle, Rizzo the Rat, the Newsman, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker, Beauregard, Dr. Teeth, Lips, Maureen the Mink
- Muppet Show Background Characters
- Droop, Lew Zealand, Foo-Foo, Link Hogthrob, Marvin Suggs, A Muppaphone, Louis Kazagger, Pops, Crazy Harry, Bobby Benson, Nigel, Chester Rat, Masterson Rat, Tatooey Rat, Yolanda Rat, Penguins, Chickens, Billy the Bear, Rabbits, Deer, Squirrel, Raccoon
- Sesame Street Characters
- Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Ernie, Bert, Count von Count, Cookie Monster, Grover, Kathleen the Cow, Herry Monster, Guy Smiley, Two-Headed Monster, Honkers
- Sesame Street Background Characters
- Sherlock Hemlock, Biff, Sully, Forgetful Jones, Prairie Dawn, Simon Soundman, Fred the Wonder Horse, Elmo, Clancy, Old McDougal, Osvaldo, el Gruñón, Big Jeffy, Gary Grouch, Anything Muppets, Monsters
- Fraggle Rock Characters
- Sprocket, Gobo Fraggle, Wembley Fraggle, Red Fraggle, Mokey Fraggle, Boober Fraggle, Uncle Traveling Matt, Large Marvin Fraggle, Fraggles
- Muppet Babies
- Executive Producer: Jim Henson
- Producers: Diana Birkenfield and Martin G. Baker
- Directors: Peter Harris and Eric Till
- Writer: Jerry Juhl
- Puppet designers: Ed Christie, Joanne Green, Larry Jameson, Rollie Krewson, Tom Newby, Richard Termine
- We Need a Little Christmas
- Jingle Bells
- Jingle Bell Rock
- Sleigh Ride
- Santa Claus is Coming to Town
- Here We Come A-Caroling
- Deck the Halls
- The Christmas Song
- Pass It On
- Home for the Holidays
- Christmas Carol Sing
- Happy Holidays
- Ding Dong Merrily on High
- I Saw Three Ships
- Good King Wenceslas
- The Holly and the Ivy
- I'll Be Home for Christmas
- Happy Holidays (reprise)
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
- Caroling, Caroling
- I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
- It's in Every One of Us
- Together at Christmas (Old Friends, New Friends)
- We Wish You a Merry Christmas