The Great Santa Claus Switch


Debuted in 1970

51 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Evil Cosmo Scam kidnaps Santa as part of his plan to take over Christmas. When he starts replacing Santa’s elves with his own henchmen, a new elf named Fred discovers the plot. With Fred’s help, Santa is able to escape just in time to save Christmas.

Fun Fact: Ed Sullivan gave this time slot to Jim Henson in appreciation for all the Muppet appearances on his show.

My thoughts: I am a big Muppet fan from way back, but I had never heard of this special before this year. Apparently, Jim Henson had the idea for this story bouncing around for quite some time before getting the chance to bring it to the small screen on The Ed Sullivan Show. Art Carney plays the dual role of Santa Claus and Cosmo Scam and sadly, doesn’t seem to be giving 100% to either role, which is probably the reason this special didn’t have much staying power. The Muppets are always enhanced by the addition of an over the top human counterpoint and Carney’s somewhat phoned-in performance here doesn’t give them the opportunity to shine. But there are a lot of really funny moments and some good songs from songwriter Joe Raposo. It’s definitely worth watching, especially if you’re a Muppet fan, but it doesn’t hold up well compared to the movies and shows that came after it.

The Bad Guy

Anyone who names a child Cosmo Scam should know he’s headed for a life of crime.

Workshop Elves

Santa’s elves always sing while they work.

Santa's Kidnappers

Santa, quit staring at the tree and look behind you!

Monster Elves

The elves have been replaced by frackles!  And no one seems to notice.

Individual Superlative: A Muppet By Any Other Name – One of Cosmo’s frackle henchmen is named Snarl. Six years later, he showed up as a regular character on The Muppet Show as a performance artist named Gonzo. You can check him out in the picture above.

Want to Watch it? The Great Santa Claus Switch is available on YouTube.


The Christmas Toy

titleDebuted in 1986

49 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Rugby Tiger thinks Christmas means he will go back under the tree to be discovered all over again by Jamie, but he discovers that a new toy, Meteora (the Queen of Space) is going to be Jamie’s new Christmas toy. Some of the other playroom toys go to rescue him and Mew, the cat toy, is found by a human, which freezes him forever. Rugby realizes how much he cares for Mew, which unfreezes him and all the toys celebrate on Christmas morning with the new Christmas toys.

Fun Fact: This special inspired a short-lived TV series, called The Secret Life of Toys that ran for one season.

My thoughts: I recorded my copy of this during one of its early television broadcasts so my copy has the Kermit the Frog intro and closing that were deleted when Disney acquired the rights to the Muppet programming. I really liked having the Kermit bookends on these specials, because it kept that comfortable ‘Muppet’ feeling even when there were no other familiar characters. The basic premise of this special is very similar to the plot of Toy Story, with a loved toy being jealous of a newer space-themed character who isn’t aware that they’re actually a toy. There are some great characters here and my favorite is Mew the catnip mouse, who constantly has to reassure everyone that his bad smell is only catnip. Rugby singing ‘Together at Christmas’ to a frozen and lifeless Mew has me reaching for the Kleenex every time. It’s no wonder the song was re-worked for Muppet Family Christmas a year later. The story has a lot of warmth and humor, like most of the really good Muppet productions. I really enjoy this one.


Apple is Rugby’s best friend.


Meteora’s space bra looks really uncomfortable (but it provides excellent support).


A running gag involves the fashion doll always wearing the wrong clothes.


“It’s CATNIP!”

Individual Superlative: Least Cuddly Toy – Meteora’s face is full of warrior fierceness and there is nothing soft or cuddly about her. But Jamie picks her up and hugs and kisses her, whispering that she loves her. I actually think this speaks volumes about how we feel about really special toys. Or that Jamie is just really not as judgmental as I am when it comes to cuddly toys.

Want to Watch it? The Christmas Toy is available on VHS and DVD.

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree


Debuted in 1995

22 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Mr. Willowby loves Christmas and is excited to get his perfect Christmas tree delivered. When his tree is a little too tall, he cuts off the top part and has his butler give it to the upstairs maid, who cuts off the top part and throws it out the window. It’s found by a bear who takes it home, cuts off the top part and leaves it outside where an owl takes it home and removes the top part, which ends up as the perfect tree for Mr. Willowby’s mice.

Fun Fact: There’s only one song, ‘The Perfect Tree,’ which is sung multiple times by different people. It was nominated for an Emmy.

My thoughts: I had never heard of this special before and stumbled across it while working on my review for Robert Barry’s 1963 picture book, on which it was based. (Yes, that’s a shameless plug for my other blog.) It features narration by Kermit the Frog, as most of the Muppet specials did (before they were edited for television or revised by Disney after the rights changed hands) and a mix of live actors and Muppets. Leslie Nielson lovably hams it up as the butler (Baxter) and Stockard Channing is Miss Adelaide, the maid. The special adds in a sub-plot involving a budding romance between Baxter and Miss Adelaide that is sweet and charming. The story unfolds from the point of view of the mice, who stay with each cut-off part of the tree until it becomes the perfect size for them. There’s not a lot to the plot here (which is probably why they added in the romance bit) and it’s a little overly silly in parts, but it’s a good special with a very festive feeling and I’m surprised that it’s disappeared so thoroughly from the Christmas special landscape.

Mr Willowby

I’m not sure he knows where he is.

Baxter, skeptical

Adelaide dresses Baxter up for St. Lucia’s Day.

Miss Adelaide is a fashionista

Miss Adelaide dresses well for a maid.


The mice go on quite an adventure before celebrating with their perfect tree.

Individual Superlative: Don’t Do Drugs, Kids! – This was made at the beginning of Robert Downey, Jr.’s career slide due to his drug addiction and he seems absolutely stoned out of his mind through most of it. Seeing this makes me even gladder that he got himself together and got his career back on track.

Want to Watch it? Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree is available on YouTube.

Fraggle Rock: The Bells of Fraggle Rock


Debuted in 1984

25 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: Gobo is not feeling the Festival of the Bells this year because he has begun to doubt the existence of the Great Bell at the heart of Fraggle Rock. Despite the warning from Cantus the Minstrel, he goes in search of the Great Bell, delaying the celebration that keeps their rock moving. The rock begins to freeze and Gobo realizes that all of their bells make up the Great Bell and together they ring their bells to celebrate the season.

Fun Fact: Fraggle Rock moved the start date of Season Three up a couple of weeks to ensure that this episode could air before Christmas.

My thoughts: I have a complicated relationship with Fraggle Rock. I’m a big fan of the Muppets and have loved just about everything they’ve done from Sesame Street all the way to the most recent theatrical movie (Muppets Most Wanted). But I could never really get into Fraggle Rock. I liked the idea and the characters, but there was something about it that never really worked for me. I watched it with my kids when they were little, so I’ve seen lots of episodes, but I still can’t tell you much about their world, which seemed to just build layers of complexity on itself, when you got into the co-existing fictional worlds of the Fraggles, Doozers, Gorgs, the all-knowing Trash Heap and the real world of Doc, Sprocket and Uncle Traveling Matt. The Christmas special is not much different, honestly. I watched it twice and still had trouble summarizing the plot. As always, Wembley is my favorite Fraggle because of his loyalty to Gobo and his simple and sweet nature. For Fraggle fans, I’m sure this is a great episode, but I find myself wondering whose job it was to come up with weird words for this series.

Doc and Sprocket

Doc is explaining the seasons and the rotation of the earth to Sprocket. I don’t think he’s listening.

Wembley and Red and stunned

Mokie is surprised, but Red and Wembley are thoroughly stunned.

The Weebabeast

The Weebabeast is not joking around.

Yeah, that's a bell

Somehow no one ever noticed that the cave at the center of the map resembles a bell.  Right.

Individual Superlative: Sing Along – There are three songs in this episode and if you want to sing along with one, I recommend Weeba Weeba. The words are ‘Weeba Weeba’ over and over again…so you should be able to keep up.

Want to Watch it? Fraggle Rock: The Bells of Fraggle Rock is available on DVD.

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together


Debuted in 1979

50 minutes

Plot in 3 Sentences: John Denver and the Muppets get together and sing a lot of songs. A sub-plot involves Miss Piggy being a diva. There’s really not enough plot to warrant a third sentence.

Fun Fact: John Denver’s real name is Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. He took the surname ‘Denver’ owing to his love of Colorado.

My thoughts: I am a longtime fan of both the Muppets and John Denver and have owned the soundtrack for this special for most of my adult life, so a lot of these songs are a part of my Christmas tradition. “The Peace Carol” is really lovely and John’s duet with Rowlf on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is one of my favorite versions of that song. But the special itself, which is really just the scaffolding to hang the musical numbers on, feels slow and a little tedious at times. I think that the Muppets are at their best when they have some type of story going on around the musical numbers, giving the characters a platform from which to build humor or emotional depth. But John seems to be having a wonderful time and, as a fan, I enjoy the special on that basis. He and the Muppets teamed up together for another Christmas special, Rocky Mountain Holiday in 1983.

Fozzie sings the lyrics correctly and pretty much dooms me to a life of imagining this face every time I hear 'Seven swans a'swimming.'

Fozzie sings the lyrics correctly and pretty much dooms me to a life of imagining this face every time I hear ‘Seven swans a’swimming.’

John and Miss Piggy step out of their toy number to yell, "Far out!" No, seriously, that's what they're doing.

John and Miss Piggy step out of their toy number to yell, “Far out!” No, seriously, that’s what they’re doing.

I wonder if they recycled the Baby Jesus Muppet into one of the babies that sang in Muppets Take Manhattan. And if so, did that baby feel better than the other babies?

I wonder if they recycled the Baby Jesus Muppet into one of the babies that sang in Muppets Take Manhattan. And if so, did that baby feel superior to the other babies?

All I want is to sing Christmas carols in my living room with all the Muppets. Is that so wrong?

All I want is to sing Christmas carols in my living room with all the Muppets. Is that so wrong?

Individual Superlative: Most Tree Hugging – there’s a whole musical number reminding us to say a prayer for the forest and all the creatures who live there and if that’s not enough, the proceeds from the soundtrack re-issue in 1996 went to Plant-It 2000, a charity supporting the protection of indigenous trees. Far out.

Want to Watch It? John Denver & The Muppets has never been made available on home video, but you can find it on YouTube and the soundtrack is still pretty easy to find.