Thanksgiving Movie Guide: Starring the Muppets

Plus: Reviews of Hugo, Arthur Christmas and more films to watch in the theater and at home

It’s Thanksgiving, which means it’s time to be together. Watch the parade together. Make food together. Eat together. Watch a few games together. Drink together. Fight together. Go see a movie together. (Thankfully, though technically together, seeing a movie together requires absolutely no talking.) And this is a great Thanksgiving for films, especially family friendly ones. Here are a few of my suggestions.

I want to relive some of my youth (and maybe share it with my own kids).

At the beginning of the The Muppets I kept asking myself one question: where are the actual Muppets? Sure there’s a new Muppet Walter, a dopey, sweet character who is the ultimate Muppet mega-fan, but other than that, there’s just a lot of people. Not that that’s a bad thing—there’s cute music, cute sets, cute costumes, cute choreography—but we came for the puppets. After Walter, Gary (Walter’s human brother played by Jason Segel), and Mary (Amy Adams) learn that an evil oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is planning on tearing down the old, decrepit Muppet’s theater, they rally Kermit and the gang to save the theater. That’s when the movie finally comes to life.

What is so smart and wonderful about this new film, written by star Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, is its fidelity to the past. Blending a plot device common to the movies—the gang tries to convince a producer to support their show, in this case a televised telethon—and the structure of the original show—sketches, original opening number, and slapstick humor—the movie feels both new and completely familiar.

My issues with the movie (Kermit’s demeanor is a little too demoralized, Fozzie’s “fart shoes” are too sophomoric) are by far surpassed by all that is perfectly Muppet: humor for kids and adults, celebrity cameos (Jack Black is perfect), Miss Piggy “hi-ya”-ing, sing-able songs, and a rendition of “Rainbow Connection” that made me a little emotional. True, I am an uber-fan, so I might be a bit biased. But, I think The Muppets will please old and new fans—and hopefully be the start of a resurgence. My Grade: A-

I want a movie to keep the little ones occupied (and maybe me, too).

From the studio that brought you Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromitt comes this high-tech tale of Christmas present. Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy), Santa’s youngest son, sets out Christmas night—assisted by Grandsanta (voiced by Bill Nighy) and elf Bryony (Ugly Betty’s Ashley Jensen)—to take a present to the one child who was missed. But with only the old sleigh (Arthur’s father, current Santa, uses a state-of-the-art, spacecraft named S-1) and Bryony’s GPS, they’re not sure they’ll make it before sunrise. Arthur Christmas is a fun, delightfully British (Happy Christmas!) film. The animation will keep the kids engaged and the jokes (mostly from the grossly un-PC Grandsanta) will keep the adults laughing. Please note: there is a music video of Justin Bieber performing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” before the movie. While it took all of my willpower not to leave, do not let the Biebs dissuade you! My Grade: B

I want a movie that will restore my faith in 3D

The opening sequence of Hugo: flying through the city of Paris, into and through a train station, until the shot abruptly stops at a clock, where a boy’s eyes peer out. And thus begins the phenomenal new film from Martin Scorcese, that makes you immediately forget all the recent Hollywood 3D schlock. Based on the beautiful The Invention of Hugo Cabret, written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, and set in the 1930s, Hugo tells the story of a young orphan (Asa Butterfield), living in the walls of the Paris train station, who continues work on an automaton that he and his father tried to fix. Convinced that this automaton—a clockwork robot—holds a message from his father, he employs the help of a young girl (Chloe Moretz) and together they quickly find themselves embroiled in the history of filmmaking. Truthfully, I have never seen a movie as visually arresting as Hugo. The 3D is not used as a gimmick, it is used an immersive device—you feel like you are running through the narrow hallways, your actions moving the steam and the dust in the air. Never distracting, it enhances the story and the performances from this stellar cast (Ben Kingsley, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Jude Law, and Sacha Baron Cohen). While Avatar gave us a world we’d never seen before, Hugo, a simply remarkable (and sure-to-be Best Picture contending) film, makes us see things and places as if we’d never seen them before. It is a remarkable film. My Grade: A

I would rather gnaw off my own leg than go to a crowded theater on Thanksgiving.

One of the most surprising movies I’ve seen this year was one I watched as an iTunes rental. Margin Call is a fictionalized account of an investment bank’s final hours before the financial meltdown. The film, from first-time director/writer J. C. Chandor, also features a tremendous cast: Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Simon Baker, Penn Badgley, Stanley Tucci, and Demi Moore. It is a tight thriller examining the minds of those out to make a buck. It is also a frighteningly perfect companion to the 2010 documentary Inside Job. My Grade: B+

I want to see one of the greatest Thanksgiving comedies of all time.

Holly Hunter and Robert Downey, Jr. are perfection in the Jodie Foster-helmed Home for the Holidays (pictured above). Steve Martin and John Candy give legendary performances in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Each is classic and should be watched every year. “Those aren’t pillows.”