logan j. fowler lets his Muppet fan flag fly as their new movie hits theaters …
The Muppets are back! Well, technically, they really never left. However, the gang that Jim Henson brought to life in the mid 1950s (and expanded throughout the decades) hasn’t had the same fame since Henson died in 1990. While a couple of theaters and made-for-TV films were released after Henson’s death, they failed to capitalize on the popularity that Kermit and the gang once had.
Now, on a personal note, I love The Muppet Christmas Carol, a film that was the first film to hit theaters without Henson’s involvement. Released in 1992, the flick still held tightly to (what I believe) Jim’s vision, and the movie stands as my favorite of the novel’s adaptations, even though some liberties are taken. Most people who love the Muppets as much as I do have expressed their love for the take on the Dickens classic, as well, but it’s the following theatrical releases, Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets From Space, that seem to leave a bad taste in audiences’ mouths.
For the record, I have not seen either of these films, so you may strike me down as a true Muppet fan if I haven’t even given them the time of day. However, since I heard negative things about both, maybe I subconsciously avoided them? Whatever the case, I have been privy to seeing the bulk of Muppet made-for- TV movies that came out in the 2000s, including A Very Muppet Christmas and A Muppet Christmas: Letters To Santa. While A Very Muppet Christmas was good for a few laughs (and having Fozzie in a Grinch outfit is definitely a plus), it didn’t have the same “oomph” like the movies of Muppet past. Letters To Santa, an hour-long program that aired on NBC in 2008, had some definite charm and I enjoyed it overall, but again, it failed to match the Muppet goodness of old.
In 2005, one Muppet movie aired on tv that left me severely dissatisfied. Muppets’ Wizard Of Oz was a poor excuse for a Muppet movie, lacking charm, wit, or even good acting. Ashanti is no Judy Garland; in fact, putting those two in the same sentence is an insult to Garland. And hey, I like Quentin Tarantino just fine, but putting that dude in a Muppet movie seems like sacrilege to me. Nothing in this movie worked, and I hated it without hesitation.
Now, there was a time when the Muppets were on top of the world. The had three awesome feature films (what I have unofficially dubbed a “trilogy”, even though the storylines don’t connect all that much), plus a long running variety show that had a range of awesome guest stars, along with jokes that would fly over kids’ heads but get chuckles out of parents. It was family entertainment, not relying on solely on simple pranks or slapstick to get the kids interested. In a sense, The Muppets were the Pixar of their day — the atmosphere and visuals interested the young ones, but the context provided could appeal to the tykes as well as the older crowd.
When the Muppets first showed up in a feature film in 1979, I wasn’t even born yet. However, we had a VHS recorded off the television that had the flick contained on it, so in my childhood I was exposed to it. The Muppet Movie is the movie that I am referring to, and to this a piece of cinema is a movie that helped shaped my love of film. It has music that has been etched into the walls of film history (“The Rainbow Connection,” “The Magic Store”) as well as tunes that are just all out fun to sing along with (“Moving Right Along” is pitch perfect for a road trip if you know your friend won’t make faces at you). Not only that, the movie contains the first “uniting” of characters that have made their way into our hearts.
It’s a road film, an action film, a comedy, a drama. It has romance … well, interspecies dating, but let’s look past that. It contains cameos by Steve Martin, Dom DeLuise, Mel Brooks, Milton Berle, Edgar Bergen (along with Charlie McCarthy), Richard Pryor, Elliot Gould, and Bob Hope. That right there is like a “who’s who” of old school Hollywood, and each actor adds comedic proceedings to the Muppets’ adventure. I truly adore this film, love it with all my heart, and frequently revisit it; it just means that much to me. It’s a classic.
The follow up to The Muppet Movie is argued by many fans to be the best of the “trilogy.” I still find the original Muppet film to be the greatest in my humble opinion, but The Great Muppet Caper (released in 1981, and, for the record, I still wasn’t born yet) is definitely a great secondary Muppet movie. Mystery! Romance! Breaking the fourth wall! The Baseball Diamond! Charles Grodin! This movie is so full of puns and gags that any steel hearted watcher can’t help but crack a smile at some of the lines in the movie.
There’s also enough fourth wall material to make Marvel superhero Deadpool blush (note: Deadpool breaks the fourth wall significantly in his comics), regarding the movie’s own script, who worked on the movie, and in addition the felt and furry characters speaking to the audience. Directed by Henson himself, this adventure featuring the core Muppet crew is a ton of fun and would be the perfect watch on a rainy day to make the moody weather blues go away.
1984 was a great year for film. Ghostbusters, The Neverending Story, Police Academy, Gremlins, The Karate Kid, and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (well I liked that last one, anyway). Sure, there were many more great ones than that. But we are here to talk about the Muppets. And in that year, the last piece of the “trilogy” hit the screen; Muppets Take Manhattan (for those playing at home, I was 1 year old when this movie came out). This film had the Muppets as college grads who made their way to New York to sell a show they had written themselves. Turned away by so many agencies, the gang splits up, with the ever resilient Kermit plugging away to get his show Manhattan Melodies into the theater. Meanwhile, Miss Piggy stays close to her crush, spying on him constantly, and when the two finally meet up again, fans are treated to a glee inducing live action Muppet baby tune (The cartoon Muppet Babies ran from 1984 to 1991, featuring the youthful gang in many pop culture parodies. Fans are begging for it on dvd).
Throughout a series of positive events, Kermit nabs a spot for Manhattan Melodies On Broadway, and by movie’s end, Kermit and Piggy get hitched. But was it real? Or part of the show? In future interviews when asked about his relationship with the diva, Kermit always dismisses the query or doesn’t give a clear answer. So I guess we’ll never really know. In any case, as the final Muppet film that was released before Jim’s death, Muppets Take Manhattan is the definite sweetest of the “trilogy”. The romantic element is played at a lot here, the music is by far the most sentimental of the three movies as well, and the whole “family orientation” that the crew shares with one another is a very important piece of the puzzle. The movie is very emotional, beginning with the gang’s strong desire to succeed, all the way up to the matrimonial ending. It’s not overwhelming with all the emotional underlying messages, because after all, it’s a Muppet movie; jokes run rampant in the film. But Henson and company’s ode to the lullaby of Broadway closes out the three Muppet movies with song, dance, and a whole lot of fun.
So let’s circle back to the beginning; The Muppets’ grand return. Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, How I Met Your Mother, I Love You, Man) is one of Hollywood’s biggest Muppet fans. And he and Muppet owners Disney are taking a gamble on his Muppet love with The Muppets, which is being released this Thanksgiving in theaters. Segel has produced the film and helped write it, in addition to co-starring with leading lady Amy Adams (The Fighter, Enchanted).
The film has been heavily promoted from general trailers to parody ones, and the same goes for the posters featuring some of the Muppet cast; there are regular ads just featuring the gang and its leads, and others have poked fun at some recent summer blockbusters (Captain America, Green Lantern), along with franchises that are ripe for parody (Kermit, Miss Piggy and Rowlf all have posters that riff on the Twilight saga). These previews and posters no doubt have caused fans to closely pay attention to the upcoming film and chuckle while doing so, but the real question in all their minds is, “Will this movie successfully bring the Muppets back to theaters in the best way possible?”
Recent discussions with Muppet performers, including Frank Oz, who has provided the voice and puppet work for Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and countless others, seem to be negative. Oz himself said he didn’t like the script, and other quotes by other puppeteers revealed poor choices for the film, including Fozzie Bear’s constantly attacked “fart shoes.” In addition, many wonder, “Is Segel, a Muppet fan, good enough to make a Muppet movie?”
We proud Muppet lovers can only hope so. Disney is banking on long time Muppet maniacs to not only go see this film, but also to have their kids in tow. For many parents, who grew up watching the antics of a frog, a pig, a bear, a whatever, so forth and so on, this movie could be viewed as a rite of passage for some parents and their children; after all, how many generations and decades have the Muppets been around that a parent would no doubt love to see their own personal youth passed on to the youth in a child they brought into the world?
As for me, while I have no children to share this with, that doesn’t mean I don’t have the strong desire to see the Muppets successfully revived for this generation. While constant fodder is being thrown on the screen to appeal to kids, including cash in live action versions of cartoons I grew up with, The Muppets are truly timeless, and I’d love to see them return to glory for myself and the children of this world. They are the epitome of pure family entertainment, making us laugh, cry, and understand and value of hard work, and that, above all else, family and friends are your best companions in helping to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That was always Jim Henson’s vision for his characters.
I trust that Segel has taken those aforementioned elements and put them in this film, because otherwise, he would not be a true Muppet fan as he deems himself so. No matter what Oz has said, or what other Muppet performers have said, if The Muppets takes me back to my youth, if it has the components that make the Muppets what they are, then Segel has truly 100 percent succeeded.
To conclude, I will be seeing The Muppets when it releases next week, and I will be able to judge if Segel has done right by our felt friends. However, I cannot wait to check it out; we fans need a good dose of Muppet greatness.
Light the lights. Play the music. It’s time to meet the Muppets finally once again.