Monday, November 28, 2011

It's Time to Meet the Muppets....

Chelsea and I both love the Muppets. We both grew up with the Muppets, like so many other people of our generation. We watched Fraggle Rock, the Muppet Show, Jim Henson's Storyteller, and of course Sesame Street as kids. My favorite Christmas special is "A Muppet Family Christmas" which may be the only time all of those characters were featured in one special. If you ever visit our apartment, we have a display case full of Muppet figurines in the middle of our living room. That's our centerpiece. The Muppets, in our case, bring the room together.

So, we were both pretty excited to go see the new film "The Muppets" over the weekend. I mean, it's been a long time. Jim Henson passed away in 1990, and while the Muppets have survived, they haven't been quite the same.  Don't get me wrong- I loved "A Muppet Christmas Carol", and I liked "Muppet Treasure Island" and I didn't hate "Muppets from Space" but none of those movies felt like the Muppets to me. And the awful TV specials that Disney has produced since they acquired the property....well. This blog entry is meant to be positive, so we won't dwell on those (but FYI- they all suck. Especially the one where the Muppets do duets with various Disney Channel stars).

We built a whole day around going to see the movie. We went downtown, we did some Christmas shopping, we ate at the Purple Pig (easily the most Muppet-y restaurant name in Chicago).  And how was it?

Great. It was great.

You can read reviews of it pretty much everywhere, and while the praise has been nearly universal, there are some negative Nancys and Neds who mostly seem upset that it wasn't exactly the Muppet Movie they wanted. I loved it. I had a few quibbles, but they were minor. Here is a list of some random things I loved. If you haven't seen it, there may be some spoilers in here and you may want to look away.

1.  Uncle Deadly!

Uncle Deadly is on exactly two episodes of the original Muppet Show, but I always thought he was one of the coolest looking Muppets. And he has a big scene in the film!

2.  The songs! I thought the music was catchy, fun, and at times emotionally powerful. My favorite songs were "Man or Muppet" and "Pictures in My Head".

3. Dumb jokes- The Muppets have always, always been about dumb jokes, and this film had plenty of great ones. The Muppets are easily my biggest comedic influence, and I was happy to see them returning to the style of humor that made them great in the first place.

4. 80's Robot- speaking of dumb jokes, Kermit's robot servant 80's robot was a big one. He killed me every time he came on the screen.

5. Amy Adams. If I was put in charge of Hollywood, I would cast Amy Adams in all of the movies.

6. Jason Segel- I read that when they did the script reading of the film with the Muppets for the first time, Jason Segel cried when Kermit read something that he had written, because Kermit was his hero. It was so great to see someone interacting with the Muppets who really, genuinely loves them the way their fans do.

7. The Meta parts. The whole movie is about the fact that the world has forgotten the Muppets. There's even a point during the song "Pictures in My Head' where Kermit laments that maybe something broke somewhere along the way and maybe that something can't be fixed. I kept thinking about the aforementioned awful post-Henson TV specials when he sang that line and found myself genuinely wondering if the Muppets could really, truly succeed without the performers who created them. It made me happy (mostly- more on that) to realize that they could.

8. The Muppet Show as part of the movie. Gods I miss the Muppet show. It felt good to see it in some small way again.

9. The theme of growing up. Gary and Walter- Jason Segel and his puppet brother- both have to grow up in the movie and deal with their adult lives. As someone turning 30 in a few months, this really hit home for me.

So I loved it. I felt like a kid again, but I was most happy to see the characters I loved as a child being treated by people who loved and respected them again.

My one caveat, the one thing that made me kind of sad- While watching the credits, I couldn't help but notice how many groups of people worked on the puppets- the Muppet Workshop designed the puppets, the Jim Henson Workshop designed the costumes on the puppets (apparently?), and something called Puppet Heap did something as well? One of the things that always made the Muppets special was the...smallness of their production. Once upon a time the Muppets were Jim Henson, and the Jim Henson Workshop and you could feel through the small, family type atmosphere that spawned the Muppets permeating each aspect of the Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, etc. Now, the Muppets are a Disney brand- just one part of a corporate megalith, and that small community feeling that you got from the old shows will probably never exist again.

But that's just one quibble. I'm happy. I'm really happy that the Muppets are back, and that they (mostly) feel the way they're supposed to.

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