I can admit that I was wrong. And I was on some things, perhaps not on others. (Light spoilers for “The Muppets” ahead.)
I recently detailed a whole blog post where I explained why I was not excited about the new Muppets movie. I knew there would be a day where I would revisit that post. That day is now.
To refresh your memory, I stated:
For me the Muppets begin and end with Jim Henson.
Subsequently, this post was found by a Muppets forum member and ridiculed for having that outlook. And in discussing that post with said forum member, I hit on a couple of points of personal Muppet reflection.
1. That’s really not an accurate statement. I’ve stuck with the Muppets since 1990. I was there for when they aired “The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson.” I still have the VHS copy when I taped it. I saw every post-Henson movie in the theater. I watched numerous TV specials and a good portion of Muppets Tonight. The Muppets didn’t end with the death of Jim Henson. There’s some decent post-Henson stuff. And while my previous post alludes to that, I do think that blanket statement was unfair to the group who have carried on. What is important to note is that while there has been some decent stuff, a lot of it has been disappointing and missed the mark of what Henson and the other original performers did.
2. With my lack of excitement for the new Muppets movie due to the disappointing direction of the past 20 years, I began to question if I was really a “Muppets” fan. Perhaps I wasn’t but rather a fan of the work of Henson, Oz, Nelson, Goelz, Hunt, and all the others. I was really questioning whether or not it was me or the Muppets that had gone wrong.
Since “The Muppets” came out, I have heard almost nothing but good about it. Then I began listening to the soundtrack on Spotify and was really impressed with the Bret McKenzie-produced songs. So, now I had to know for myself. Not only that, but I have seen every Muppet movie in the theater. Does that matter? No, not really, but suddenly it seemed to. So I took my daughter and we checked it out.
Fortunately for my daughter, I have been adamant about exposing her to the Muppets of my youth. So she has seen several episodes of The Muppet Show and all of the Muppet movies. This meant that she was able to get several of the site gags and have a good appreciation for what they were doing. And it did my heart proud when a photograph of Jim Henson flashed on the screen and she exclaimed, “There’s Jim Henson!” The man passed away 14 years before she was born and she was so excited to see him.
As for me…I loved it. This movie got so many things right that have been wrong for the past 20 years. For one, the emphasis of this movie was placed back on Kermit. Gonzo had been the star of the previous three theatrical movies. Here, Gonzo’s role was back to that of crazy supporting character. Fozzie was also given something to do and acted like Fozzie for the first time in probably 15 years. Also greatly reduced were the amount of post-Henson characters. Pepe’s role was virtually nonexistent. Johnny Fiama and Dr. Van Neuter weren’t anywhere. Bobo the bear had the largest role of that group of Muppets Tonight generation characters and even it wasn’t huge.
In fact, this movie was all about the era of the Muppets from 1976 to 1982. The movie is a love letter to The Muppet Show and when they redid the opening of the Muppet Show, I nearly got chills. The message of the movie harkened back to The Muppet Movie and its style of humor. The interaction between the characters was right. It didn’t feel weighted down with forced humor. It had the right level of oddball, quirky, and irreverent humor that made the Muppets who they are.
I’m not going to say it was a perfect movie, but it was pretty close and evoked the emotional response they were going for, even from me. I think it’s biggest flaw goes back to when I said in my previous post that this movie was nothing new. It’s not. The plot of “The Muppets” heavily borrows from “It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie.” In fact, some of the similarities are astoundingly similar.* Although, it’s also worth noting that “It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie” borrows plot elements from episode 205 of “The Muppet Show.”
“The Muppets” also borrows from “Muppets Takes Manhattan” and incorporates elements of “Muppets From Space” and “The Muppet Movie.” Some of those were homages, while other things were rehashes of stuff we’ve seen before. This wasn’t horribly bothersome as these rehashes were done well and freshened up.
Another slight weakness of the movie was that “The Muppets” also disavows the existence of a certain amount of post-Henson stuff, although it’s uncertain exactly what was disavowed. The conceit of the movie is that perhaps the Muppets did end with Jim Henson, which again, as I mentioned earlier is unfair to the body of Muppets work from the past 20 years.
As one final note…us Gen X’ers grew up with a movie and property that told us to believe in our dreams and inspired us to go out and live those dreams. Successful or not, I do feel I continually am inspired to try to live my dreams. “The Muppet Movie” would have you believe that dreams are enough. “The Muppets” poignantly places the spotlight back on what is important. Even if it isn’t the most original plot, it is a true thematic sequel to “The Muppet Movie.”
Well done. I am a Muppets fan after all.
PS…ATTENTION ANYONE FROM DISNEY WHO READS THIS BLOG: Let me say again (and I think I’ll end every single post about the Muppets this way from now on), when “The Muppets” comes out on Blu-ray, it better be in tandem with “The Muppet Movie” on Blu-ray and at least the long, long, long-awaited season four of “The Muppet Show” on DVD. Let’s move on this Disney! Come on!
* Some of the similarities between “Very Merry” and “The Muppets” [BIGGER SPOILERS!!!]
- In “Very Merry,” Joan Cusack plays Rachel Bitterman who wants to tear the Muppet Theater down. In “The Muppets,” Chris Cooper plays Tex Richman who wants to tear the Muppet Theater down.
- In “Very Merry,” Kermit must be reminded of the importance of the relationships over that of the theater. In “The Muppets,” Kermit goes on the same journey.
- In “Very Merry,” Kermit wishes he was never born and sees what several of the characters are like in a world without Kermit. Among the characters are darker version of Scooter, Sam the Eagle, Bunsen Honeydew, and Beaker. In “The Muppets,” Fozzie has hooked up with a group of Muppet knock-offs called “The Moopets” who are essentially darker versions of the Muppets.
- The only thing that can save the theater in both movies is a big show. Both movies contain practice sequences and even more similarly, scenes were Kermit is making calls to celebrities looking for a host for the show.
- Piggy must be talked into coming back to the show in both movies.
- Both villains have Muppet sidekicks who turn on them, Pepe in “Very Merry” and Deadly (and Bobo) in “The Muppets.”
- Both movies have Whoopi Goldberg