Archive for November, 2011

Muppet Mayhem (Part 9): The Muppets

After 10 years of being out of the spotlight, the Muppets have finally returned to the forefront of entertainment. The film was a long time in the making, with talks starting between the writing team of Jason Segel and Nick Stoller and Disney in 2008 when the movie was tentatively called The Greatest Muppet Movie of all Time!! Disney was hesitant about making it due due to Segel’s whole full-frontal nudity thing and the raunchy comedy of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but they finally decided on making it due to the heart found in the movie and that was found in the early drafts of the screenplay for the film that became the Muppets. Jason Segel wanted the film to be closer in tone and style to the first three Muppet movies (the Muppet Movie, Great Muppet Caper, and Muppets Take Manhattan) and he definitely succeeded, but ended up going a step farther.

Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter live in a small town called Smalltown (go figure) and Walter has always felt different from everyone else. Walter and Gary always watched the Muppet Show growing up and Walter, being a Muppet himself, always felt exceptionally close to the characters he was seeing on TV, much to the ridicule of others. When Gary and Mary (Amy Adams) decide to go to Los Angeles for their 10th anniversary of dating each other, Gary decides to take Walter along so he can see the Muppet Studio like he’s always dreamed of, much to Mary’s dislike. When they get there, they find that the Muppet Studio has been in a state of disrepair for years and it’s only being used for lack-luster tours. Walter runs off from the tour and enters Kermit’s old office, but stumbles upon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) and his minions, Bobo the Bear and Uncle Deadly, plotting to buy the Muppet Studio, raze it, and drill for oil.

The three decide to seek out Kermit the Frog and get his help to save the studio. Kermit decides that the only way to get the amount of money needed to save it is to find all of the Muppets and put on a telethon. They travel all over the country, stopping in Reno where Fozzie is doing a Muppet tribute show, getting Gonzo away from his immensely powerful plumbing company, Animal was in a anger management center with Jack Black as his sponsor, and the rest return through a montage, except for Ms. Piggy who is working in Paris as the editor for Vogue. The newly reformed Muppets, with the help of Gary, Mary, and Walter, rebuild the Muppet Theatre and get it ready to put on a show that TV producer Veronica Martin (Rashida Jones) agrees to put on TV if they can get a celebrity host, as the Muppets are no longer celebrities. They have to find a host and put on the best show they can in order to save the studio.

The film is all about the fact that the Muppets are no longer celebrities, and that fact is one of the reasons that the film works so well. The Muppets have not had a theatrical film since 1999’s Muppets in Space, and not have had a theatrically successful one since 1996’s Muppet Treasure Island. They have had a few TV specials here-and-there in the interim, but nothing that really set the world on fire. In fact, a number of the people that I went to see the movie with had not seen a Muppet movie before, and they are all around my age or older, so the fact that the Muppets are trying to regain their popularity is so prescient.

Like Winnie the Pooh, the Muppets is perfect because of it’s very heavy similarities to previous parts of the Muppet franchise, but unlike how Winnie the Pooh is almost exactly like the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, the Muppets is much closer to to the Muppet Show than it is to any of the other films. Actually, the Muppets is very much the closest things to a theatrical version of the Muppet Show than any of the other versions have ever been. The Muppet Telethon literally is a theatrical version of the show, with acts that could have been on the Muppet Show occurring on the stage at the Muppet Theatre (which is actually the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles, just made over to look like the sets used in London for the filming of the Muppet Show in the late 70’s and early 80’s.) Unfortunately, one of my few problems with the film is that they did not just make some of the Muppet Show skits into segments of the telethon. I would have loved to see “Pigs in Space” again, or a “Muppet News Flash” (the anchorman does make an appearance, though), or visit the Muppet Labs, or see my personal favourite Muppet, the Swedish Chef, whip up something in the kitchen. It was wonderful to see Link Hogthrob and Dr. Julius Strangepork walking around in the background, though. Some Muppets were conspicuously missing from the movie though, such as Bean Bunny and Robin the Frog (who can be seen in the background, but I’m surprised that he wasn’t involved in the story at all).

The other reason that this film works so well is that the Muppets is a genuinely hilarious movie. There are so many laugh out loud segments that just sound so right coming out of their mouth that anyone who is familiar with the characters would feel right at home with this film and those who are not will be able to grasp their character perfectly. The film also has many references to previous Muppet properties that only fans would really get, but they are still funny for those who are not well in tune to the Muppet franchise. The Muppets is easily the funniest movie I have seen all year, and there doesn’t seem to be any films coming out by the end of the year that would knock it out of it’s position.

Like the first Muppet movie, the movie is full of cameos, but unlike the Muppet Movie, there are multiple cameos in every scene. A partial list includes Neal Patrick Harris, Donald Glover, Jim Parsons, Selena Gomez, Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Arkin, Dave Grohl, Mickey Rooney, Kristen Schaal, Zach Galifinakis, and Sarah Silverman. Some of the cameos don’t even have lines within the film, with them literally just showing up and doing something in the background, such as answering phones during the telethon.

The songs were written by Bret McKenzie, one half of the 4th most popular folk band in New Zealand, the Flight of the Conchords, and the songs are absolutely wonderful. Jason Segel in an interview said that the choice of getting McKenzie to do the songs was a perfect one due to the inherent Muppet-ness of Flight of the Conchords’ music in general, so there was very little changes that needed to be made to his style to make it mesh with the Muppet franchise. None of the songs are bad in the film, but the real standout is the theme for the film, “Life’s a Happy Song”, which has been stuck in my head for over a week now. “Me Party” is a very amusing song, but the segment within the film is rather bizarre. “Let’s Talk About Me” is another weird song, but it sounds very much like a Flight of the Conchords song (I think it sounds most like “Hiphopopotamus VS Rhymenoscerous”). The other great song is the ballad between Gary and Walter “Man or Muppet?” and manages to be very emotional and deep despite the very funny nature of what happens on screen during the scene where it occurs. The film even has new versions of three classic Muppet songs (“The Muppet Show Theme, “Mahna Mahna”, and “Rainbow Connection”), the last of which left me tearing up from sheer joy.

The film even uses some classic rock to help set the mood in places. “Me and Julio Down by the School Yard” is used at the beginning of the film to set the time period and “We Built This City” is used durin

 

g the rebuilding of the Muppet Theatre in a rather hilarious manner. There are also two Muppet-ized versions of songs within the Muppet Telethon: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, except done via a barbershop quartet featuring Sam the Eagle (“another dirty word”), Link Hogthrob, Rowlf the Dog, and Beaker and “Forget You”, which should actually be called “Cluck You” considering the fact that it’s “sung” by Camilla and four other chickens. The versions in the movie are much shorter, but the full versions can be found on the soundtrack to the film and you should definitely check out the full version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as it’s absolutely hilarious.

If it sounds like I am showering nothing but praise on the film, that’s because there is nothing but praise to give. This film is one of the best films of the year and the best Muppet film since the Muppet Movie (I would actually say that it is better than the Muppet Movie, but there will be some people out there that disagree with me). See this movie, love this movie, and hope that this movie gets more Muppet properties like it to be made. (Hey Disney, get on making a new Muppet Show!)

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Muppet Mayhem (Part 8): Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Some of you are probably exceptionally confused as to why Forgetting Sarah Marshall is part of Muppet Mayhem. Short answer, because I said so. Slightly longer answer, without this movie, we wouldn’t have the Muppets.

Also, it’s one of my favourite movies ever and I wanted to talk about it sooner or later.

Composer Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) was just dumped by his television star girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars and the Assassin’s Creed games). After a stint of very awkward one-night stands (much to his step-brother Brian’s (Bill Hader) chagrin), he escapes to Hawaii for a vacation to get his mind off of her where he sees Sarah with the man she left him for, rock star and lead singer of Infant Sorrow, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). There he meets a number of… interesting… characters like Darald (Jack McBrayer, 30 Rock), a super religious man on his honeymoon; Dwayne (Da’Vone McDonald), a Muppet loving bartender from South Central who can name 200 different kinds of fish; Infant Sorrow fanboy, Matthew (Jonah Hill); Chuck (Paul Rudd), a pot-smoking, surf teacher with delusions of being deeper than he really is; and most importantly, Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis), the woman who would help him get back to his life.

Peter hated working on Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime, the TV show that he composed the music for (it was also the show that Sarah starred in). His real passion was working on his Dracula musical, but Sarah never really supported him with it. When he met Rachel, he finally got the motivation to finish it and ended up turning it into a distinctly Muppet-looking-puppets-that-were-actually-made-by-the-Jim-Henson-Company filled, comedic version of the Dracula story, and that is precisely why this movie is part of Muppet Mayhem. The Dracula puppet musical is the best part of an already great movie and without that particular scene, we would not have the new Muppet movie.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is chock full of Muppet references besides the very obvious Dracula puppet musical. My personal favourite is when Peter is sadly and drunkenly playing the Muppet Show theme on the piano, as that scene actually really made me want to learn how to play the piano. There are also name drops to various different Jim Henson characters and properties.

Besides the references to the Muppets, the film is exceptionally funny, but in a much more subtle way than say Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy (which I consider to be the best comedy of the 2000’s). It’s funny because it’s actually how people talk rather than being funny for the sheer absurdity of it or the overblown personalities. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is great because it is firmly grounded in reality and it has numerous very distinctive characters without them being too big (besides Aldous Snow, but he is supposed to be a self-absorbed and delusional rock star). It’s also one of the anomalies known as a funny romantic comedy. Usually, romantic comedies are interminable schlock-fests that follow a very specific formula and never quite reach either of the parts of it’s name, they are usually never actually romantic and rarely funny besides the occasional funny joke. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and the other films cut from the same cloth like the 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Shaun of the Dead, and I Love You Man actually work as both general comedies and as romantic comedies, and are genuinely good at being both.

The various different characters are played perfectly by their actors. Jason Segel’s Peter is the everyman, the man everyone is supposed to get behind, but that’s not to say that he’s bland. He’s a very soft spoken and charming person who, through Segel’s performance, really makes you feel like he’s going through a really hard break-up. Kristen Bell is able to show a similar level of brokenness, but from a different event, but her character is immensely less likable, though that is more because she is supposed to be a complete bitch through a large part of the film. Mila Kunis has this odd quality in the movie of being the super-nice, girl-next-door type of character, but can also balance it with her inherent sexiness surprisingly well.

The seemingly endlessly talented Jason Segel (seriously, he wrote, starred in, and composed the music) and Lyle Workman did the music for the film. The soundtrack is fantastic and features various songs from different artists, but also some original songs for Infant Sorrow and the Dracula musical. The Infant Sorrow songs perfectly mirror Aldous Snow’s personality and character perfectly, but that being said, the songs are genuinely good rock songs. They have solid guitar and bass and good lyrics (despite the inherent silliness of singing a song about being inside someone).

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a great movie. It’s funny, emotional, heart-felt, and a  genuinely good story about love and loss along with realizing what love really is. Even without the ties to the Muppets, I would love this movie. It’s really just icing on the cake that there happen to be puppets in it. This is actually my go-to feel better movie, so whenever I’m having a crappy day, I know that I can just pop in my copy of the movie and Peter Bretter will help me through whatever problem I’m having.

Muppet Mayhem (Part 7): Muppets From Space

Gonzo is awaken by a nightmare that deals with him being the only whatever alive and it puts him into an existential funk. Everyone tries to get him out of his depression, but he remains unswayed until his Captain Alphabet tells him that he needs to watch the sky. Meanwhile, C.O.V.N.E.T. (an organization that tries to find extraterrestrial life) and it’s director, K. Edgar Singer (Jeffrey Tambor), find out about the messages that Gonzo has been getting (but doesn’t know how who the recipient was). Gonzo finds out about the alien-themed TV news show that Ms. Piggy works on and goes to send a mission back to his alien family. Edgar captures Gonzo and brings him back to C.O.V.N.E.T. in order to study him and find the other aliens. Edgar reveals himself to be completely crazy as the Muppets set out to rescue Gonzo from the government organization and get him to meet his family.

There are a number of celebrity cameos this time around with appearances by Hulk Hogan, Pat Hingle, Ray Liotta, Kathy Griffin, and Rob Schneider. The problem is that the movie doesn’t really have any place for these actors to really do anything of merit. The story is strong, but the writing isn’t very good and the comedy is weak at best (except for a few jokes here and there). There just really isn’t anything there that really makes this movie seem like a Muppet movie besides the fact that the Muppets are in it. The film just lacks the zaniness and insanity of the other films. Frank Oz even said that Muppets From Space was not “up to what it should have been,” and “not the movie that we wanted it to be.”

Muppets From Space is the first Muppet film to not have original songs. Instead the soundtrack is full of disco and various funky sounding songs and a very mediocre and forgettable score by Jamshied Sharifi. While I do enjoy the funk, the lack of original songs is just another aspect of this movie that does not make it feel like a Muppet movie. It’s very much a “one of these things is not like the other” kind of situations. Also, the funky music just doesn’t really fit with the tone or story of the film in the slightest.

This was the last Muppet film made before the acquisition of the Muppet Studios by the Walt Disney Company in 2004, but this film and Muppets Take Manhattan are actually the only Muppet movies not owned by the Walt Disney Company despite the buy-out. They are still owned by Sony Pictures for the conceivable future.

Overall, is weak. The story is good, but there really is nothing special about the film. The music is mediocre, it’s not terribly funny, and it doesn’t feel like a Muppet movie. I would say that unless you absolutely have to see every theatrically released Muppet film, you should skip this one.

There are going to be two more Muppet Mayhem posts, with my review of the Muppets coming on Saturday rather than on Wednesday when it is released.

Muppet Mayhem (Part 6): Muppet Treasure Island

In the continuing trend of the Muppets adapting classic literature, the Muppets got their hands on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic pirate story and did what the Muppets do best, create exceptionally controlled and hilarious chaos.

Billy Bones (Billy Connolly) tells Jim Hawkins and his friends, Gonzo and Rizzo, about the legendary treasure of Captain Flint and to be wary of the one-legged-man at the Admiral Benbow Inn. When the Inn is attacked by pirates for the map to Treasure Island that Billy Bones has, he gives the map to Jim and tells him to run. The Admiral Benbow burns to the ground in the distance as Jim, Gonzo, and Rizzo set off to find a ship and a crew to find the treasure. The insane Squire Trelawney (Fozzie Bear) and his assistants, Dr. Livesey (Dr. Bunsen Honeydew) and Beaker, sponsor the trip by getting a ship, the Hispaniola, and a crew. The three eventually meet the ship’s cook, Long-John Silver (Tim Curry), and they all become fast friends (despite the fact that Billy Bones told them to be wary of the one-legged-man) as the captain, Captain Abraham Smollet (Kermit the Frog) and Mr. Arrow (Sam the Eagle). They all set off from port for an adventure on the seas until the mutinous pirate crew that crewed the Hispaniola tears the ship apart to get the map and the treasure.

Tim Curry’s Long-John Silver, like Michael Caine’s Ebenezer Scrooge, is pitch perfect. He is able to easily and effectively manipulate the audience to feel whatever they need to feel from his immense acting prowess. If you are acting against the strong character of the Muppets, your performance needs to be overblown if you want to be noticed, and Tim Curry not only gets noticed, but he actively stands out within this movie. Kevin Bishop (Jim), on the other hand, is rather terrible and kind of ruins most of the scenes he is in when he opens his pre-pubescent mouth.

This is honestly one of the funniest Muppet movies out there. The comedy is piled on really heavy throughout with running jokes throughout, but unlike the jokes in the Muppet Movie, a large number of the running jokes usually only last for a scene rather than throughout the entire film (jokes like Mrs. Bluveridge’s, the owner of the Admiral Benbow, omniscient ability to yell something consistently relevant to the situation). This allows the jokes to be much more personal in nature and they never go on for longer than they stop being funny. The movie is also a return to form for the meta humour, with Rizzo commenting on how people dying is something you don’t usually see in a children’s movie, and commenting on the existence of musical numbers and there are plenty of anachronisms purely for the sake of a joke.

Unlike the Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island is not nearly as close to the original source material. They take a lot more liberties with characters in order to fit the Muppets into the different roles and they don’t always work. Some events also happen differently, such as Mr. Arrow staying alive in the film instead of dying like he does in the book. Some of the changes make the film a bit more entertaining and incredibly sillier than the book. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though, as the Muppet’s natural habitat (besides a Studebaker) is comedy, not drama.

The songs are not overall as memorable as the songs from the Muppet Christmas Carol, but the score more than makes up for it. Hans Zimmer does the score this time around and he brings his usual overblown bombastic-ness to the pirate-y score. It honestly sounds like a proto-Pirates of the Caribbean score in a number of places, which really isn’t a bad thing. The songs “Cabin Fever” and “Professional Pirate” are the real stand-outs in the film and the only one that really doesn’t work is Jim’s “Something Better”, but that’s more because of Kevin Bishop’s irritating voice than it is because it’s a bad song. Tim Curry’s “Professional Pirate” is great as it follows the same train of thought as the rest of his performance, over-sell everything.

Muppet Treasure Island is a very entertaining film, but it’s not the best adaptation of Treasure Island out there. The story is not very strong in places and the songs are somewhat weak throughout, but the writing is top notch and it makes the experience altogether more pleasurable. You should definitely watch Muppet Treasure Island, but only if you want to see a funny version of the classic Treasure Island story.

Muppet Mayhem (Part 5): The Muppet Christmas Carol

I have a confession to make here, so don’t judge me, this is actually the first Muppet movie that I ever saw and it is actually my favourite one. The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of the best Christmas movies ever and I will even argue to death that it is the best adaptation of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol (though many people will and do disagree with me).

This was the first Muppet movie to not have any involvement by Jim Henson and was the first to be distributed by Walt Disney Pictures (but they did not acquire the Muppets yet).

The Muppet Christmas Carol is, as I stated before, an adaptation of A Christmas Carol. It tells Charles Dicken’s (played by Gonzo in the film) timeless tale of redemption, just through fuzzy animals and monsters. Michael Caine plays Ebenezer Scrooge, a stingy moneylender who works his workers, including Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog) to the bone with barely any pay. Scrooge had a very hard life that made him completely shut off from the rest of the world, often with violent out lashes against people who are kind to him, and gets especially angry around Christmas. He is visited by his dead former-partners, Jacob and Robert Marley (played perfectly by Statler and Waldorf) who tell him that he is going to be visited by three spirits by the end of the night for his salvation. Scrooge sets off on his journey for redemption, reluctantly at first, with the help of these spirits in the hopes that he can turn his life around. He travels back in time to see how his stony exterior was formed through his schooling, relationships, and jobs via the Ghost of Christmas Pas; travels around London to see the joy that people have on Christmas despite their inherent lack of money, where he of course, sees Tiny Tim Cratchit (Robin the Frog) and his mother, (Ms. Piggy), who serve to warm his heart via the Ghost of Christmas Present (the most awesome of the three ghosts, by the way); and sees the possible future if he does not change via the ghost of Christmas Future.

The story does skip some plot points from the original story such as Scrooge’s sister dying and how that affects his outlook on life, but the main tenants of the story are still there and, despite the film being a comedy, have the requisite emotional effects. Gonzo even quotes the source material quite often in his narrations. It’s rather shocking how closely it does stay to the source material considering how dark the orignal story was. The film actually does not feel like the rest of the Muppet films because of the story. This was the first Muppet movie to not have an original story, and as such, there are no random celebrity cameos. The only human characters in the film are important to the story or are just in the background. Michael Caine plays his role completely spot on, though, with numerous intense emotions coming out from a usually reserved, yet stern portrayal of Scrooge.

As was stated before, the film is mostly a comedy. The Muppet meta-humour is present, but it is much more focused on making jokes about the book or being an omniscient narrator than it is about film (though there are a few in there, mostly commenting on whether or not they should be worried about the kids in the audience, but ultimately coming to the decision that it’s okay because it’s culture). The Muppet characters are very much themselves, they’re just playing a different character, but all of their quirks and mannerisms are still present. Fozzie still tells bad jokes, Statler and Waldorf still heckle, Mrs. Piggy still has anger issues, and Gonzo still chases chickens.

The score by Miles Goodman is rather awesome and sets the tone of the film exceptionally well, but the songs by John Williams (who also did the songs for the Muppet Movie) are what is really special. They’re catchy and are efficient for what they try to accomplish within the film. My personal favourite song in the film is the Ghost of Christmas Present’s song, “It Feels Like Christmas”. It’s bubbly, uplifting, and heart warming, and it will most definitely get stuck in your head. I will say that if you watch this movie on the most recent DVD release, watch the extended edition even though it’s full screen. The widescreen edition, for some reason, cuts out the most emotional song in the film, “When Love is Gone”, and it makes the song at the end of the film, “When Love is Found”, just not have quite the same meaningful effect.

The film has a very distinctive look to it. The costumes are very much influenced by the time period, but the background and buildings are what are so odd. The buildings have very odd angles to them that make them look more appropriate for Halloweentown and everything is accurately dirty and grimy for the time period, but the levels of all of this change depending on what ghost is present. The Ghost of Christmas Present has London looking relatively normal, albeit very bright, happy, and colourful, but when the Ghost of Christmas Past is on the scene, everything becomes rainy and gray (very much like normal London).

The Muppet Christmas Carol is a wonderful film with fantastic music and is surprisingly close to the source material. I highly suggest it to anyone, especially with the holiday seasons coming up shortly.

Muppet Mayhem (Part 4): The Muppets Remember Jim Henson (and a Jim Henson Retrospective)

On May 16th, 1990, Jim Henson passed away from a bacterial infection at the age of 53, and it was a death that shook the world. Jim Henson died before it was his time to leave this earth. There was so much more that he could have achieved if he was just given the time. When he was on this little blue planet, though, his creations left a lasting impression on the world and as such, there would be a memorial for him, but who would do it? Why not the lovable bunch of monsters and animals that he set upon the world? The Muppets are tasked in the filming of a memorial for Jim Henson, but they don’t know who he is. Through a number of guest stars, they learn about the man who created them and end up putting on a very touching memorial for one of the most creative and important men in showbusiness.

The show blends comedy and intense emotions in a very effective manner. The meta humour reaches a new level of weirdness when the Muppets actually adress the fact that there is someone below them controlling them and even don’t know what a puppet is at one point. They interact with the guest recordings and end up planning one of the silliest shows ever (seriously, it involves Vikings, a tap dancing Whoopie cushion, and accountants) until they find a bunch of letters to Kermit talking about his best friend Jim and how he touched their lives and that they send their condolences. As soon as they pulled out the folder of letters, I said out loud “oh no, oh no no no” as I knew that this was going to be the point that the Muppets made me cry deeply and heavily.

They did not fail at this goal. I was emotionally broken through that segment and the inspirational music number until Kermit came in and told them that they did a great job. The fact that Kermit wasn’t there throughout the entire special gave a weight to it with a thought of “would the Muppets continue after this?” when the special first aired, but he showed up to tell us that “we’ll see you soon with more Muppet stuff, because that’s the way the boss would want it!” All fears were put to rest, and the characters became something more that day. Even more than ever, they were their own people. They weren’t just puppets, they were alive. Even if their puppeteer left, someone else would step in to keep the world smiling and laughing. Jim Henson did not want the world to mourn his death (his wishes were that there would be a dixieland band at his funeral and no one was to wear black), but instead to celebrate his life.

“The most sophisticated people I know – inside they are all children. ” – Jim Henson

Jim Henson was one of the most important people in my life that I never actually met or directly interacted with. He taught me through Sesame Street how to say the alphabet, how to count, how to spell and do math and even about different cultures. Through Fraggle Rock he taught me not to treat people different because of their colour or religion. Through the Muppets, he taught me about the idea of unconventional families and that no matter what, there would always be someone by your side even if you are a weirdo. But most importantly, in everything he did he taught me that someone can find happiness in anything and everything, even a simple piece of felt attached to a sleeve and dowels. Jim and his cohorts entertained me to no end through the puppets he made real.

Even more important that how he affected me was how he actively made the world a better place.

“My hope is to leave the world a little better for my having been there.” – Jim Henson

You did, Jim. Sesame Street is broadcast in 140 countries around the world and many of those countries are ones where children normally do not have any hope for a good education, so Sesame Street is specifically designed to incite a desire to learn in everyone who watches it with the hope that it will actually allow them to have a better life. It gives both the children and their parents hope that the cycle will be broken, and inspiring that level of hope is one of the hardest things to do, but Jim Henson managed to not do it just once, but thousands of times.

“As children, we all live in a world of imagination, of fantasy, and for some of us that world of make-believe continues into adulthood.” – Jim Henson

This is honestly one of the hardest posts for me to write (I’ve actually tried to write a post similar to this in the past, but I just couldn’t finish it). How do you speak about someone who educated and entertained you practically from birth? How do you manage to convey intense emotions into words? To me, Kermit the Frog is not a puppet, he is a living being, and Jim Henson isn’t just the man who controlled him and gave him a voice, he is Kermit’s dad. The Jim Henson company has gone to But I know that Jim did make Kermit the frog we know him as, that he did provide that nasally voice, operated those wonderful flailing arms, and made those amazingly emotive facial movements with his fingers.

Thank you, Jim Henson, for having a profound effect on my life, and thank you for being a source of joy for millions upon millions of people the world over.

Just as a warning, this song will more than likely make you cry like a baby, but it pretty accurately sums up my feelings in a much more coherent manner:

Muppet Mayhem (Part 3): The Muppets Take Manhattan

The year is 1984 and the Jim Henson Company is starting to go in some interesting directions. What they had always been known for, the Muppets, have started to wane in popularity a little bit, and as such, Jim Henson and his puppeteers have started to use their technical mastery of puppets to go to new and interesting places. But if they want to move away from the Muppets, why not leave them on a high note?

Kermit, Ms. Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Camilla, Scooter, and the Electric Mayhem all go to a college in upstate New York where they are all about to graduate. They wrote a musical, Manhattan Melodies, that ends up being a colossal hit at the school and decide to take the act to New York City in order to turn it into a full-on Broadway hit. Nothing quite works out well for them, and after a constant stream of rejections, they decide to split up and go on with the rest of their lives. All of them head off to different parts of the country, but Kermit stays in New York and starts working at a diner with his new friends Pete and Jenny, all while re-tooling the script of Manhattan Melodies in order to make it easier to sell. The Muppets Take Manhattan is honestly the first Muppet movie to actually feel like a movie rather than a collection of skits surrounded by story elements. The Great Muppet Caper started to move in that direction, but it never quite removed the variety show element.

The movie relies more on your standard comedic writing and timing rather than the running jokes or meta show business humour. Due to this and the more serious storyline makes the Muppets Take Manhattan feel like a very, very different movie than it’s predecessors. This is the first Muppet Movie to be directed by Frank Oz and it really shows. Oz and Henson were fresh off of their experimental and suffocatingly dark feature, the Dark Crystal, and both were wanting to move on to new and even more radical and innovative things with that first taste of something not relating to Muppets. In fact, after the release of this movie in 1984, the Muppets wouldn’t be seen again until 1987 and 1990 after that, both of which ended up being TV specials rather than movies, the next one of those wouldn’t occur until the Muppet Christmas Carol in 1992.

The Muppets Take Manhattan is the first Muppet movie to mix comedy with some serious drama. A large portion of it is surprisingly bleak with them barely living out of lockers in a bus terminal, all of them are unemployed and can’t afford food, and no one is intent on producing their musical. All of this culminates with a scene where all of them are completely broken from the constant stream of rejection and go their separate ways. This is honestly one of the saddest things that anyone who grew up watching the Muppets could ever see, the idea that these characters that we have always seen together all of a sudden going their separate ways to work menial jobs in order to get enough money to survive is completely heartbreaking. You know what, remove the Muppets from the equation and that is still horribly depressing! Mother of god, the Muppets Take Manhattan is preparing children for the crushing reality of life! It’s so brilliantly devious!

The score by Ralph Burns is pretty spectacular, but the songs really stand out and are much more important, as they should in a movie about Broadway. “Together Again” is a wonderfully simple song that is deceptively catchy, which is probably why it was included in the Muppet*Vision 3D area background music. “Saying Goodbye” is completely sad and never fails to make my eyes water up and “I’m Gonna Always Love You” is unbelievably saccharine sweet but somehow charming. Any of the songs related to Manhattan Melodies are wonderful, and honestly, I would love to see a full version of this show put on (with all Muppet performers, of course).

It should also be noted that the Muppets Take Manhattan introduced the world to the idea of the Muppet Babies in one of the cutest segments in a movie ever, “I’m Gonna Always Love You”, and this was the first time that Rizzo the Rat was in a major role in anything related to the Muppets.

A continuing trend in the Muppet movies is the pushing of puppetry to more involved and complicated places. The big jump in the Muppets Take Manhattan is the use of the rat puppets. Rizzo and the other Muppet rats are such small puppets that they are operated solely by the use of wires and strings inside the body in order to make their mouths move, but the step forward is that these characters have a larger number of full body shots and they do more complex things like skating on butter on top of a gril or drumming on pots and pans while hanging in the air on a ladle.

The Muppets Take Manhattan is one of the best Muppet movies for a reason. It has a great story, fantastic and catchy music, and actually reaches some real level of human drama with the idea that dreams do not necessarily come true exactly as planned. Unfortunately, the next installment of Muppet Mayhem is going to deal with some real human tragedy (but there will be comedy as well to balance it out).