Monday, January 9, 2012

The Muppets

Current Reading: Not much, unfortunately.

Inspirational Quote: "I hear his name bandied about a lot, but I don't know him. I don't know who Henson is. He seems to have his hand in a lot of things around here, but I don't particularly know what that means." -- Kermit the Frog on Jim Henson

An Open Letter to Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller, and the cast and crew of The Muppets.

Dear Muppeteers:

I'm a Muppet fan. I have been for the vast majority of my life. I watched Mannah-Mannah on Sesame Street, and sat spellbound as a toddler while Kermit reported on the mysterious Galleo-hoop-hoop from planet Kuzbain. I don't use the word “fan” lightly. I know rather more about the Muppets, their films, specials and television appearances than, I suppose, any forty-five year-old man ought.

My father and I never really got along. As is often the case, we were too similar in some ways and too different in others. But every night the show ran, we'd both be there in front of the tube, sharing some felt-covered silliness with the rest of the planet. His favorite was Animal. Mine was always Kermit. The put-upon frog with the responsibility of keeping everything from going off the rails always appealed to me.

When I became a father, one of the highlights was dragging out VHS recordings of the Frog Prince and the original Muppet movies and watching them with my kids. It was a part of my childhood that I was glad I could make part of theirs. Once they made the Muppet Show available on DVD, well my daughter and I had to have those. She has no idea who the celebrity guests are... they belong to a different era, but Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo and the rest are celebrity enough for her.

The years haven't been kind to the Muppets, though. After Jim Henson passed away, they seemed to lose the heart that made them so relentlessly entertaining. Episodes of Muppets Tonight always left me feeling that the characters weren't exactly sure what they were supposed to be doing. The subsequent movies and straight-to-DVD releases seemed to be things that only very young children could find entertaining, and that just barely.

But I could never give up hope for something better. I kept seeking out the bits of Muppet video that snuck onto television or DVD, hoping that this time I'd find something in them that carried a spark of their former charm. The offerings were few and the kind of bland entertainment I could have gotten from any other trademarked property.

Of course, I'm not five anymore, so as you're very well aware, a lot of that remembered charm shone through the lens of nostalgia, which makes everything look brighter and better. As I grew older, I started to wonder if the Muppets were just an artifact of their time. The world and I had moved on and there was no way I would ever feel the pleasure at their antics that I once had.

So it was with some trepidation that I heard news of the new Muppet movie. I had to see it, of course. I'd drag as many of my kids with me as would come because a grown man sitting in the theater watching puppets sing just attracts all kinds of the wrong sort of attention. But they were just an excuse. I was going for me, because hope springs eternal, and because someone had actually managed to convince a bunch of notoriously tight film executives that they had a Muppet movie a significant number of people would pay to see. I couldn't pass up a chance to see THAT.

I caught a lot of the interviews, the previews and the coverage that Disney issued pre-release. It was all positive, of course, but that was no real indication because the whole point of that kind of publicity is to build expectation. But one thing that kept coming up was your love of the Muppets. You were a fan. A real fan. Someone who “got it.”

Sure. I'd heard that before.

So, I'm afraid my expectations were pretty low. One good chicken joke would have been enough to exceed them.

I didn't expect them to be exceeded by quite as much as they were, however.

Your work, this movie The Muppets, was good. It had all the things I loved about the Muppets: the humor, the silliness, the surreal take on the world and the people in it, and a simple, sentimental heart. Far from avoiding the question of whether the Muppets could still be entertaining thirty-years past their prime, you embraced it. You made that question the focus, and with every frame showed that the kid inside of us never becomes so jaded that it can't revel in a good puppet show with romance, angst and music you hum on your way out of the theater.
So, thanks. From a forty-five year-old Muppet fan and a seven-year-old girl who's upset I can't remember all the lyrics of “Am I a Man or a Muppet?” well enough to sing the whole song. You did “get it.” Each of you is at least as big a fan as I am, and it shows. You brought the characters I loved back, and you built a wonderful story around them. That achievement doesn't sound like much, but I know how hard it is to do. I appreciate and am grateful for the enormous amount of work you must have done to make this a reality.

I've heard rumors that the film did well enough to merit a sequel. I hope so.

I can't wait to see it.


maine character said...

Sounds like they've done just what they set out to do.

Thanks to the writers (for honoring it), the dreamers (for making it), and you (for the heartfelt review).

Ulysses said...

I LOL'd.
Thanks, Maine.