The Muppets

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Post by James » February 10th, 2009, 1:51 pm

More Muppet news: Surprising stories behind 20 Muppet characters

http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/wayoflif ... index.html

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Post by Ben » February 10th, 2009, 3:47 pm

Being a Henson-freak I've heard some of those stories before and know that others aren't right. Animal was based on Keith Moon, but has nothing to do with Wembley. Wembley is very close to where Henson worked at between Elstree and Devonshire Hill, and he just liked the sound of that name!

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Post by WDWLocal » November 9th, 2009, 8:58 am

I just read Ben's review of "Letters to Santa" and, IMO, I think he was pretty harsh on it and on the Muppets in general.

I understand his passion for the Muppets and where he comes from, but I just feel that he's too hard on the current Muppets and the newer performers who really do try their best to maintain the integrity of the characters and keep them alive and understand them.

Besides, this is a pretty good time to be a Muppet fan, especially with the big comeback that they've been making, gets TONS of attention and exposure in recent Disney projects and whatnot.

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Post by EricJ » November 9th, 2009, 11:37 am

WDWLocal wrote:I understand his passion for the Muppets and where he comes from, but I just feel that he's too hard on the current Muppets and the newer performers who really do try their best to maintain the integrity of the characters and keep them alive and understand them.
"Understanding them" seems to be the stumbling block for the New Guys:
Every new owner seems to remember the Show Muppets as "wisecracking", but seem to block any sense of the bumbling sweetness, optimistic oddball ambitions or naive camaraderie they had for each other...And whoever decided to put Pepe the Insult Prawn as the new Gen-Y marketable "main" character--to the point that he virtually eclipses Kermit--don't get it at ALL, in tragic proportions.

Said it before, and I'll keep saying it: The Muppets didn't die with Jim Henson...They died with head writer Jerry Juhl. :(

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Post by WDWLocal » November 9th, 2009, 5:18 pm

EricJ wrote:"Understanding them" seems to be the stumbling block for the New Guys:
Every new owner seems to remember the Show Muppets as "wisecracking", but seem to block any sense of the bumbling sweetness, optimistic oddball ambitions or naive camaraderie they had for each other...And whoever decided to put Pepe the Insult Prawn as the new Gen-Y marketable "main" character--to the point that he virtually eclipses Kermit--don't get it at ALL, in tragic proportions.

Said it before, and I'll keep saying it: The Muppets didn't die with Jim Henson...They died with head writer Jerry Juhl. :(
Sorry, but I still beg to differ.

The new people DO get it and it's obvious that they do. End of story.

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Post by WDWLocal » November 9th, 2009, 5:18 pm

Sorry, but I still beg to differ.

The new people DO get it and it's very obvious that they do. End of story.

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Post by Ben » November 10th, 2009, 8:04 am

Hey WDWLocal,

It's clear my review upset you enough to join our boards and post your opinion, for which I am sorry you feel that way, but also glad that you did bother to write back.

It absolutely <I>tore me up</I> to write what I feel is the truth about the Santa special. And as I explained countless times in the review - just to make sure I <I>wasn't</I> being "harsh" on the Muppets or the new guys - I have a great fondness and respect for what they have achieved in the devastating time after Jim's passing.

I did make a point of saying how much I thought The Muppet Christmas Carol captured the original spirit and didn't, to my recollection, have anything negative to say about the Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie or even Muppet's Wizard Of Oz, which I have seen even bigger fans than myself lambasting online.

Let me put it this way, and reiterating what I said in the review. When I said I "grew up" with the Muppets, I literally <I>grew up</I> with the Muppets. My Dad worked at ATV in the late 1970s and my sister and I went down whenever we could to watch The Muppet Show being filmed. I met Jim countless times - he and Frank Oz never failed to come over or, if busy one time, Frank had Fozzie Bear call out "Bonjour Ben!" from across the studio. I was on the "Hey A Movie" and the Dubonnet Club sets on Great Muppet Caper, visited the Happiness Hotel and watched Gonzo leap into the street to stop Beauregard's cab. Jim gave me a real Kermit, which I used to make my own Super 8mm films with, and indeed showed him back one or two. My dream at that point was to become a Muppeteer! My Dad continued on at Elstree Studios, all through The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and DreamChild as Jim's personal driver. The notes I still have from my Dad ("Back in five minutes - Jim" or "We're just down the street - Frank") are treasured possessions.

So...I knew the Muppets. And I love them dearly. When Jim died, I was so <I>relieved</I> that Steve Whitmire was able to pick up that incredibly heavy mantel and continue. Frank's dedication to keeping the tone consistent even though he had essentially moved on (oops, Little Shop was another set I visited, at Pinewood...amazing!) proved what a friendship the two men had.

I can see that the new guys are trying their best to steer The Muppets in the right direction, but there are obviously other influences too, and they're not all working for the best of the characters. Losing Frank Oz in any supervisory capacity has been a great loss, as had - whatever people might have gone around saying about him - Brian Henson and even Lisa.

The differences, for me, began to show between Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets From Space which, despite the involvement of Frank and Brian, shows a definite dumbing down from some directive or other that says "The Muppets are puppets for kids". No, they were never this, and long-time fans will know quite the opposite is true. I don't believe Jim would have ever actually labeled Gonzo as being an alien...he's always been a "whatever", and any explanation has been unneeded.

However, MFS was still a fun outing, and I thought it did still contain much of the old spirit, before you think I'm being harsh on that too. The biggest detriment to the way The Muppets have been perceived has been Kirk Thatcher's direction. I'm sure Kirk is a very nice guy - in fact he would have to be because no-one who joins the Muppets is anything but - but I just don't think he really knows how to frame the Muppets and use them effectively on screen.

In being a realist, I have to say that not everything even Jim Henson touched was perfect either, and on the flipside there are genuine times when the new Muppet guys get it <I>so</I> right it's spooky. I absolutely <I>adored</I> Muppets Tonight, for instance, and will defend that to the hilt. I'm even a <I>big</I> Pepe fan - the best and most fitting of the new characters to come along, he feels like he's somehow always been there - and he's one of the best things in the Letters To Santa special.

But the rest of it is just not very good. It's not just Eric Jacobson not getting Fozzie right, or the songs being treated to poor production values. The writing is basic, more Sesame Street than The Muppets, when there used to always be a distinction between them. If you really are a true fan, and can be objective and a realist, what I said in the review, even though I continuously mentioned it was hard for me to say and I was very sorry to write, is the cold, hard, and sad fact.

As I also said, I have great faith that The Muppets will return to glory in their 2012 new feature. I can only dream of being a part of that production, but I've got everything I have crossed that it recaptures the magic. As they have proved with Christmas Carol, Treasure Island, Muppets Tonight and many smaller TV appearances in the past few years, the new guys <I>can</I> do it...they just didn't do it this time out, which is no bad thing. Not everyone can strike one out of the park every time, as I'm sure the next one will be.

Of course, you are entitled to your opinion, but far from being "harsh", it's my genuine concern and care for the characters I grew up with, that led me to write what I did.

Again, thanks for caring too, and all the best,
Ben. :)

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Post by EricJ » November 10th, 2009, 11:21 am

However, MFS was still a fun outing, and I thought it did still contain much of the old spirit, before you think I'm being harsh on that too. The biggest detriment to the way The Muppets have been perceived has been Kirk Thatcher's direction. I'm sure Kirk is a very nice guy - in fact he would have to be because no-one who joins the Muppets is anything but - but I just don't think he really knows how to frame the Muppets and use them effectively on screen.
As fellow historied wanna-be-a-Muppeteer-someday fan (who was more at the gushy-fan end of the yardstick, but got to sneak onto the Fraggle set in Toronto one time, and chatted with Juhl at a puppetry convention) I'll appreciate that there's been a void for "nice guys", or even focused ones, directing the movies:

The first Muppet Movie had to figure out how to capture the show's rhythm, and went out of its way to get James Frawley, who knew how to wrangle silly improvisation from working with the Monkees--
Jim and Frank tried to direct the next two themselves, but Jim's direction was too thin and Frank's was too earthbound, and neither one captured the naive "dreamer" sense of the first movie.
Brian Henson knew he had to try harder with the company on his shoulders with "Christmas Carol" and "Treasure Island", and he'd at least been performing with the group in the past enough to know the basic rhythm of the humor.

But my own reason for hating MFS? Watch the "front-row" commentary on the DVD:
Yes, Whitmire's Rizzo is always funny no matter how wisecracking, and this was still at their most Pepe-centeric period...But this was the early days of DVD commentary, and Tim Hill had clearly mixed up "DVD Commentary" with "Mystery Science Theater 3000", to the point that you can literally hear Hill trying to do his best fanboy imitation of Michael J. Nelson's smug school-bully cadences. ("Huh, that was weird.")
I'm sorry, a Mike fan can't handle Kermit & Fozzie. A Joel fan, maybe, but there are just too many philosophical differences. And they showed.

(And no, I'm not still holding grudges over Hill for "causing" the breakup, or even for Alvin...
I'm just singling him out as the one egregious example of how, like "Very" and "Letters", you just can't throw the Muppets over to ANY sitcom director who's done a few CGI kids' movies or used to direct an ALF episode.) :(
The differences, for me, began to show between Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets From Space which, despite the involvement of Frank and Brian, shows a definite dumbing down from some directive or other that says "The Muppets are puppets for kids". No, they were never this, and long-time fans will know quite the opposite is true. I don't believe Jim would have ever actually labeled Gonzo as being an alien...he's always been a "whatever", and any explanation has been unneeded.
As far as "the Muppets being for kids", part of that dates back to Jim himself in the mid-80's--Back when he was becoming more interested in "Labyrinth" being the new Lucas-like shingle for the Creature Shop, was just starting to develop his Ridley Scott mania, and wasn't too involved in the character aspect of Fraggle Rock once the show had started, apart from the thematic or technical side.
Not to speak ill of someone else's old family friend; I'd compare it more to real-estate dreams luring 60's Walt Disney away from his animated movies.

The Muppet Babies merchandise machine was already in swing before "Manhattan", and you could see a general intention that that market was now going to handle all the pre-school Kermit fans, while the "new kids" went to see Dark Crystal.
It was only Labyrinth's failure (and deserved, in places, IMO) that was the wake-up call that Kermit belonged on Jim's arm, but the irreparable damage from his own attempt to "trivialize" the group away from mainstream adult appeal had already been done. :(

As far as new directors not quite getting the idea, that's also partly a grasp of what made the group "for kids" or "for adults":
What TMM, Carol and to some degree Caper got right, and Very, Manhattan and MFS got wrong, is the one basic mindset of the movies: The Show Muppets do not inhabit our universe....Human beings occasionally inhabit THEIRS. :)
The one bane of "hip" movie attempts to revise old Boomer cartoons (Bullwinkle, Scooby, Flintstones) is a slacker cynicism of putting beloved childhood characters into our own corrupt world where Optimism Must Be Punished, and watching them flounder (or at least be incongrous), har har.
If that's what's funny to you as comedy director, you have no business being anywhere within fifty miles of Kermit & Co....The Muppets by right inhabit a parallel dimension of their own similar to ours, except that where, when somebody says "Drinks are on the house", everyone really does go up on the roof. (Even "Sesame Street: Follow That Bird" got that aspect of the group right, and deserves to be included on the movie canon more than most of the later entries.)
Kermit, as understandably befuddled as he always is, must always be the center of his own domain.

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Wow! Muppets fans check this out! Muppet Bohemian Rhapsody!

Post by James » November 25th, 2009, 4:31 pm


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Post by eddievalient » November 26th, 2009, 1:05 am

I love the muppets and this is one of my favorite songs. Who ever thought the two would go together?
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