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Morning Pour: The Great “Muppets” Roundup

Morning Pour: The Great "Muppets" Roundup

“The Muppet Movie”

Morning Pour is your daily stop for quick links, news commentary and trend-spotting. Here are your discussion topics involving The Muppets for Tuesday, November 22, 2011: 

1. How is the new movie?

While I haven’t yet seen “The Muppets,” and I joke that I’m growing tired of the film’s marketing onslaught, this is a movie I’ve been dying to see for a long time. Will I be disappointed? I doubt it. I’ve tried not to be worried by the backlash from Henson’s old guard or the disappointing acknowledgment that Michael Cera is the inspiration for new Muppet Walter or the responses that claim the movie loses its steam. In spite of all that, the movie currently has a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score (this could change by opening day). Apparently even those who think it’s just an okay return veer more on the positive side. I guess stay tuned for my thoughts if I have any worth adding after this week. For now, here’s the part of the review that’s keeping me excited. Drew McWeeny of HitFix:

By the end, I think I finally have a different understanding of nostalgia and its value.  I think it’s weird that my generation wallows in their childhood, but then I look around at the world we’ve inherited, and I think back to the promise of what things would be like when we were young, and I realize that people reject the present in favor of the past because of disappointment and disillusionment.  “The Muppets” is spilling over with an optimism that is uncommon in our pop culture today, and beyond that, there is a pure joy at the act of entertaining others that reaches some place inside us that most movies or TV shows never even acknowledge.

This excerpt could probably have been included in the next topic, as well.

2. How do the classic Muppet movies hold up?

This isn’t quite the question it seems, at least as Vulture’s Margaret Lyons answers it. Primarily she does mean to look back on the previous films and see if they hold up today. But the best part of her post is in answering how the Muppets hold up so well, as in why.

Lester Bangs said we’d never agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis, but he was wrong: We’ll never agree on anything as we agree on the Muppets. They teach us to count. They teach us to share. In the world’s saddest YouTube clips imaginable, they teach us to mourn. We may outgrow the Disney characters or dinosaur books that populate our childhoods, but we don’t outgrow the Muppets in the same way. Pixar is kid entertainment adults like, but the Muppets (post-Sesame, anyway) are adult entertainment kids like. We grow into our appreciation of Jim Henson’s whimsy and decency, and the more media we consume the more clear it becomes that the Muppets are a kind of oasis. Comic-book lore gets divisive, Star Wars enthusiasm turns fans crazy. But “Mahna Mahna” lives on.

At Movies.com, critics Dave White and Grae Drake tackle the same basic question, “Why do we still love the Muppets after all these years?” The start of this discussion comes from White:

They are masters of communicating on multiple levels at once, and that takes brains.To be indirectly funny and make people of all ages fall in love with you, you have to aim for a diffuse sort of appeal, and the Muppets do this. Kids hear and see one thing. Adults see and hear another. […] In The Muppet Movie, when they meet Big Bird on the street and he tells them he’s on his way to break into public television, you laugh. And kids just go, “Big Bird!”

3. Is it a shame Elmo doesn’t appear in “The Muppets”?You may have heard that Jason Segel attempted to cast Elmo in “The Muppets” but was turned down by the “Sesame Street” star’s lawyers. Well, why should he be in this film anyway? He’s already got his own documentary out this year and anyway he is a “Sesame Street” character, not one of the Muppet gang. Of course, some of the most fun moments for kids in these movies are the “Sesame Street” cameos, such as the above-mentioned Big Bird appearance in “The Muppet Movie.” There’s Oscar the Grouch in “The Great Muppet Caper” and the whole bunch — Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Count, etc. — at the wedding in “The Muppets Take Manhattan.” With Elmo the most popular character of all Muppets today, his cameo could have been special, yet at the same time I think he out of any of them would seem too big a star. It’d be worse than some of the human celebrity cameos that draw us away from the movie more than they add to it. Like Ed Koch, for example. The only missing element I wish was on board is Frank Oz.

4. Which human celebrity has had the best cameo in a Muppet movie?

Most of my favorite celebrity cameos were in “The Muppet Movie,” comedians like Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Bob Hope. I also love Peter Falk and John Cleese in “The Great Muppet Caper” and Joan Rivers and Dabney Coleman in “The Muppets Take Manhattan.” If you’re unsure of your favorite, check out Scott Weinberg’s Essential Guide to Locating Famous Humans in Muppet Movies at Movies.com. Here are a few significant ones from the guide:

Dom DeLuiseThe Muppet Movie — The first human to appear with a Muppet in a movie! He plays a goofy agent who inspires Kermit’s Hollywood dreams.

Elliott GouldThe Muppet Movie — The lovable actor plays the emcee of a small town beauty pageant where Miss Piggy makes her entrance.

Elliott Gould  The Muppets Take Manhattan — A cop walks into a diner… (Trivial note: This makes Mr. Gould the only actor to appear in two separate Muppet films.)

Weighing in on the decision making is Evan Saathoff of UGO, whose number one pick in a list of The Muppet’s Best Cameos is explained here:

Carol Kane

If you count every time she shows up in The Muppet Movie as a separate appearance, Carol Kane easily has everyone else outnumbered for most Muppet cameos. She also has some of the best.

Running gags are always great, and The Muppet Movie has a really strange one where every time someone says “Myth”, Carol Kane shows up from out of nowhere, saying “Yes?” It’s an old school kind of joke, but a good one all the same. In fact, stuff like this is why most people consider the first, weirder Muppet movie the series best by a long shot.

And Amber Taufin at Denver Westword picks Steve Martin at the top of her list of five. “His legs look fantastic in those shorts.”


5. What have we learned from the Muppets?

At Film School Rejects, Kevin Carr lists 10 Things We’ve Learned from The Muppets. He doesn’t mean the tons of education we gatherered from “Sesame Street.” More life lesson stuff like “dignity is important” and fun things like “great songs don’t have to make sense.” Here’s the top thing we’ve learned:

Follow Your Dreams
Yeah, this is a big of a no-brainer, and it’s cliche as can be, but just because something is cliche doesn’t mean that it’s not a wonderful message. The entire existence of the Muppets has been about using song, dance, comedy and general entertainment to make the world a better place. That may not be everyone’s dream, but it is a noble one. But beyond just making us happier, the Muppets inspire us to follow our own dreams, and to bring people along with us if we can…

6. Kermit the Frog has some unexpected favorite films

In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes’ Tim Ryan, Kermit the Frog (performed by Steve Whitmire) named his five favorite films. “The Wizard of Oz” makes sense, but then he names “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “The Devil’s Advocate,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Deliverance.” Huh? Plug your ears, children. On the last:

I hesitate to say Deliverance, but I must say I like the banjo, so why don’t we go with that? It was shot down in the swamp, where I’m from, and I think there’s a pig scene, too, so there you go. We’re all set.

As for Miss Piggy (performed by Eric Jacobson), she’s not modest so she picks “The Muppet Movie,” “The Great Muppet Caper,” “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” “Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Casablanca.” “It’s romantic, it’s the golden age of Hollywood. It’s where I truly belong,” she says.

7. What movies should the Muppets remake?

While The Muppets don’t remake movies, they have churned out their own versions of “The Wizard of Oz,” “A Christmas Carol” and “Treaure Island,” classic stories given a wacky spin by Kermit and friends. Well what if some more recent stories, or films, were adapted into the world of Muppets? NextMovie lists 8 Muppets Spin-Offs We Need to See, which is basically a clever collection of Photoshopped posters for movies like “Prawn of the Dead,” “Bobo with a Shotgun,” “Gonzo in 60 Seconds” and “The Pig Lebowski.” I’ve featured a tease of my favorite of them all on the right. I’m not sure of the plot now that Dr. Teeth is involved, but I’d see it in a heartbeat anyway.

8. Do the Muppets lose something of themselves when remaking stories?

A lot of people aren’t as into those Muppet movies that adapt classic stories and throw the characters in as if they were the Marx Brothers being fit into adaptations of plays they had nothing to do with. In a video essay for Indiewire’s Press Play titled “Searching for the Muppets,” Jason Bellamy addresses these films, all of them since Jim Henson’s death, among other topics.

These projects are not without their charms, but it’s hardly an accident that the most consistently entertaining character in the post-Henson years is the one who has been allowed to remain mostly himself: Gonzo. […] These post-Jim Henson Muppet adaptations stand in stark contrast to the one near the end of The Muppet Show’s third season, when the Muppets perform Robin Hood. Here, as in A Christmas Carol and Treasure Island, the Muppets step into other roles, but the crucial difference is that they never lose their own identities. Kermit, as Robin Hood, is still more of a backstage ringleader than a hero. Gonzo plays the Sheriff of Nottingham, but he only does damage only to himself. And Miss Piggy, who refuses to accept her role as Sister Tuck, proves more conniving than the Sheriff of Nottingham in an effort to get top billing, whatever it takes. 

Watch the whole two-part video essay over at Press Play.

9. Should international Muppets have co-starred in the new movie?

These days Hollywood movies are all about trying to appeal to the global market. So how will “The Muppets” play overseas? Thanks to a recent list at Mental_floss by Drew Toal of 9 Notable Muppets From Around the World, I wonder if Jason Segel and the rest should have cast some foreign Muppets to help with international appeal. I guess these are all “Sesame Street” equivalents and don’t necessarily fit with the “Muppets” gang, but one in particular could have been employed quite well. She seems even more like a soul mate for Gonzo than Camilla:

The Dutch Daredevil Chicken

Who better to teach kids to face their fears than a daredevil chicken? That was the thought behind Stuntkip, who first appeared on the Dutch co-production Sesamstraat in 2008. Death-defying stunts performed include Stuntkip once telling her aunt that she didn’t want a second portion after fearlessly finishing a first plate of Brussels sprouts, riding an elevator, and checking under the bed for monsters. Just more evidence that the Low Countries have a lot of grit.

10. What is the weirdest moment in Muppets history?

The Muppets were born out of the surreal-minded brain of Jim Henson, so it’s no surprise if some of their films, sketches and YouTube videos are totally bizarre. A couple years ago, Rob Bricken of Topless Robot listed the The Muppet Show’s 10 Weirdest Moments, and I think #1 still holds up. Not necessarily because of the actual sketch, which stars Spike Milligan and Lew Zealand, but because it’s a rare time that Statler and Waldorf loved something. As usual, I agree with them. Watch:

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