Announcement: For the month of March I am going to try to write a blog post about the Muppets every day. Will this work? I don’t know. 🙂
Reason why: “Muppets Most Wanted” is coming out this month, and today I was a guest on The Dis Life Podcast with a couple of friends talking about The Muppets, what we think of of the upcoming movie, what we thought of previous movies, and Muppets In General. Estelle at This Happy Place Blog, who has long since established her Muppet Mondays as a regular feature, is planning on a month of Muppets as well, and while thinking about that and about the fact that I felt like I could go on and on while on The Dis Life, I decided why not? I may not make it 31 days straight of blog content, but there is nothing wrong with a good batch of Muppet talk when I can make it. 🙂
I’m planning on a few Top 5s, a few clips, and maybe even some biographies of Muppet performers. I’m not going to take a direct look at THP blog until I have planned out what I want to do, because I want to make sure I don’t crib any inspiration from her. (You should always, ALWAYS check out THP for Muppet content. Always and forever.)
To start out as a general intro, I thought I would just talk about The Muppets in general and where I’m coming from with them. The Muppets and I, we go way back. 😉
I was born in the late 70s, and between Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and the various Muppet Movies I largely grew up with them. I don’t REALLY remember the first Muppet thing I saw – meaning the straight-up Muppets, not just Jim Henson creations outside of the main Muppet cast. I just sort of have always been aware of them.
By the time I got to 1990, I adored Jim Henson. I’m not entirely sure where that came from, precisely, but I was the kind of kid who found out about the behind the scenes things and held affection for the people who made them possible. Jim Henson seemed to me like the best person ever. Not only was he Kermit, and also Ernie (essentially the same voice but a very different character and one of whom I was extremely, warmly fond), he also did those great gravelly-voiced characters like Dr. Teeth and Rowlf, he sang well, and there was just such a sweetness to him. All the Muppet ideas seemed so sweet. That’s how it seemed to me.
So, I remember when he died. Not the day but the time period. I was in 7th grade at the time. I recall I read an entire New Yorker article about him. I was kind of a little bit devastated. I cried, and still cry, any time I watch a documentary about him. Jim Henson’s death would have been sad under any circumstances, but what actually happened was absolutely tragic: he was just shy of 54 years old, was working nonstop, and ignored his chest cold until it became walking pneumonia. It was honestly years before I could listen to the final verse of “Rainbow Connection” without getting choked up.
Weird thing to say… but I still miss him. (It would also probably be safe to say that I’ve had a bit of a crush on him since I was about 10 or 11, but it was always a kind of hero-worship crush.)
Anyway, I have nothing but high praise for the Henson years of the Muppets. And after his death, I always felt like little by little, the Muppets lost their focus. There were a lot of scripts that didn’t really understand the humour of the genre. The movies felt a little duller, not less interesting, but just less polished. And the characters of the Muppets themselves seem to have suffered. You might not really realize it but the core Muppets, for all of their silliness and satire, are actually pretty well-rounded in their way. They have definition. It is possible to say that they are out of character or that they are not “quite right” and that happened, first with Kermit (understandably; I think that due to everyone’s respect and love for Jim, after his death, they treaded verrrry carefully with Kermit and as a result kind of canonized him), then with various Frank Oz characters – even while he was still performing them – and finally even with Gonzo and the others.
The losses after Jim have all been hard. Richard Hunt died a few years after Jim did, Jerry Nelson just passed away recently. Frank Oz, while still alive (hooray!) is pretty much retired as a Muppeteer. Out of the original performers of the core characters, only Dave Goelz is still completely active. (Have I mentioned I have developed a strong affection for Dave Goelz? When he retires I am going to cryyyyy.) I love Steve Whitmire, and he is technically among the originals – but he’s also a “second gen” performer, the first one in fact, after having taken over as Kermit.
So what we’re left with now is a group of mostly new performers playing characters I grew up with, and none of them are QUITE right… but they’re getting closer than they were for about ten years there, from the mid-90s to the mid-00s. “The Muppets” in 2011 didn’t hit all the right notes but it came closer than “Muppets In Space” had years before. The thing is, the Muppets should not make me sad. There can be poignancy and wistfulness but never real mournfulness, you know? And the 2011 movie had too much moodiness around the edges. But it was trying, with the characters. It was really trying, and it especially tried with Miss Piggy (who had been really largely overlooked lately, IMO), and it showed a lot of love for The Muppet Show.
Which, just as an aside, is a wonderful, wonderful thing. That show I mean. I got choked up during a couple of parts of the 2011 movie – like I said, I DID like it, and it’s OK to have poignancy. And I still can’t make it through a tribute to Jim Henson without crying, and he was EVERYWHERE in that film. It was kind of amazing how much they used pictures and references to evoke him. Which is as it should be. 🙂
I’m… rambling, I don’t have a lot of point to make since this is an introductory post… I just wanted to write about what the Muppets mean to me. My interest in the Muppets, like my interest in many things I hold dear, comes from a very emotional place inside me which means I can be picky about how they are portrayed and I will even, at times, overly criticize their appearances in an annoying way. 😄 But the point I want to make is that I approve of the resurgence they’ve had lately. I’m even relieved by it, glad of it. There has been not only The Muppets in ’11, but all these little video shorts they’ve made for YouTube that are terrific. Use the puppetry so well, and everything. And that makes me soooo happy, because there has been some serious misuse of the Muppets in years past… I do want the Muppets around a long time but not if they’re only shadows of themselves. I just love that they’re starting to get back on track. I hope it continues.
Anyway! Stay tuned for some blog posts that WILL have a genuine purpose to them! I promise! I just needed to get the rambling out of my system 🙂