Muppet Shorts: Wilkins Coffee

Well before there was a Muppet Show or even a particularly well-defined cast of characters (other than “Sam & Friends”), the Henson company started getting recognition for 10-second TV spots promoting Wilkins Coffee.  As has been pointed out, when you only have 10 seconds to get your audience’s attention, you have to get creative.  Fortunately that was Jim Henson’s speciality.

The result is a long string of amazing, amusing and just plain weird spots of two Muppets – Wilkins and Wontkins – talking about Wilkins Coffee. By “talking” I basically mean Wilkins would say how great it is, Wontkins would disagree, and somehow Wontkins would then have some great bodily harm come to him, either by Wilkins or just by an act of “God”. 😀

I don’t need to explain much more than that; once you watch a few you pretty much know what to expect. Except you don’t, because there are easily 40-50 of these or maybe more, and at least half are original ideas.  I won’t show them all here, but you can find collections on YouTube if you search. Enjoy!

The ol’ cannon gag:

Similar, but a different punchline, and Jim did the voices differently:

You would NEVER see a commercial like this today!

Merry Christmas!:

Someone’s Top 10 collection (I disagree, there are others I’d put in here):

Top 5 or 10: Jim Henson Muppet Characters (2 of 2)

Yesterday I posted my picks for numbers 10 to 6… now here are the Top 5!

5. Swedish Chef

Yorn desh born, der ritt de gitt der gue, Orn desh, dee born desh, de umn bork! bork! bork!

Yorn desh born, der ritt de gitt der gue, Orn desh, dee born desh, de umn bork! bork! bork!

What separates the Swedish Chef from the other characters who didn’t make it into the Top 5? Is it the fact that he exuberantly and gracelessly destroys things (including his ingredients) left and right while cooking?  The fact that he speaks something similar to gibberish but with a mock Swedish accent? Is it the mustache?  Actually, in my mind, it’s the fact that he has live human hands.  The rest is just gravy. Also there’s the recurring gag that if he is not being a Chef, he is inevitably running a projector. (“The Muppet Movie”, “The Muppets Take Manhattan”, and “MuppetVision 3D” all show this to be the case!)

4. Cantus the Minstrel

This is Cantus's winter wear look. (I'm not kidding, either.) He really rocks the fingerless gloves.

This is Cantus’s winter wear look. (I’m not kidding, either.) He really rocks the fingerless gloves.

What’s this!? A show with Muppets that is NOT the Muppet Show???  But yes! Many Muppets aficionados may remember Fraggle Rock, a Jim Henson Co. production from the 1980s.  Jim was heavily involved behind the scenes, but rarely performed – he was not one of the regulars, but he did have two recurring characters (not in more than a handful of episodes each, as I recall). Of the two, Convincing John and Cantus, I prefer Cantus… he’s sage, laid back, full of “implacable calm”, and also delivers sage, laid back, implacably calm verbal smackdowns whenever the Fraggles require it. 😀  In addition, his songs are usually really beautiful.

3. Ernie

What can I say about Ernie? I've always just kind of wanted to hug him.

What can I say about Ernie? I’ve always just kind of wanted to hug him.

The other not-The-Muppet-Show TV series that Jiim was really heavily involved with: Sesame Street.  AS IF I could not have Ernie in the top 3!  I knew Ernie before I knew ANY of Jim’s other Muppets (although I know I was aware enough to hear Kermit and Ernie sounded the same).  I’ve always thought of Ernie as a friend. He was like somebody I just knew liked me. He’s also, I realized as I got older, a merciless prankster and total pest to his friends (or at least, to Bert). But he gets away with it because he’s always so happy!

2. Rowlf

OK this one time I saw one of the original Rowlf puppets on a museum tour and OMG. Life. Made.

OK this one time I saw one of the original Rowlf puppets on a museum tour and OMG. Life. Made.

Rowlf the Dog is my number 1 Muppet. I love his voice, his delivery, his piano-playing, and his fluffy fur.  I also love it when he meets other dogs who can’t talk and he communicates in Dog. “Oh yeah, Woof Woof! Yeah, Bark Bark!”  Rowlf, like many of Jim’s best characters, is kind of laid-back and cool, not prone to stressing out.  Because he’s not among the higher-strung characters, he gets a lot of “reaction” lines to other characters who ARE a bit more… insane… and he plays off of them really well. But for me, Rowlf’s highest moment is still way back in “The Muppet Movie” when he befriends Kermit and Jim Henson sings a duet with himself, “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along”. 😀 

“Stay away from women… that’s my motto.”
“But I can’t.”
“Neither can I. That’s my trouble.”

Rowlf is a very “adult” character, which is not to say that he’s profane or inappropriate for kids, only that he follows an adult sensibility. And, well, he does get away with a few risqué lines here and there.  But you don’t notice because you’re just sitting there thinking, “I wish MY dog could play the piano!”

1. Kermit

I really have nothing in particular to say except Hey Look! It's Kermit The Frog!

I really have nothing in particular to say except Hey Look! It’s Kermit The Frog!

Even though Rowlf is my own personal #1, I cannot fake it. The real life truly true number 1 HAS to be Kermit.  I don’t really totally subscribe to the idea that Kermit IS (was?) Jim Henson, but regardless, he came to be the most strongly associated with Jim and there’s clearly an identification there.  Kermit was initially just another odd little puppet created for “Sam and Friends” in 1955 and over the years ended up making at least an introduction or something in nearly all of the Muppet productions up through the mid-80s.  He never appeared in “Fraggle Rock” but he interacted with the Fraggles anyway, in “A Muppet Family Christmas”.  Kermit is the “brand” Muppet, the leader, the top banana, the boss; he holds together chaos and does it with, at least, some semblance of understanding.  And what Kermit really wants is not to be rich and famous – he understands that other people want that and he’s happy to help them, but it’s not his thing. He wants to make millions of people happy, and I can’t believe that Jim Henson would’ve given that as Kermit’s motivation if it were not, at heart, what he really wanted as well.

Thanks, Kermit and Jim, for making me happy. 🙂 

Top 5… or 10?: Jim Henson Muppet Characters (1 of 2)

On the heels of my biography post about Jim Henson, I thought I’d try to do a Top 5 of his best characters!

…Only all his characters are great so it’s kind of a fail. And I have to make it a Top 10. And then I had a really hard time ranking them. So if you disagree, just remember, I struggled with this! 😉  Here is the first half, numbers 10 to 6.  Top 5 will follow tomorrow!

10. Link Hogthrob

I just noticed that his design makes him part Kirk and part Spock. :D

I just noticed that his design makes him part Kirk and part Spock. 😀

 

Link is a wonderful character, because he is attractive and masculine – I like the fact that the majority of the most stylish and attractive characters on The Muppet Show are pigs – and also self-adoring and dumb as a post.  His voice just kills me.  After rising to fame as the Captain of the Swine Trek on “Pigs In Space“, Link showed up regularly backstage and in the background of other sketches; he was also in the 2011 movie, performing a barbershop quartet rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  The other thing that amuses me most about Link is how Miss Piggy seems not to be able to stand him.  I guess it’s the battle of the egos. 😀

9. Muppet Newsman

And now, a Muppet News Flash!

And now, a Muppet News Flash!

Semi-ubiquitous, the Muppet Newsman was usually in extremely brief skits where he’d come in with breaking news and fall victim to the news as the punchline. In genuinely ridiculous ways, like “the worst blizzard in 60 years, barometers are falling sharply!” and then a bunch of barometers fall on him. Not a lot to say about a quick recurring gag, but he’s a sharp dresser, and evidently dedicated to his job. 😀

8. Mahna Mahna

What a fluffy guy!

What a fluffy guy!

So here’s a secret: as a kid, Muppets with eyes like his (or like Floyd Pepper’s) freaked me way out.  I later decided that Floyd’s eyes must have been dark glasses (which may have been wrong, but it helped me get over my fear of the character as a kid), but I still don’t know what Mahna’s are. I mean he blinks, so… not glasses?  ANYWAY! The slightly growly voice is a standard of Jim Henson’s (there’s not a huge difference between Mahna and Rowlf, for instance), but the design sets this guy apart.  That and the fact that all he ever really says is scatting. 😀  He’s just basically a big furry… music-lovin’… free spirit!  I think he might be kind of a hippie mountain man who loves jazz! Or something. 😀  It doesn’t really matter, does it?  He tried to follow the rules, but the love of music and rhythm keep leading him down into improvisation and the melodies filling his head.  What a joy!  Rules, schmules!

7. Dr. Teeth

Golden teeth and golden tones, welcome to my presence.

Golden teeth and golden tones, welcome to my presence.

Teeth is among my favourite characters ever, anywhere (but attempts to remain unbiased put him into the second half of the top 10 instead of closer to #1).  Iconoclastic and lyrical at all times, Dr. Teeth is the perfect front man for Electric Mayhem.  He’s loud, showy, and kind of a guru.  Love, man!  It’s all about love! And peace! And probably some stuff that the kids shouldn’t know about. 😀  He’s a born leader and has a pretty amazing sense of fashion. I can’t say “style” but I can say “fashion”! So what are those on the top half of his eyes: eyelids, or lenses?  It’s a pretty amazing design touch: even though his eyes don’t close per se, he always has a sort of relaxed look to him when the ‘lids’ are down. And they can be raised to give him a change of expression. I always loved the Muppets who had moveable eyelids, but Teeth’s are an extra step of cool.  Even cooler: his general look is based on Dr. John, the blues musician from New Orleans.

6. Waldorf

Waldorf is the shorter one. With the mustache.

Waldorf is the shorter one. With the mustache.

Waldorf, of course, is one of an inseparable pair so if you just hear the name “Waldorf” you could almost be like “Huh? Who dat?” And then you hear “Statler and Waldorf” and you’re like “THE OLD GUYS IN THE BALCONY!” of course.  Since Waldorf is just half of the “character”, basically, it’s hard to single him out as one of the best; but their role is one almost everyone loves.  These two guys have devoted their entire twilight years to planting themselves wherever the Muppets are performing, and heckling them mercilessly. They get no greater pleasure in life than telling the Muppets how unfunny they are. They especially love tearing Fozzie apart, possibly because Fozzie really is just not funny, and because he takes all of the comments so personally. In addition to having an entire balcony seat dedicated just to them every week on “The Muppet Show”, they have travelled to Hollywood to view (and mock) the screening of The Muppet Movie, entered and won (or lost?) a contest to attend Muppet Vision 3D, and now spend much of their days watching Muppet YouTube videos and mocking those as well. 😀  Some trivia: Statler and Waldorf were each named for famous New York hotels (Waldorf-Astoria, and Statler – later renamed Hotel Pennsylvania).

Tune in tomorrow for the top 5!

Biography: Jim Henson

I know, I haven’t been as constant with my Muppet posts as I wanted to be. It’s really tricky to stay daily! But I’ll do what I can. 🙂

I want to have, in addition to Muppet skits and reviews and such, some biographies of the people who bring the Muppets to life. Naturally this means I’d start with Jim Henson, the brains behind the entire venture!

Love.

Love.

Jim Henson was born in Mississippi in 1936, but his family relocated to Maryland when he was ten; due to this I tend to think of him as a “local boy” and this seems to fuel my unfounded sense that I know or understand him more than others. 😉

I live like 30 minutes from this and have never been to see it. I think I would cry.

I live like 30 minutes from this and have never been to see it. I think I would cry.

Following high school, Jim enrolled at the University of Maryland – where there is still a statue of him and Kermit, to this day! – where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Home Economics. I’m not joking. 🙂 However, he was working in puppetry and on television throughout his time at UMD, and even before; he and his friend, Russell Wall, began doing some shorts on a local morning show during the summer before he began college, and this eventually led to 5-minute live segments called “Sam and Friends” following the news twice a day on a local NBC affiliate.

“Sam and Friends” ran from 1955 until 1961, and is the reason that many DC natives knew Jim Henson’s name and work – particularly Kermit, who was created for this show, though not considered a frog yet – even before The Muppets grew to great fame. (I’ve heard quite a bit about “Sam and Friends” from my father.) It was also during production of this show that Jim Henson met Jane Nebel, whom he would later marry. They had five children together, and though they separated in 1986, they remained close friends and never divorced.

Jim soon (while still attending college) extended from just “Sam and Friends” to creating puppets and performances for other companies as well, including commercials for Willkins Coffee, and later, La Choy noodles.

Strange things happen to people who don't drink Willkins Coffee.

Strange things happen to people who don’t drink Willkins Coffee.

Just tell 'em the La Choy Dragon sent ya!

Just tell ’em the La Choy Dragon sent ya!

In the late 50s and early 60s, Jim met Frank Oz and Jerry Juhl and began partnering with them as well; Muppets Inc, the company he had created, spread to include Rowlf the Dog, who appeared on the Jimmy Dean Show and began to give the Henson creations a national presence, leading to appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and elsewhere.

Rowlf on Jimmy Dean:

A string quartet that is not, on the Ed Sullivan Show

A string quartet that is not, on the Ed Sullivan Show

Jim Henson always wanted to be considered an entertainer for all ages and strove not to be categorized as childrens’ entertainment in spite of his use of puppets. With that being the case, his involvement with “Sesame Street” beginning in 1969 was a little dubious at first since it would, guaranteed, tie his name directly to children’s television. However, he ended up (with others in his company) designing the Muppets used on the show, and performing many of them himself, even using Kermit, the character who would eventually be most closely associated with Jim himself.

In the last 1970s, The Muppet Show was contracted as a half-hour comedy variety show. Jim, still interested in providing adult entertainment that was appropriate for children (rather than children’s entertainment), ended up getting away with a lot of wink-wink material that apparently made it past the censors just due to their being puppets and nobody paying close attention. 🙂 The format worked and served not only to introduce numerous characters who remain famous and well-known today, but also to make Jim Henson a household name in television and, eventually, movies and other medium as The Muppets created a springboard opportunity to branch out.

First Appearance of the Swedish Chef, in 1975’s “Muppet Show: Sex and Violence” pilot

Unfortunately, and frustratingly for Jim, few of the projects that he spearheaded that did not have the core Muppets in them were as successful as The Muppet Show and its film counterparts. Efforts at fantasy films, like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, or more fantastic television shows like The Storyteller, were met with less enthuasiasm and generally relegated to cult status.

If you're over 30, you've probably seen this movie, and may have been kind of traumatized by it (like me).

If you’re over 30, you’ve probably seen this movie, and may have been kind of traumatized by it (like me).

Regardless, the strides that the Henson Company has made in puppeteering and special effects in general have been amazing. Jim Henson was known as a creative genius, always pushing the envelope and trying to keep doing new things rather than settle into a rut of sticking to what worked. Jim continued to work with the Muppets, and in 1990 was working on an agreement to have the characters and distribution rights bought by Disney; they made a 3D movie, MuppetVision 3D, which has been running in Hollywood Studios since 1989.

Sadly, the deal was not completed as the agreement grew complicated, and in the midst of negotiations Jim neglected what at first appeared to be a cold that blossomed into what was deemed walking pneumonia. On May 16, 1990, on the point of collapse, he was rushed to the hospital but pronounced dead less than 24 hours later. The business was taken over by his adult children – Lisa, Cheryl, Brian, John, and Rachel – and by Jane Henson. The deal with Disney wasn’t closed until 2004, and does not include characters created for Sesame Street or other PBS shows. The Muppets have gone on to make numerous other movies and TV specials, and Steve Whitmire took over performing Kermit (which had been arranged in advance: all Muppets typically have an “understudy” which I guess nobody ever thinks will need to be used.)

In the 24 years since Jim Henson’s death, the company has had its ups and downs, but Jim’s influence and presence can still be felt, even as recently as 2011’s “The Muppets”… Jim’s picture and voice are woven subtly throughout the film.

 

Jim Henson & some friends

Jim Henson & some friends

 

Trivia:

– In addition to the Muppets, Jim did multiple short films and animations for Sesame Street, most famously the “Song of [number]” skits. If you grew up in the right era you will remember these as the Baker skits, where every one ended with the Baker singing what he was carrying, then falling down the stairs. 😀 Jim provided the voice of the Baker, but a different actor did the falling.

– Kermit was, originally, made out of an old coat that belonged to Jim’s mother. Jim chose it because he liked the colour. (Funny part of that being that “Sam & Friends” was initially in black and white.) Kermit was not designated as a frog until shortly before he began regularly appearing on “Sesame Street”.

– Jim and Frank Oz performed Muppets on the first season of Saturday Night Live, in a bit called “Land of Gorch”. The content was not written by the Muppets Inc writers, thus apparently the Muppet performers never really felt quite like they “fit”.

Gilda Radner and a character from Land of Gorch

Gilda Radner and a character from Land of Gorch

King Ploobis from Land of Gorch

King Ploobis from Land of Gorch

– Jim enjoyed making short movies and on occasion made non-Muppet commercials, such as the Bufferin commercial he produced (“Memories”) with a musical score by Raymond Scott (known for the music he produced for old Looney Tunes cartoons).

– Jim performed over 175 Muppets in his career, including 50 on The Muppet Show alone. Many of these are “anything” Muppets used in the background.

Muppet Shorts: Beaker

Several years ago The Muppets set up a YouTube channel to put up little short videos. These are usually along the same line as the brief skits they did on The Muppet Show in years back.  While I do prefer the actual clips from The Muppet Show, some of the YouTube clips are hilarious. So I thought I’d present a few of each, focusing on certain characters at a time.  Today I’m going to start us out with Beaker.

Beaker – or as my son calls him, Meeper – is perhaps the unluckiest of Muppets and exists solely to demonstrate Bunsen Honeydew’s ridiculously dangerous inventions.  For whatever reason, Beaker more or less has faith in these inventions and shares Bunsen’s enthusiasm for them and how they will better society and the world in general – until he has to test them.  And they unfailingly turn on him. XD  Here are a few of Beaker’s best classic turns:

Fireproof Paper:

I love this one. Fireproof paper! Actually a great idea! The second one… not so much. LOL!

Edible Paperclips:

Notable for Beaker flat-out refusing at first.

Germ Enlarger:

Goes about as well as you’d expect such an idea to go…

After years and years, Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker are still churning out the “That’s a really bad idea” inventions. New Muppet Labs skits showcased their newest developments:

Carve-O-Matic:

Note the gag with the clock, which is a callback to the earlier clips 🙂

Ghost Hunt:

This one is not actually the best or the cleverest, but it’s a fun romp.

And then there was the time when Beaker decided to use the Internet to showcase his artistic side and attempted a one-man video cover of Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy”:

This, I avoided for several years, because I thought it was just obvious. It turns out it’s classic. In spite of the setup that each camera angle (six in all) is filmed separately, the classic Muppets metaphysics are involved so everything is happening at the same time and can influence each other. XD

And I’ll close out with a great moment from The Muppets in 2011: Beaker, Rowlf, Link, and Sam the Eagle perform a Barbership Quartet rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with an unwilling Jack Black as their customer:

 

Beaker was initially performed by Richard Hunt, until 1991 (last performance was in MuppetVision 3D), and since then has been performed by Steve Whitmire, who does a terrific job with him IMO.  Whitmire has a great insight into Beaker, which I always appreciate the performers having; he sees him as being an introverted lab guy, smart but socially inept, so when he’s not working he’s probably on the computer. Which is the reason for the non-Muppet Lab YouTube videos, they’re his attempt at “branching out” and they go just as well as his day job. LOL!

The other thing I like about Beaker is his appearance; I can’t remember where I read it, but basically Beaker’s bug-eyed, frowny-faced look and shock of stand-up hair come from his being the lab rat in so many experiments. He’s been electrocuted enough times that his hair is permanently upright, and his eyes and mouth are because he’s perpetually living in fear of the next disaster. 😀

Review: “The Muppets”, 2011

Back in 2011, after seeing “The Muppets” in the theatre, I wrote a review of it. So yes, this is a little over 2 years old and some of it may not still stand (I’m not going to edit anything). But I thought it would be fun to post here, because when I read over it, it’s really not bad! I had it posted only in a LiveJournal I keep locked to non-friends, and I felt it was kind of wasting away there. So to kick off my real, actual “With a purpose” Muppets content, here we go!

—-

December 13, 2011 – “It’s like a kind of torture”

I just wanted a cute, random way to quote the Muppet Show theme song.  Because I need to write a review of “The Muppets”!  I mentioned it really briefly on Facebook, a bit more in-depth on DA, but haven’t really given my full thoughts on it yet to anyone outside of my family.  So let’s make up for that. 🙂

Does it seem kind of weird to anyone else that the non-regular Muppet cast is on the foreground of this soundtrack cover? Just me?

Does it seem kind of weird to anyone else that the non-regular Muppet cast is on the foreground of this soundtrack cover? Just me?

Okay, as I mentioned in both other venues, I liked the movie.  I actually liked it a lot.  I think I like it better as a movie, that had the Muppets in it, than as an entry into Muppet moviedom.  Because having it be a Muppet movie means inevitably comparing it to the three Henson-produced Muppet films, as well as to the rest of his body of work, and in that regard it does come up lacking (for reasons I’ll get into later).  But it also has you compare it to recent, post-Henson Muppet work, and in that regard it shines.  It’s lovely because of the shininess.

I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this, you’ve seen the movie, so you don’t need a summary.  If that’s not the case, you can find a summary any other place and come back to read this afterwards.  So hi!  Let’s move on!  We’ll go over the good stuff first.

First and most of all, this movie was funny.  The past few Muppet specials and movies have been not so funny.  Like at all.  They’ve had moments that made me uncomfortable, moments that made me groan, and moments that made me kinda go “heh”.  There have been parts that I’ve liked but on the whole the product was shoddy because the characters weren’t right and the writing wasn’t tight.  The problem, I’ve felt, with recent Muppets is that they are new people who are imitating other peoples’ creations.  We’ve had close to 20 years now of Steve Whitmire imitating Kermit, so I guess that means that technically he’s no longer imitating now, but as far as I’m concerned there’s a difference between Jim Henson performing Kermit and inventing, and understanding and – in all honesty – BEING the character, and Steve Whitmire performing Kermit and having inherited him, learning to do the voice, the mannerisms, and the characteristics.  Now we’re several years into Eric Jacobsen doing half of Frank Oz’s characters and Matt Vogel (?) doing the other half… The end result has been that between new people taking over, and their not having solid writing to rely on for their performances, we basically have seen a major decline in the characterizations of the Muppets.  Which for some bizarre reason are TRULY very important for their movies, which you wouldn’t think would be the case, because the Muppet movies are piles of silliness made out of felt and sometimes, googly eyes.

Googly eyes... LIKE THESE?

Googly eyes… LIKE THESE?

But it’s true.  The Muppet movies operate largely on the strength of the characters, not on the fact that you can throw a Muppet down a flight of stairs or something and the gag will make me laugh EVERY SINGLE TIME THEY DO IT.  So – I said we were starting out with the good stuff, and despite the long preamble, here it is.

Poor Fozzie's time without the Muppets is perhaps the saddest of anyone's fall from grace ;)

Poor Fozzie’s time without the Muppets is perhaps the saddest of anyone’s fall from grace 😉

This movie wins for not only being funny but for having meaningful characterizations.  Fozzie, for instance, has never been the brightest bulb in the box but in the post-Henson performances, Fozzie somehow got relegated to Incredibly Stupid Sidekick.  It was weird and I don’t know why.  My best guess is that Frank Oz wanted a diminished role on all his characters (Piggy got pushed to the side too) but that doesn’t explain the change in characterization.  And in fact, I heard that he initially thought Fozzie’s role in the script for “Muppet Treasure Island” was pretty bad, but sort of warmed up to it during filming, so it’s obviously not Oz’s input that has had Fozzie become a dimwit.  That just somehow sorta happened.  Anyway, Jason Segel’s script knocks that out and we go back to Fozzie, loyal believer and follower of Kermit, not the brightest bulb in the box but not out-and-out stupid, and still telling some of the most godawful jokes around. 😀

The Great Gonzo, plumbing magnate.

The Great Gonzo, plumbing magnate.

Other than Kermit, Fozzie and Piggy, the rest of the original Muppet cast isn’t featured prominently but that’s really sorta OK.  Gonzo has a GREAT scene and is truly The Great Gonzo again in this – I wasn’t really enjoying the forays into deepening his character, Gonzo is supposed to be a thrillseeker with a semi-masochistic bent and he was getting a bit too heartfelt when movies and such were focusing on him. (I LOVE Dave Goelz, don’t get me wrong, but the roles he was given were not so great.)  I’m also just thrilled to death that Rowlf had screentime and a couple of lines in this – he’s been noticeably absent for years and I have a Muppet Crush on Rowlf. ❤  Anyway, Miss Piggy had some interesting characterization – there was a sympathizing of her in this film, something that is somewhat overdue but also somewhat out of place.  (That’s hard to explain.)  Basically in recent years, even more than before, the Muppets have focused on Piggy’s ego and made her the butt of a lot of jokes because of it.  She’s come across as vain for no reason, self-important and aggrandizing but not actually as talented as she thinks she is, so of course it’s funny to laugh at her.  Frank Oz actually gave her a backstory, and it’s partially a joke, but I think of it sometimes when I think of the character as “real”, and it’s essentially that her father left early, her mother drank, and she had a lot of siblings.  She wanted to make something of herself so she dragged herself out of the mud (literally I guess, being pigs) and practiced poise and fashion, entered and won beauty contests, and climbed the ladder (such as it is) until she reached The Muppets.  And yes she has a huge ego and is spotlight-crazy, but in a way I feel like she deserves it, because it’s like she’s legitimately fought for what she has and will keep fighting for the rest of what she thinks she deserves.

And yes I know she’s a puppet. XD  But I think it’s funnier when Piggy has a certain sense of dignity and likability, and then does something so silly herself that it’s removed, then when she’s just made to look pathetic and we all laugh at her.

In The Muppets Piggy may be taken a bit too seriously, since she’s the only truly successful one of the bunch, being the plus-size fashion editor for Vogue in Paris.  She’s been wronged, somehow, by Kermit and she spends a lot of time clinging to her dignity around him and deliberately not doing the “kissy-kissy” thing and throwing herself at him.  She’s incredibly mature and powerful and yeah, egotistical and rude.  But there’s something slightly *serious* about it that feels off. Regardless, though, I love Piggy in this movie.  I love how she is the one who pulls the s*** together and gets the celebrity host when Kermit can’t.  And I love that she does it the same way she does everything, which is to say, by force.  Piggy will get what she wants, SOMEHOW, and if she has to knock heads together to do it she will do it.  We see the lengths she’ll go to in all three of the Henson movies and this is really very natural in building on that.  And she succeeds.  It goes off *perfectly*.  I love that. 😀

Miss Piggy may possibly have a record number of hairstyles in this movie. :D

Miss Piggy may possibly have a record number of hairstyles in this movie. 😀

The last note on the characterizations is that the new Muppet, Walter, is wonderful.  For a completely new and deliberately sorta bland Muppet, he’s very engaging and sympathetic.  He’s not a crazy Muppet (as most of them are) but he’s not boring.  I really felt for him and I really wanted him to be happy and join the Muppets. He carries the film very well.  I was impressed. 🙂

The rest of the good: the music is fun; the cameos are worthwhile; the movie itself is a love letter to the early, Henson years of the Muppets and Jim Henson is a phantom presence throughout.  He’s on banners on the street, he’s dead center in a shot of a “wall of celebrity photos” in Kermit’s office, and I swear that the group rendition of “Rainbow Connection” was a tribute to Jim.  They also play old clips from “The Muppet Show” that include him, even going so far as to use clips of Kermit being performed by Jim Henson, which is interesting to me – it seems strange in a sense to show clips of Kermit being performed by someone other than the person performing him in this film, given that Kermit himself is supposed to be the same guy.

So we can move on to the less good stuff, and that centers almost entirely on Kermit.  I think this is something that has to do with my age group, my respect and affection for Jim Henson, and the fact that I was 12 already when Henson died and had solidified my recognition of Kermit’s voice by that point so that when Steve Whitmire entered the scene as Kermit I could hear a HUGE difference.  If I were younger and had grown up with both of them maybe this wouldn’t bother me.  But, here’s the thing.

Well, I mean, he LOOKS fine.

Well, I mean, he LOOKS fine.

Steve Whitmire’s Kermit is not the same as Jim Henson’s and I don’t just mean the voice.  Whitmire’s Kermit is too quiet, too serious, too maudlin, and dare I say it, don’t kill me, too nice.  Kermit is a nice guy, yes.  But he has a temper; he gets frustrated; he blows his top.  He can be sarcastic and even hurtful (on The Muppet Show, at least).  There are times when he steps back and views what’s going on with a sort of dry humour, and there are times when he is clearly a little disgusted with everyone.  A lot of this is Kermit in The Muppet Show so you can say well, he was NEVER like that in the movies.  Okay, fair enough.  But he gets annoyed in The Muppet Movie, he has a full-on fight with Piggy in both “The Great Muppet Caper” (one of my favourite scenes) and “The Muppets Take Manhattan”, and he shows a full range of emotion in all three Henson films.  He’s very restrained in this one – it seems to be mainly either a kind of reticent chagrin, or he’s doing his YAAAAAYYYYY! flail on stage  which is more showmanship than anything else.

The Kermit/Piggy stuff is interesting.  Almost all unspoken and even though I’ve been a Kermit/Piggy shipper forever and ever, I’m not sure how I feel about it being taken so seriously in this film.  (See how the whole “serious” thing keeps coming back up?)  It’s never stated why they are on such shaky terms in this movie or what came between them.  They don’t quite have a fight, Kermit just tells her that she’s so melodramatic and it forces him to do things that hurt her.  She says that she bought them a house to live and raise kids in and they have a torn picture of themselves evidently on their wedding day.  I actually have a theory that she walked out on HIM for some reason but that it was due to something he said because she was so “melodramatic”.  Here’s the thing: I’d like to have seen them fight in this.  I think that would’ve been more “realistic” for the Muppets than the subdued and sort of heartbreaking conversation/almost-fight they had on the streets of Paris.

This is just... a strange scene.

This is just… a strange scene.

I feel like Steve Whitmire has always been at a disadvantage because his first Kermit role was as Bob Cratchitt in “Christmas Carol” and then he was Captain Smollet in “Treasure Island”.  Neither of these are actually Kermit.  It seems as if when he needed to be able to secure the character, he instead was told to impersonate the character impersonating other characters.  No wonder he’s got a limited range.  (I actually adore Steve Whitmire and when I was really young I kinda had a crush on Wembley Fraggle.  But I have never, ever, ever accepted him as Kermit.)

So in a big way the problem with the film can be summed up thusly: for all that it’s incredibly funny it’s also too serious.  There’s a serious, sad undertone to it about the passage of time, loss, and change.  Growing old and losing loved ones.  Yes, this is combatted by the Muppets’ big comeback and their choosing to remain together as a group, and yes the ending is happy, but the tone is still one of nostalgia and it’s too pervasive.  Too “days gone by”.  I don’t really, really feel as if that’s right for a Muppet movie.  And I guess that’s what makes it work somewhat less *as* a Muppet movie and somewhat better as a movie with Muppets in it.  In fact the opening sequence where the Muppets are basically guest stars to Walter and Gary’s lives growing up in Smalltown or wherever, that part was *great*.  I wouldn’t out and out say it was the best part of the movie… but it was up there.

Life's a fillet of fish! (Yes it is!)

Life’s a fillet of fish! (Yes it is!)

So there’s my really long, in-depth review of a movie that is not meant to be taken so seriously. 😀  I would see it again.  And for all that I complain about the nostalgic tone, it made me INCREDIBLY nostalgic and there were so many parts I kept talking about over and over again… I really loved seeing it.  But it also really really made me miss the original Muppets.  So I guess that’s part of why I loved seeing it, and take from that what you will.

Six Versions of the Same Song: Mahna Mahna

Mahna Mahna.

You’ve heard it. You’ve seen it. It’s the Muppets, right?

But you may NOT know that, for a nonsense song without any real lyrics, this song has a LOT of history, alternate versions, and fun covers.  I have this weird tendency to get stuck on a particular song, and start listening to covers and live versions and all kinds of things… And this is easy to do with Mahna Mahna, because there are myriad alternate versions out there. It’s awesome. 😀  If you can stomach listening to this song over and over, the way I (and my kids) can, then here are 6 different versions of Mahna Mahna for you to enjoy!

How does this relate to Disney, you may ask?  Muppets. Nuff said. 🙂

1. The One You’ve All Seen:

This is the way that nearly everyone on earth knows this song. From a 1976 episode of The Muppet Show (purportedly the very first episode, from what I have read), Mahna Mahna and the Snowths perform the weird little tune.

But guess what? That was not the first time that the Muppets had performed this number.

1a. This isn’t actually a video of Mahna Mahna so it doesn’t count, but the Ed Sullivan show first hosted the routine, before the Muppet Show was created, as far back as 1969. I can’t find a recording on YouTube, but this video below shows it briefly, right around the 47-second mark.

2. This Ed Sullivan show performance, however, was just the first appearance of the Mahna Mahna Muppet and the Snowths. It had already appeared in a little quickie sketch on Sesame Street in 1969, with a performance by a character called “Bip Bippadotta”:

This performance was Jim Henson as Bip, and Frank Oz and Loretta Long as the two girls. You’ll note that when Bip comes in, muttering “Mahna Mahna”, one of the girls says “Isn’t that the name of a song?”

Indeed it was. Unknown to most, this song was NOT written for the Muppets – like most of their famous numbers, in fact. Jim Henson had a widely varying taste in music and most of the numbers on the Muppet Show are covers of real songs, some old and some contemporary. (The best ones tend to be older, actually, like “Ukulele Lady” or “The Bird on Nellie’s Hat”. Look them up!)

3. “Mahna Mahna” is actually an Italian novelty pop song – Mah Nà Mah Nà – composed in 1968 by Piero Umiliani and a bit later, used in a film called “Sweden, Heaven & Hell”. The original, while slightly faster than the Muppet Show version, is not all that different from what we’re familiar with.

Had enough yet? No? Good, because I do have more. 🙂

4. A couple of years ago I discovered that it’s a popular internet trend to “cover” Mahna Mahna and the Snowths, and by covering, I mean doing live reenactments of the sketch. My favourite is below: it’s just weird enough to be adorable and, unlike some of the others, doesn’t involve… slightly alarming masks on the performers. 😉

5. While we’re on the subject of covers, the best one I have found is by Cake. Yeah, the “Going The Distance” rock band. Them. 🙂 Now THIS one really reinvents the sound of the song! They replace the Snowths with guitar but keep the Mahna Mahna vocals… kind of. I don’t think they literally say “mahna mahna”… it sounds more like “bada bada”. But it works. And they’re all over the place with the sound; it’s really a fun listen! 😀

5a. Now that you’ve enjoyed yourself some Cake, let me bring it back to Disney a little bit and show you the bestest best Star Wars fan video ever made, ever. Trust me, you won’t mind listening to the Cake cover twice in a row. 😀

And finally, bringing us full circle, here is NOT a cover but a sort of re-use of Mahna Mahna, WITH the Muppets, including a guest appearance by the Snowths!

6. In 2012, Cee Lo Green and the Muppets used the tune of Mahna Mahna in the chorus of Cee Lo’s Christmas song, “All I Need Is Love”, which he performed with the Muppets. It’s a GREAT second-gen (which is what I call the current Muppet cast/incarnations) music video, song, and everything! And yes, I know it’s not Christmas, but c’mon. It’s the Muppets, Cee Lo Green, and just general coolness. 😀 You really don’t need to be celebrating Christmas right at this moment to enjoy this. 🙂 (YOU GUYS. THERE IS A CEE LO GREEN MUPPET IN THIS VIDEO. COME ON.)

The Walter and Santa scene is my favourite part. XD I love Walter. He’s too adorable. (I will admit that this scene in “The Muppets” might have cemented my love for him. I dare you to watch that without laughing.)

Enjoy! 🙂