After I posted my review of Muppets Most Wanted (as a series of Bullet Points) here, I shared it on FB and it created some great conversation on how the new generation of Muppet Movies compare to our childhood love of the Muppets. Since we are all old, that basically dates back to the original movies and TV series, as well as their premier on Sesame Street.
I thought it would be fun to just post the thread here for posterity’s sake.Embed from Getty Images
Ben (Me): My Muppets Most Wanted review – as a series of bullet points: https://jobfaust.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/muppets-most-wanted-movie-review-as-a-series-of-bullet-points/
Waylon: Machete’s in it? Dang!
Amber: As far as I am concerned, there are no Muppets any longer. I have no desire to see any of these new movies.
I heard the new Kermit on The Today Show recently. That sealed it for me. The voice and personality were just wrong.
Ben: Yeah, neither of the new movies even approach the least of the old ones.
Vincent: The Muppets are certainly different than what they were but I like the fact that Disney is pushing them bigtime in the spotlight. It’s better than no Muppets and still introduces new generations to them, unlike Bugs Bunny & Woody Woodpecker who are fading away. I’ve never gotten used to Whitmire’s Kermit but he is better than he used to be. Still gotta see this movie.
Ben: Vincent, it has Tina Fey as a Gulag Warden.
Vincent: Tina Fey is cool but Janice is my girl. Fur sure. http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Janice
Ben: Janice always made me feel all weird and tingly as a child.
Jason: I’m really torn a lot of times about the “introducing a new generation” idea. Is it worth it if we lose the essence of what a given character is? Modern attempts at the reviving the Looney Tunes characters have completely missed the mark; The Muppets, not quite as bad; Abrams’ take on Star Trek… um, yeah, we won’t speak of that. I have days when I honestly think it’s best to let them die out, or become artifacts revered by a small niche of eccentric enthusiasts like old-time radio has become.
And then other days, the idea of my beloved characters fading away is immensely painful to me.
So my opinion probably wasn’t worth the pixels required to render this comment.
Amber: I’m OK with the past fading into the past, in so far as we don’t try to breathe new life into it but rather honor what went before. It’s still there if one cares to introduce their kids to it. And if you are positive enough about it, chances are they will be, too. There are certainly a lot of younger people who are obsessed with the ’80s.
That said, I also have no strong feelings about reanimating the past. C’est la vie; Que sera, sera; and all of that. I just haven’t made a connection to the new Muppets personally.
Ben: I think, still, that I prefer well intentioned use of the Muppets (which I would argue these last two movies and the online social use of the brand is), as opposed to a conscienceless cash grab, which it could have easily been. They are trying their best, but with the loss of the core creators, of course, things will by necessity start to change. It could have been much, much worse. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUGQ-Mnq3NU
Cami: I’m not sure people of our generation are entirely capable of viewing the new Muppet movies with an objective eye. I’m not.. The Muppets are near-and-dear to me for a lot of reasons–tied up in so many aspects of my childhood. I first saw the original set of movies as a kid–before I became the jaded critic I am today. Haven’t seen the new films yet but I suspect I won’t like them as well because I’ll be seeing them for the first time through adult eyes. Without kid magic and sense of wonder intact. I distinctly remember being completely wowed by Kermit riding a bicycle. “Wow! How did they get a puppet to ride a bike! That’s amazing!” That kind of thing is not likely to impress me anymore. But it’s not just that. As a kid, I thought every joke was HILARIOUS! But honestly, doesn’t every kid go into giggle fits over things adults find worthy of an eye-roll? I don’t know…the new films may very well be just as good, in different ways. But I’d need my kid brain back in order to properly judge.
Ben: Cami, we gotta get your kid brain back.
Amber: ^I don’t know. I certainly can appreciate this perspective, but as I say, I found the new Kermit flat. The old one had a tongue-in-cheek appeal that this one is missing. So while I do think there is something lost in translation as an adult, I also was put off by the change on a purely artistic level. It made it hard for me to want to check out these movies. So I do think it is possible to judge these new Muppets fairly enough as adults. I think there are certain measuring sticks that can be used objectively enough.
That said, I also think it is fair of me to say that the Star Wars prequels are execrable, but many would say I can’t judge them because I am no longer five. Who knows?
Ben: Agreed. Obviously, there isn’t the clear vision of who these characters are that there once was — where the humor was more derived from characters, now it is more derived situationly, I am okay with them capturing a little bit of the original magic, which I feel they have done, maybe not across the board, but enough to know that some of that original heart (maybe 65% of it, true) is still there and they are still recognizable as characters.
Amber: I think I will have to check them out for that bit of heart if nothing else.
Jason: I think a big reason why Kermit, in particular, seems a bit “flat” these days is because Jim Henson had a sly, almost subversive sense of humor . Everybody thinks the Muppets were just sweet — which they were — or occasional anarchic — which they also were — but they miss the subtle twinkle-in-the-eye quality that Jim brought to the proceedings. And of course Jim working with Frank Oz was one of those classic creative pairings like Fred and Ginger, Abbott and Costello, or Lennon and McCartney. And nobody, no matter how good, is ever going to recapture those qualities.
As for this notion of needing your childhood brain to appreciate The Muppets or Star Wars — sorry, I disagree. There were lots of movies and TV shows made exclusively for kids that have vanished in the mists of time. The reason these things were so big and still loom in the pop-cultural landscape is because they appealed to all ages. The Looney Tunes, too.
And that’s also something we seem to have lost these days. Some of the Pixar movies manage to appeal to both children and adults, but for the most part people no longer know how to do it.
I blame the “irony” thing that rose up in the ’90s.
Amber: That is my take on Kermit, too. And I was being facetious about Star Wars. I agree that we can judge these things perfectly well as adults.
Jason: ^Perhaps, but I’ve heard lots of others make similar comments, i.e., they’re just kid stuff… usually with a dismissive sniff, followed by a rant about Jar Jar Binks.
Amber: Oh, certainly, they have—although in my case I was referring to people who defended them for that reason. I can recall in particular an article Jimmy put up once about a man whose daughter loved Jar Jar, which got him to thinking about the fact that he might not be the audience for these movies or have the ability to judge them fairly.
I don’t happen to agree.
Cami: I do agree that the best stuff made appeals to both adults and children. I think it has to be that way for something to really stick. But I think there is a difference in the way your brain perceives the experience. For example…my mother really likes The Muppets. She saw the movies with me. She used to watch the TV show with me. We sang Muppet songs in my home. She really likes them. But she doesn’t LOVE them on a visceral level like I do. She doesn’t get all nostalgic about them. She can’t tell you the nuances of Kermit’s character. She can’t do a Miss Piggy impression (FYI, I do a KICKASS Miss Piggy impersonation–also Grover and Yoda–most of the Frank Oz characters). It’s just not the same. She likes them. But I LOVE them because they permeated the experience of my generation. I haven’t seen the new stuff, so I don’t know how much it actually suffers by comparison. If it suffers a lot, I would feel totally liberated about judging that. If it’s a more nuanced thing–I know I would always favor the old over the new. So i try to be fair about these things.
Ben: Well, what has happened is pretty simple though. The characters (Kermit especially, as a real kind of extension of Jim Henson) have gone from being extensions of the artists who created them to being characters that new artists have inherited. Without that internalization of the characters to rely on, they have just doubled down on the most obvious personality traits. That is why Punch & Judy were such clearly and simply expressed characters – they were performed widely by many artists and needed to fit the needs of multiple situations. By force these characters will change since they aren’t community sourced. Each new artist will bring some of themselves to the character. You just hope they don’t lose too much of the original character. And I think it is right that the characters continue on, I wouldn’t want to be frozen in carbonite because someone didn’t want me to ever change.
Having said all of that, I really miss my Kermit, and my Statler and Waldorf, and my Rolf the Dog, and my Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. But not my place to deny today’s kids the chance to grow up with their versions of those characters.
Cami: Hmn. It sounds like you’re describing an evolution to caricature rather than evolution of character. That does sound like something big was lost.
Ben: I think that is kinda of what it feels like to us, but I also think as the performing artists have time to live in the characters that will soften. The bigger concern is that the previous movies were mostly scripted by the performers, the recent movies haven’t been.
Jason: I think a possible factor could also be that, for a long time, the Muppets have been performers cast in a role… Kermit as Bob Cratchit, etc. And now this new generation of writers and performers is trying to figure out how to let them be “themselves” again and maybe haven’t quite gotten it yet.
Ben: This turned out to be a great thread. If it is okay with everyone, I might snag it and post it on my blog in the next week or so.
Jason: Fine by me.
Vincent: Only if you plug my movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sdb9SKZIYY
Ben: Absolutely. I love The Muppetless Movie. Almost more than Tina Fey as a Gulag Warden.
Cami: Totally fine by me!
Nicole: Haven’t seen it yet, but I definitely will. However, I love how long this thread is and how impassioned the opinions are. I think that alone says a lot about the impact of the Muppets.