Hi ho, everybody! At long last, it’s the Muppet post…
What a brilliant move by Disney to open The Muppets over Thanksgiving, because I, for one, am thankful for Jim Henson. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it, but I am a Muppet diehard. I just adore their sublime blend of sweet, clever and absurd, and like many members of my generation, having grown up with the whole gang – Kermit and Miss Piggy, the Fraggles, Big Bird and Grover – I am a lifelong, unabashed fan. (Anyone else still get the warm fuzzies when the Muppets, Fraggles and Sesame Street crew come together in Muppet Family Christmas? Anyone else own that on DVD? Don’t judge me.)
The early buzz on The Muppets was encouraging, from the inspired marketing campaign to the rumored Pixar involvement in polishing the story, and I was thrilled at the prospect of a Muppet movie that really “got” the Muppets again, in the way that Jim Henson envisioned. And thankfully, it delivered. The Muppets was nostalgic – in the least grating possible sense – and full of catchy songs and “wasn’t that awesome?” recappable moments. It also firmly displayed that Muppet truth(iness) that puppets make stupid gags much funnier than they have any right to be; if you don’t crack up at the sequined headpiece-wearing chickens squawking “F*** You,” then we need to start seeing other people. (The poster child for this – and, not coincidentally, my favorite Muppet – is the Swedish Chef. He appears onscreen and I laugh; he starts talking and I’m howling. He’s never not funny.)
Short form: The movie was pure Jim Henson. I loved it.
Here’s the thing, though: in rebooting the Muppets, Disney wanted not just to engage those who grew up with them, but to introduce them to a whole new generation of fans. This was pretty evident in the cross-section of people that I saw it with: lots of twenty- and thirty-something Muppet-lovers excitedly bringing their small children, older folks with grandkids, and, in the case of two parents with extraordinarily poor decision-making skills, infants.
And the adults were enthralled, loving every minute. The kids? Kinda. I’m not sure The Muppets is enough of a “kids” movie to keep wee ones focused; too reliant on existing Muppet knowledge at times, too clever at others (not belittling the intelligence of children, but the humor can be surprisingly subtle). Not as ADD or as 3D as the G-rated movies we’re conditioned to nowadays. Take the kids in the row in front of me: the Muppets were reaching out to them, but they were too busy playing with glo-sticks and cell phones to reach back.
I’m sure that there are lots of kids who walked out of the movie with a newfound love of the Muppets. But as I watched it with this group of kids who just didn’t seem to get it – through no fault of their own, but still – I realized that, no offense to the youngins, but I wanted to see this movie with just my fellow twenty- and thirty-somethings, and our parents; those who felt like the Muppets were already ours. When “Rainbow Connection” started, I wanted to be in a theater full of people swaying and singing along, and maybe tearing up a little, together.
Maybe the best way to introduce kids to the Muppets is the way that my four-year-old nephew is growing to love them, by watching the original The Muppet Show on DVD. (And who gave that to his parents for Christmas one year? Need you ask?) Maybe those zany old skits and their modern heirs, the brilliant YouTube videos from The Muppets Studio, are the way to bring young kids into the fold – four or five minutes at a time. And in 25 years, they’ll be introducing their kids to the Muppets in some format we haven’t even dreamed of yet.
Because the Muppets are for everyone. But The Muppets? This was for us – the lovers, the dreamers.
Anyway, if any of the above gave you nostalgic pangs, see The Muppets. And as an appetizer, here’s one of the aforementioned YouTube videos – featuring the immortal Swedish Chef – for your enjoyment. Watch it with the closed captioning on; it makes the video 60% funnier.