Sunday, January 30, 2011
What Made the Muppets Real?
Just a few months ago I heard word that Hollywood is making yet another Muppet movie. At first the news didn't come as any sort of surprise. The Muppets is one of those potential nostalgic gold mines that the Walt Disney Corporation has been attempting to harvest for over a decade now. Ever since the death of Jim Henson, Kermit and his friends have been nothing but pawns designed to sell merchandise. Who can honestly say that any of the post-Henson Muppet films were anything more than trite rehashes of once fresh and relevant characters in a futile attempt to sell them to current generations of kids? The Muppets are old washed out relics now. They may look and (with the exception of some minor differences between voice actors) sound the same, but their soul is missing. What made them who they are as characters is completely gone. It's really sad. I've met very few adults who care for Muppet Treasure Island or the terribly misguided Muppets from Space.
Muppets from Space... oh god. I'm getting ticked even thinking about it.
Why am I even talking about this? There was something so warm and fantastic about this cast of characters. Sure, I may have glanced over it all as a kid, but as an adult going back and revisiting the Muppets is like going back and analyzing my childhood. Beneath all of the puns and the slapstick was a real genuine sweetness. When I saw Kermit singing about the Rainbow Connection in The Muppet Movie a couple years ago on YouTube, it was one of those few scenes that actually managed to be more meaningful as I've aged. It's about wanting to reach out with your little green amphibian arms and trying to grasp the impossible. Sure, it may have been sung by a silly little green puppet with a banjo, but that somehow makes it even more poignant. It's just so simple.
So yeah, now that I'm done with that sermon, lemme just give it to you guys straight. What was so wonderful about the Muppets was merely the fact that they were treated like real beings with real psyches. They may have been zany and completely batshit insane at times, but the direction within the older Jim Henson films treated the onscreen puppets as if they were truly actors. It was a strange and humorous world where one could literally see a bear and a frog walk the street without giving it a second thought. They didn't feel like puppets, and Jim Henson had the common sense not to treat them as such.
As things moved on past the control of Henson, the Muppets started to feel more and more like a novelty. There was no concern for these characters when it came to them inhabiting stories and scenarios that were actually suited for them. Instead, they just took whatever classic piece of fiction came to mind (Treasure Island, Wizard of Oz, Christmas Carol) and forcefully crowbarred the Muppet brand into them. Not to mention... Muppets from Space... which... I'm trying very hard to forget. You can tell when something jumps the shark when you have to homage 1950's science fiction. That's typically the end for any great franchise.
Maybe it's just time for me to accept the fact that the Muppets might never come back. If this upcoming film ends up being the final nail in the coffin, I'll still have the memories. I'll always have the Rainbow Connection.
For the lovers. For the dreamers. And me.
Start at 5:20 or so. It's breaking the fourth wall (this is a screen test), but this is where the soul of the Muppets is at in my eyes. They're just being filmed here as if, you know, they're just two people in a shot. It's brilliant. Hell, it's downright genius.