Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Vacation's Over

After losing both Jim Henson and Richard Hunt, the Muppets dropped off the radar, and stayed off until 1992 when The Muppet Christmas Carol signaled their return.  And while the movie was fun, the Muppets took somewhat of a backseat to the story, so the next few years were spent building up excitement for a true comeback of our favorite characters.  1996 was going to be the big year, featuring not only another feature film, but also the premiere of an updated version of The Muppet Show.

So what did they do during those three years in between?  They had a vacation.

Let's all go to the beach and never come back!

The first major Muppet project after Christmas Carol was also the first Muppet music album comprised of purely original material (as much as covers of songs can be considered original).  The newly formed Jim Henson Records released three new albums.  One was a collection of classic songs featured on previous television and movie soundtracks, one was a previously unreleased album featuring Henson as Rowlf covering famous Muppet tunes, and the third one was the actually new "Muppet Beach Party."

And it's.....not so great.

I kind of wish I had chosen to review the Rowlf album instead.

Last summer, a couple of the contributors of ToughPigs.com reviewed the album and their assessments ranged from "tolerable" to "terrible."  Both reviews are worth checking out, especially since I was unable to locate all of the songs for download (and unwilling to buy a $74 copy from Amazon).

The "story" of the album is that the then-current Muppet gang (Kermit, Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie, Animal, Rizzo, and Clifford) go on vacation and sing as many beach-related songs as possible.  A common complaint is that usually one Muppet will sing while another would interject with his or her commentary after every line to make it "funny" or "annoying."  Songs without much Muppet interference, such as the Rockapella version of "Papa Oom Mow Mow" fare the best.  Although one wonders why include Kermit and Clifford at all, since this is the only song not sung by Muppets.

The most egregious example of this "unnecessary Muppet dialogue" is in the final song "Wipeout" by the Surfaris which is a mostly instrumental piece.  So of course, to make it "Muppet-y," Animal just shouts "WIPEOUT!" over the music repeatedly.

Yes, that was the official music video for the song, which was the album's second single.  The first single was far less painful, though.  Steve Whitmire as Kermit performed "Kokomo" by the Beach Boys.  Regardless of your musical tastes, this song choice is probably one of the best on the album and the accompanying music video isn't half bad (especially since the album version features Piggy cooing over Kermit throughout the whole song, just to remind us she's there).

The song describes a fictional island paradise known as "Kokomo" which is supposed to be the ultimate vacation spot.  A tropical getaway where two can relax, play, and fall in love.  It is the ideal dream, what most of us wish for when we picture a perfect place on Earth.  It is fitting that Kermit would dream to visit there and that Piggy would inevitably cause stress and pain on his vacation.  Because eventually, you have to return to the real world.

Alright guys, time to stop pretending we are actually at a beach.

There's only one problem with the Muppets' "Kokomo," though.  They had already done this song four years earlier.  Except it was an original song called "Sweet Vacation."  And Jim Henson was singing it.  In fact, if you turned off the sound to both of these videos, you would have a hard time telling them apart.

You'll notice that "Sweet Vacation" features the cast of MuppetTelevison because this was actually the closing number to the "Monster Telethon" episode where the gang decides to try their hand at hosting the show and running the studio, giving Kermit a much needed vacation.  And by the end, they decide to just join him on his vacation, because it beats having to clean up the messes they made while he was gone.

Also you'll notice that this song is great.

Because, unlike the "Kokomo" video, the vacation in question isn't some impossible ideal dream.  It can apply to any relaxing moment with friends.  Just the relief that comes from taking a break is all one needs in having a good time.  This is a vacation that can occur anywhere at any time.  Plus, Piggy doesn't show up at the end to cause misery and suffering.

"Muppet Beach Party" reeks of a cash-in novelty album hoping to recapture the fun of the Muppets, but it instead falls short and reminds us of the greatness we are missing.  The songs seem hollow and without passion.  The zaniness feels forced.  The whole ordeal just feels wrong.  The fact that an entire album can be eclipsed by one song says a lot.  In a few minutes, "Sweet Vacation" gives us every thing we need and want out of a summer of Muppet recreation.

It may be short and sweet, but this vacation is endless.


  1. I remember playing this cassette tape (!) over and over and over and over as a little kid. I've never gone back and listened to any of it, but I'm sure it's as bad as you say it is. There's so few elements of my nostalgia that haven't been torn down or reevaluated, and for some reason I want to keep this one of them.

    1. And I certainly don't want to take that from you. I was only familiar with the Kokomo video growing up (since it was on a video song collection), so I was only able to judge the whole album as a product of its time. I find music ages a lot better than other forms of entertainment, since it is strongly connected to memory (just like smells). I wish I had experienced it sooner.