Today, I'm looking at Jim Henson's partner-in-crime, Frank Oz. He retired in 2000 to further focus on his directorial career (which includes one of my favorite films of all-time, Little Shop of Horrors), but many of his classic Muppet characters are still with us today.
Remember, just because I placed Animal at number 6 doesn't mean he can't be your favorite Muppet. It just means that you need to get your priorities straight.
10) SkekSil, the Skeksis Chamberlain - The Dark Crystal
SkekSil is the best character in The Dark Crystal, by far. Unlike the rest of one-dimensional "good guys" and "bad guys," the permanently-smirking Chamberlain actually keeps the audience guessing with his actions after he is shunned by his own kind. While Barry Dennen supplied his voice (and his amusing grunts), it was Oz who managed to instill sympathy into this grotesque creature, making us care for his well-being and delight in his villainy.
9) The Snowths - The Muppet Show
"Mahna Mahna" only works because of these two creatures, and it helps that they only appear for reprises of "Mahna Mahna." But unlike other one-hit-wonders, we don't want to see them do anything else. It would be very strange to have them act in a scene or try to hold a conversation that wasn't "doo doo doo doo doo." Their pink, bovine-esque design makes them visually appealing, but I think their unique foam tube mouths are their best feature. What other Muppet comes close to looking like these things? They are one-of-a-...two-of-a-kind.
8) Fozzie Bear - The Muppet Show
Before starting this blog, I was not a Fozzie Bear fan. It's hard to write good comedy, but it may be even harder to write intentionally bad comedy. Most of Fozzie's schtick was *sigh* unbearable to me. But I discovered that Fozzie is more than just a bad comedian. He is a hopeless artist who is redeemed by the fact that he is a genuinely nice person, and an even greater friend. He wishes no ill-will towards anyone, yet he constantly is made to suffer. His strongest moments come when he defends his companions or makes dramatic, inspirational speeches. His jokes may fail, but he does not.
7) Yoda - Star Wars
"But wait," you cry. "Did this blog specifically address the issue that Yoda is not a Muppet?" Yes, but that was before Disney acquired the rights to Lucasfilm. So, now that they own both Star Wars and the Muppets, I don't see any reason why Yoda shouldn't be considered for this Top 10 list honor. Yoda is a great character, he's played by Frank Oz, therefore, he deserves a spot on the list. Besides, who else would I put here? Marvin Suggs?
6) Animal - The Muppet Show
Okay, Animal is a great character. So, the fact that he's only number 6 shows just how wonderful Oz's creations are. Like most Muppet monsters, Animal runs on pure id. But he's technically supposed to be human as well. If a person like Animal actually existed in real life, he'd be considered a threat to society. As a puppet, he becomes cute and endearing. I also appreciate that he's based on Celtic mythology. So THAT'S why he is a Leprechaun Brother!
5) Grover - Sesame Street
Like Fozzie, Grover only wants to do good in the world, but his literal approach to life ends up getting him in trouble with the more "mature" characters. Grover seems to represent all of those struggles that kids encounter. Those kids who get punished for doing exactly what they had been taught by their family, friends, and the media. Despite all of these burdens, Grover remains optimistic and takes the extra step to give back to society, even though society does nothing but crush him.
4) Miss Piggy - The Muppet Show
If there's one thing this blog has done, it's redeemed Miss Piggy for me. She was legitimately my least favorite Muppet, due to her grating behavior. Any Muppet production that featured her has a main component would be immediately written off as unworthy in my book. And, when her negative qualities are the focus, she can drag down many a show. Then this happened. And now I love her.
3) Cookie Monster - Sesame Street
Cookie originated as a generic monster performed by Jim Henson for his IBM commercial, and not much changed in the character when he passed hands to Oz. His enormous appetite was now more innocent and less malicious, but he was still just a thing that ate. The reason he works so well is because of the relationship he has with his performer. Despite many of the characters he plays, Oz was always the more reserved part of the Henson-Oz duo. By allowing him to just bounce of the wall for an item as trivial as a cookie, Cookie Monster allowed Oz to have pure, unrestrained fun.
2) Bert - Sesame Street
And on the other side, Bert was where Oz was the most comfortable. Playing a more extreme version of himself, Bert could play of Henson's Ernie while maintaining a sense of maturity and dignity. It's just as fun to see Bert get upset as it is to see him win. While most kids might not identify with the rigid Bert, I always appreciated his respect for the rules, because it allowed him to appreciate that in life which often would go unnoticed. He may not have gone out for flashy, noisy entertainment like his partner, but if he can find beauty in a pigeon or a paper clip, who's to say his outlook on life is wrong?
1) Sam the Eagle - The Muppet Show
As a young, young child, I loved the Muppets. But I don't know exactly how this came to be. I did not get any channel which showed The Muppet Show regularly. I guess through pop-cultural osmosis, I became aware of the main characters and eventually I ended up with two items that sealed my fate. One was The Muppet Movie on VHS and the other was this old Muppets lunchbox.
This was exactly what I needed. Something that featured all of the characters for me to study. Each side featured different pictures of the gang, and I was most intrigued by the Muppets I didn't know, because, unlike those featured on the front of the box, they didn't have prominent roles in the movie. It's strange, but thinking about it now, my favorite Muppets are each of the characters that I had to seek out and learn about. I'd ask my parents who these characters were, but it wouldn't be until years later that I'd learn the names: Link Hogthrob, Uncle Deadly, and Sam the Eagle (there's actually a fourth character featured on this box, but we'll get to him much later).
Visually, Sam was the most interesting to me. His stern glare told me he was not a character to be messed with. Was he an evil villain? Or was he just upset a lot? As I eventually learned, he was a dash of both. Sam was the anti-Muppet of the gang. A square who prevented everyone from having any fun. Even Bert could let loose once and a while. As I grew and saw Sam in more and more productions, my appreciation grew. With all of the crazy Muppets out there, the funniest one had to be the guy who tried to stop it. I've said it many times, but the Muppets are at their best when they fail. And Sam never once achieved a victory.
Except for getting the number one spot on this list.
He's earned it.