Friday, November 30, 2012

The Muppets, Part 5: Too Much Nostalgia!

After the glorious reprise of "The Rainbow Connection," the Muppets find that they still have a few minutes to complete their show before the midnight deadline and they still haven't quite reached the $10 million mark.  Scrambling for an act, Gary finds Walter in a dressing room, afraid to showcase his talent.  He feels that he is unworthy of joining the Muppets, but Gary gives him a heartwarming little pep-talk about how Walter belongs with the Muppets.  Inspired, Walter takes the stage to perform "The Whistling Caruso."

Because he's the only Muppet who can whistle...I guess.

The crowd goes wild and the donations pour in, bringing the total to $9,999,999 right before midnight! And then midnight comes...and the Muppets realize that they've lost.  Tex Richman takes the stage to kick everyone out of his theater, and when the Muppets try to protest, Fozzie hits the sign revealing that the Muppets actually made...$99,999.99.  So they lost by a lot.  And, that's it!  The Muppets failed!

As Kermit dejectedly leads the Muppets out of the building, he tries to save face by giving one final assessment of the situation.  Sure, the Muppets may have lost their home, but the fact that they were able to come together and pull something like this off and get as close as they did proves that it isn't the end for them.  They may have been knocked down a few pegs, but they aren't out of the game.  This is a new beginning.  They wouldn't be the Muppets if they didn't endure countless obstacles.

They may have lost the theater, but they haven't lost their essence.

And then, in a crowning moment of awesome, Kermit steps out onto the streets of LA and we see thousands of fans waiting for him. They had made a cry for attention and everyone responded! And as the Muppets greet their public, they ask Walter to join them, because with out him, none of this would be possible. The movie ends with a reprise of "Life's a Happy Song," and everyone lives happily ever after!

Well, almost... During The Film That Never Ends, many plot threads are wrapped up during the credits.  Gonzo finally releases his bowling ball, hitting Tex Richman and causing him to laugh and return the Muppet Theater.  Kermit and Piggy get back together.  And Gary proposes to Mary, resulting in the answer of "Mahna Mahna."

How else could this movie end?

As the credits roll, the various celebrity cameos join in the "Mahna Mahna" song as the Snowths dance around them. This moment is so..awkward, yet I can't help but appreciate it. I mean, if I were appearing in a Muppet movie, I'd certainly want to sing "Mahna Mahna." It comes off like watching someone else's home movies, where it was probably more fun to participate in than to watch. But who cares? They're having fun with the Muppets, let them enjoy it!

The greatest moment of Jason Segel's life.

And we have finally reached the end of this epic film!


Before diving into this final review, it is important to remember two things about this movie.  First, it is essentially a fan-film made with a Hollywood budget.  And second, there is at least 30 minutes worth of story that had to be cut out of the movie (and even then, the film is 10 minutes longer than the average Muppet movie and it certainly feels it).  In fact, I could spend this whole time discussing the deleted scenes and how they would have changed the film for the better or worse.  But you can read about all of those in the novelization, which keeps the whole story mostly intact.

 Those 8 pages of color photos change EVERYTHING!

I'll only highlight the significant edits as they pertain to the film as a whole, so you'll have to find out about the missing prison scene that was heavily featured in the trailers some other time.

The inclusion of these scenes would have doubled the amount of celebrity cameos.  Seriously.
The Bad (or at least, The Nitpicks)

1) Whose Story Is It Anyway?

It's unfair to compare this movie to the original Henson three, but for a movie that is attempting to capture the spirit of the originals, there are some differences that can't be overlooked. For example, the number of story arcs per film (as determined by the number of specific "resolution" scenes):

The Muppet Movie - 2
Kermit (and the rest of the Muppets) - Following a dream to make it in Hollywood
Doc Hopper (and Max) - Hunting down Kermit for his frog legs

The Great Muppet Caper - 3
Miss Piggy - Trying to win Kermit's heart by masquerading as Lady Holiday
Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo - Trying to solve the mystery of the jewelry thefts
Nicky Holiday - Stealing jewels and winning the heart of Miss Piggy

The Muppets Take Manhattan - 3
Kermit - Getting his musical published
Kermit - Getting amnesia
Miss Piggy - Making sure that Kermit loves and marries her (and not that attractive waitress)

The Muppets -8
Walter - Finding his heroes and his place in the world
Gary and Mary - Letting Walter go and settling down as a couple
Kermit - Saving the Muppet Theater
Miss Piggy - Repairing her relationship with Kermit
Animal - Maintaining self-control and avoiding drums
Tex Richman - Destroying the Muppet name and rediscovering laughter
Uncle Deadly - Reawakening the Muppet within
Jack Black - Reluctantly stepping in as a celebrity host

This represents the changing world of film. As an audience we want more. And the film juggles most of these subplots fairly well. But at times, I found myself wondering, "Where are they going with this? Is all of this necessary?" By having so many storylines, few have time to really grow and breathe. Due to deleted scenes, some of the stories come out of nowhere. Uncle Deadly's arc is introduced and resolved in the final third of the film, and Walter's anxiety about being part of the Muppet gang is a little unjustified. With so many characters, it's hard to give the film a strong, singular focus. Fortunately, once it decides that it's all about the Telethon, things run more smoothly.

2) Trapped in the 1980s (and the 2010s)
Okay, this movie is very funny and very entertaining, but even a year later, it shows signs of being dated. First, there is an odd focus on the Muppets being a relic of the '80s. This may have been the way it felt for Jason Segel and the other writers of the script, but the Muppets haven't necessarily gone away. And even their "classic" material has a timeless quality to them. The Muppet Movie, for example, doesn't feel dated, because the plot and humor aren't tied to 1979. But The Muppets takes an extra effort to drill this idea into our head. Rather than a general, "The Muppets have been gone for nearly three decades," there is a specific, "It was 1981 when they left and it's 2011 now." When Whoopi Goldberg walks in with Selena Gomez and the kid from Modern Family, I knew this won't age well.

It's not just the references and cameos that make this a 2011 film. The directorial style has a very "Flight of the Conchords meets Jason Segel" vibe. Which makes sense, since that's what it is, but it makes it feel less...Muppety. The humor is very "of the now." And I'm afraid that with each passing year, it could get less and less relevant.

3) An Extra Happy Ending
Had the movie just ended right after the finale, it would have been perfect. But then scenes kept happening to make sure no one was worried about the future and nothing was left ambiguous. Tex Richman needed comeuppance, I suppose, but completely changing his character with a head injury is a bit of a cheat. Also, the unnecessary ending with Kermit and Piggy's life as a couple seemed a little..odd, with Kermit upset at the paparazzi. But, as made evident by Piggy's outfit, this scene was actually supposed to be a flashback (to when Kermit learned about the sham wedding at the end of The Muppets Take Manhattan) that took place earlier in the film.
The audience is stupid.  They'll never suspect a thing!
4) You Can't Please Everyone
Let's face it. Some of our favorite Muppets were going to be overlooked in this film. With the deleted scenes left intact, complainers will see that many more of their favorites were prominently featured (at least briefly). Everyone was going to have to deal with some cuts. So, for every Uncle Deadly moment of redemption, there is a Gonzo moment that got cut. For every prominent Thog appearance, there is a missing Rizzo scene. For every Sweetums running from Mad Man Mooney's, there is an unfilmed appearance by Nicky Holiday. In some alternate universe, the perfect Muppets movie exists.

But what we got, was astounding!

The Good (nay, the Great!)

1) The Muppets are Back!
Jason Segel set out to make a Muppet movie like the good old days. No more revisions of classic literature, no more trips to space, no more *shudder*...television Christmas specials. To Segel, the Muppets are at their best when they are trying to put on a show, providing us with the third greatest gift, laughter. And he got everyone together and did it!

 When this image came out, fans rejoiced.

 Although there are a few missteps, it really feels as if we are reconnecting with old friends. It is the world's best reunion. This is also the first film that feels like The Muppet Show reimagined as a movie, with all of the attentions to detail. Sure, the puppets are rebuilt (and some, like Thog, were built to big) and some puppets have gone missing and the voice performers aren't the originals (save for the trooper Dave Golez), but it truly feels as if the Muppets have returned to inspire a whole new generation.

2) Walter isn't Awkward!
The scariest piece of news about the new Muppet film was that a new "tech-savvy" Muppet would be introduced. Ugh, were they really going to try to modernize the Muppets? Walter doesn't even look that special! He looks like a discarded Sesame Street extra.

But it was Walter's simple appearance and passion for the Muppets that made him a character to root for. He represented the audience, the people who wanted to join the Muppets when they were kids, the people who want to join the Muppets now. It was the character that made this movie work, even if his whistling talent was a little bizarre.

Stop making that face!

3) The Muppets are Failures!
A sentiment that I've returned to time and time again is the idea that the Muppets are popular because things go wrong in their lives. They struggle, they mess up, they explode, and the continue to persevere. The film continues that tradition by having the Muppets lose the theater (then it negates this brilliant move by having Richman give it back, but let's ignore that). The impluse to give the Muppets a tragic ending is inspired and in keeping with the long running motif that the Muppets are the losers. The original ending had the money counter stop at $99,999,999 like in the movie and then, through a show of good faith, Waldorf and Statler decide that Walter's routine was worth a dollar, thereby saving the Muppets.

They really do care!
While this would have been a nice character moment for the old men, I'm glad the film ultimately went in the direction that it did.  Having the Muppets not only lose, but lose terribly, is a sense of realism not usually scene in a children's film, but perfectly in mind with the Henson philosophy.

4)  The Film is Full of Love and Imagination
This is what happens when people make a film that they are passionate about.  Hollywood blockbusters have become so sterile and formulaic that the average theater-going public don't have many chances to see something that comes from the heart.  Disney, once the face of a soulless corporation, has recently stumbled into the idea that people make better films when they aren't limited by what's popular.  Pixar films are allowed great freedom in their stories, the recent Avengers movie was penned and directed by cult-icon Joss Whedon, and here, The Muppets was allowed to retain the personal element of Segel and director James Bobin.  They didn't try to make a film that would make the most money.  They made the Muppet film that they wished others would make.  And they had fun with it.

In what other context would Bret McKenzie be able to win an Oscar?  Taking him on as the lead songwriter and composer is a technically risky move.  But here is a guy who loves to entertain and had the creative liberties to write the songs he wanted to see in a Muppet movie.  And it worked!

The Muppets made this happen.

Jason Segel, like his idol Jim Henson, had a simple idea and was fortunate enough to be able to share that idea with the world. Starting with his own old homemade puppet Walter, he followed in the footsteps in a great man and took great care to keep things as magical as he remembered. The film may not be perfect, but it is genuine. No one can know how Henson would have reacted to this movie. But in my opinion, it did him and his creations justice. Here's to hoping the sequel will follow up on this great opportunity to keep the Muppets alive, and not just in name only.

Lovers, dreamers, and fanscripts.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Muppets, Part 4: The Greatest Show on Earth!

Gary returns to the motel room with a bouquet of apology roses to find Mary gone, with a note left behind asking him is he a man or is he a Muppet? Then the film becomes amazing.

"Man or Muppet" is the Oscar-winning centerpiece of the movie, at it almost feels as if the whole film were created for this moment.  Although the official music video above has interruptions from other bits of the movie, it's still a great number.  It is through this song that the distinctions between men and Muppets are drawn, and Gary decides he's "a Muppet of a man" while Walter is a "very manly Muppet," reinforcing the earlier notion that Gary is more unrealistic than Walter.

Apparently, Michael Cera ad Paul Rudd were considered for this role.  But why mess with perfection?

Gary heads back to Mary in Smalltown while the Muppet Telethon is about to kick off.  But unfortunately, there is no audience!

Why does everybody forget about Hobo Joe?

Nonetheless, they kick things off with the Muppet Show Theme, and seeing it recreated on the big screen reminds us that miracles can happen if we are Jason Segel.

Yes, some of the original puppets are missing, but that makes the whole thing feel a lot more authentic, as if the Muppets really were getting back together for a reunion and due to various circumstances, not all could attend.  For the next 15 minutes, we are treated to a truncated version of The Muppet Show and even though it is "updated" it feels like we never left.

The movie could have just been this for 2 hours.

When I first watched the movie, I was a little disappointed that Jack Black was the special guest star.  Mostly because it was so obviously telegraphed with his earlier appearance, but also because when I think of "classic Muppet Show guests," I think of comedy legends like Steve Martin, John Cleese, or Bob Hope.  Jack Black is fine, but he is not quite a legend.  Of course, they needed a modern celebrity comedian and Black can deliver on that count.  Upon rewatch, I find is presence to be more enjoyable, especially how he is used within the Muppet acts against his will.

As long as he's being tortured, he can stay.

While the show relies on some classic acts, like Fozzie's horrible comedy and Gonzo's stunt act that goes awry...

Chekhov's Bowling Ball, over here.

...the movie attempts to show us some new acts, depicting what the show would have been like had it stayed around for decades.  Case in point, two controversial song covers.  The first is Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" sung by Rowlf, Sam the Eagle, Link Hogthrob, and Beaker as a barbershop quartet.  The whole premise just doesn't work...which is why I love it.  The Muppet Show always presented us with the unexpected.  Why would the movie be any different?

Plus, you can't go wrong with the FOUR BEST MUPPETS EVER!

The second song unfortunately doesn't have that same pizazz.  Camilla and the Chickens cluck out Cee Lo Green's "Forget You," possibly because Cee Lo is a Muppet of a man himself (and he had earlier that year performed the song with some Muppety assistance).  But despite the initial "shock" value of the Muppets covering such an expletive-laden song, this doesn't really extend beyond the novelty.  Musical chickens are a staple of The Muppet Show, but this is just one of those moments that instantly dates the film.

Plus they missed out on a wonderful opportunity for the phrase "Cluck You!"

Meanwhile, more audience members are arriving to see the show, celebrity cameos are padding out the phone banks, and the donation total keeps rising and rising.  There to put a stop to things is Tex Richman who cuts the power to the theater, which is then remedied by Gary and Mary (who decide that their story is over and can help the Muppets again).

"Why'd you guys come back?"  "Plot convenience."

But most importantly, Uncle Deadly is getting his moment in the sun.  Richman attempts once more to shut down the theater for good and Deadly has a change of heart, embracing his Muppet origins and tossing Richman off the roof.  For most audience members, this was probably a "Huh? Who is that guy again?" moment, but for an Uncle Deadly fanboy like me, this was the greatest, most unexpected thing I thought I would ever see out of a modern Muppet movie.  Heck, out of ANY Muppet movie!

He's a very manly Muppet!

Back down in the theater, Kermit is preparing for his signature number, and we discover that Kermit and Piggy have been holding a candle for each other ever since the demise of their fake marriage, with each of them carrying half of their Muppets-Take-Manhattan-promotional photo.

She makes me happy.

With everything going wonderfully for once, Kermit takes the stage to perform "The Rainbow Connection."  And although it was expected and musically inferior to the pure original Henson version, I couldn't help but swell up with joy and sadness as the whole cast gathered to sing the song together.

My biggest issue with this is the fact that they decided this would be the best time to wrap-up the Animal subplot!  Why?!  Why now?!  Why not at least have Floyd's exchange with Animal happen prior to the song so that Animal could be visually struggling with the choice until the climax of the song?!

Let's just enjoy the perfect ending.

And we've reached the end!  But wait?  There's still more!  Tune in tomorrow to find out if the Muppets succeed or fail!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Muppets, Part 3: Trapped in the Past

With less than a day to prepare, the Muppets return to the Muppet Theater.  The theater is in less-than-pristine condition, although, considering the chaos that went on during The Muppet Show, it's surprisingly clean.

In fact, it's cleaner!

The Muppets and Walter's group decide to clean up the theater to a musical montage.  And, rather than sing an original song, like they would have during the first three films, they sing "We Built This City on Rock and Roll."  I assume this is to remind us of all the covers that the Muppets performed on The Muppet Show, but those songs at least parodied the originals with visual puns or frantic violence.  The montage is great, and we get to see a lot of familiar faces who didn't easily fit elsewhere in the film, but the song is an odd, bland choice.

Like Kermit's Rolodex of '80s celebrities, this sequence leaves me wanting more.

After the montage, we move through a few more plot points.  Miss Piggy arrives to help with the show and replace Miss Poogy, but she makes it clear that she is NOT there for Kermit.  This human development creates a nice internal tension for the film.  Ultimately, the main goal is to put on the show and Kermit's broken relationship with Piggy doesn't really play into that, but it's believable and treats our characters as real people behaving normally (something sorely missing from certain previous films).

And speaking of human relationships, Mary leaves Gary behind to continue working as he is oblivious to their crumbling relationship.  Checking back in with the original plot (which is now a subplot) introduces a big motif for the film, in that the humans act less realistic than the Muppets do.  Keep this in mind for some of the later scenes.

Back with the Muppets, the rehearsals are going terribly, and both Kermit and Walter are placed into positions in which they are expected to perform.  Walter is allowed to participate in the show and he racks his brain searching for a talent while Kermit learns that people expect him and Piggy to do a duet.  Unfortunately, Piggy has found a new partner in Pepe the Prawn which is a huge relief for anyone that was worried that the "new Muppets" would dominate a film devoted to the "classic Muppets."  Instead, his appearance is just a cameo.

Post-1990 Muppets in my Muppet movie?!  I'll allow it.

We now abruptly segue into what I like to call "A Flight of the Conchords Segment Disguised as a Muppet Song," when Mary and Piggy sing about the perks of being alone with "Me Party."

For those of you who aren't familiar with this film's songwriter Bret McKenzie, he is part of the comedy music duo Flight of the Conchords and their short-lived television show was comprised of songs exactly like this.  Very explicitly stating the obvious with a multitude of lyrical synonyms and fancifully wordplay, "Me Party" was the only song that really took me out of the film, thinking, "Huh, I guess they couldn't fit that into one of their episodes."

Seriously, imagine Bret or Jemaine singing this.  It makes a lot more sense!

Back to the movie, Kermit stresses over having to find a celebrity to host the show.  With less than 12 hours to go, he decides to beg Tex Richman for the theater back so that the whole situation can be avoided.  Wow, Kermit, you gave up pretty quickly, especially for you... But that means we get to visit our favorite villain again, so it evens out.

Yay, Uncle Deadly!

Tex Richman refuses to sympathize with the Muppets and justifies his actions because he is the evil villain.  Oh, and he does this via a hip-hop number that comes so far out of left field that it makes up for the fact that it's fake rap.  This moment may not connect with everyone, but it worked for me because of how far out of place it was (unlike "Me Party," which was only mildly out of place).

Perfectly imperfect.

Now, apparently, this number ("Let's Talk About Me") was twice as long and featured an operatic interlude that explained why Tex Richman hated the Muppets and why he always said "Maniacal Laugh" as opposed to actually laughing.  Apparently, during his 10th birthday, the Muppets performed at his party, but he was physically unable to laugh.  So everyone else laughed at him and he grew bitter and resentful.  Normally, I would save the discussion about alternate scenes and storylines for my final recap, but this point is so crucial to his character (and it fills in a major plot hole later in the film) that I consider it part of the movie proper.

You didn't see this scene, but you should have.

After that jaunt, Richman reveals that not only will the Muppets lose the theater, but also the Muppet name itself.  And who will become the new owners of that name?  Why the horrible Moopets of course.

And now they are joined by a fake Fozzie who is probably a reference to this.

Kermit feels that all is hopeless (man, Kermit, where's your spirit?), leaving it up to the rest of the gang to get their celebrity host to save the show.  Meanwhile, Gary nearly gets dumped by Mary for hanging out with the Muppets all day and blowing off their anniversary dinner.  IT's hard keeping track of both of these movies at once, but this is leading somewhere good, I promise.  Until then, here are the Muppets securing their new guest host.

I feel like that was a parody of something...Nope, it couldn't possibly be.

Tomorrow, we answer the age-old question, "Are you a man...or a Muppet?"

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Muppets, Part 2: It's Time to Re-Meet the Muppets

Walter, Gary, and Mary convince Kermit to try to reunite the gang in order to put on one more celebration.  Now the movie kind of takes an odd turn during this section as Walter, Gary, and Mary take a backseat to the rest of the Muppets and their story.


Yes, they occasionally pop in with a few words of encouragement, but the next 20 minutes are all about the Muppets.  Kermit first tracks down Fozzie in Reno where he is performing at a casino with a Muppet tribute band known as "The Moopets."  They catch Fozzie singing a parodic version of "The Rainbow Connection" that alerts customers to the discounts of the casino.  This song is just so sad and wrong (like, why isn't the Kermit stand-in singing the song?), that it's perfect.

There's low, and then there's Reno low.

A little aside, here.  Here comes the first issue I have with the movie.  I hate the Moopets.  Yes, they are supposed to be hated within the context of the film, but I hate the idea of the Moopets.  If they are a Muppet tribute band, why do they hate the Muppets so much?  They are just nasty and rude for no reason, especially towards Fozzie.  That would be like a Beatles tribute band constantly belittling their lead singer, Paul McCartney.  Ringo, I'd understand.  But basically they are mean just to make it easier for Fozzie to leave them.  They don't sit well with me.

Dave Grohl as Animal is great, though.

Next stop is Gonzo's Royal Flush.  Remember how he was a plumber in the first movie?  Well now he is the richest plumber in the world.  And he acts like a corporate tool now which...his hard to buy.  Having traced Gonzo's history for the last year, I've become pretty familiar with the kind of whatever Gonzo is.  And Gonzo would never sell-out, even for a second.  Fortunately, Gonzo reveals his daredevil costume at the last second and plummets off his building to join the Muppets.

There's the Gonzo we love.

He also blows up his plumbing business, to prove his priorities.  Good.

Finally, the gang picks up Animal at a mental institution where he is undergoing anger management therapy with Kristen Schaal and Jack Black.  This scene makes sense in it's premise, but it creates a weird mood for Animal to be in during the whole movie.  I'll show you the clip to explain what I mean.

As soon as the Muppets mention drumming, he clearly gets excited and wild, then has to revert back to being "in control."  This will become a recurring bit throughout the movie, even though it's clear Animal can go back to "normal" at any time.  It would have been stronger to have Animal remain completely calm and unnatural until a crucial point later in the film.  Otherwise, we just get awkward Animal fluctuations.

The rest of the Muppets are picked up via montage and we see our other issue.  Some, like the Electric Mayhem, are down on their luck, but others, like Scooter or (as we saw earlier) Gonzo are doing very well for themselves.  Some of them could even be considered famous for the new roles they have found themselves in.  I thought the whole point of the movie is that the Muppets have disappeared from the public consciousness.  Clearly, that isn't the case for about half of the gang.

Even though this just furthers my point, Sam the Eagle on Totally-Not-Fox News is perfect.

Compare this to The Muppets Take Manhattan, when the group had to go their separate ways and leave Kermit in New York.  The Muppets all found menial jobs and were struggling to stay afloat.  Fozzie even went in to hibernation.  That's how they should have disappeared here, not just become rich superstars in other fields of work.

However, the one person who would be acceptable to have achieved their dream job is Miss Piggy, and lo-and-behold, she is working as an editor for Vogue Paris.  This takes us back to The Great Muppet Caper where Miss Piggy tried to get into modeling.  It seems to be a natural evolution of the character, unlike rich Gonzo.  Piggy is now highly exclusive and the Muppets have to sneak in to her office by doing...Muppetman.

Okay, this is cheesy and weird, but I'll admit that as a kid, I may have taken my Muppet plush toys and done the exact same thing while playing...

Unfortunately, Piggy refuses to rejoin the Muppets.  After her falling out with Kermit following her trick wedding at the end of The Muppets Take Manhattan (wait, so all of these movies are canon with each other now?), she had her heart broken.  She is doing well for herself in Paris and will not come back.  Finally, a plot point that make sense!

Stupidly, the gang decides to try their luck by using "Miss Poogy" from the Moopets as Piggy's replacement, and they go from television network to television network to pitch their comeback show.  I wonder how Walter, Gary, and Mary are doing... Oh well!  The Muppets finally arrive at a network called CDE after being turned down by everyone else.  They plead with network exec Rashida Jones to give them a chance, and she only reluctantly allows them a two-hour timeslot when the hit game show "Punch Teacher" is pulled at the last minute.

The Muppets are coming to television!

Tomorrow, we return to the Muppet Theater and Walter starts to find his place in the world.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Muppets, Part 1: Childhood Memories

Over a year ago, I started this blog in order to build excitement and anticipation for the new Muppet movie that would be coming to theaters soon.  It was a way to reconnect with the past before seeing what the future of the Muppets held.  When the The Muppets finally premiered, I refrained from sharing my review and analysis because I wanted to let the initial excitement and first impressions subside.  Now here it is, exactly one year later, and I can finally revisit it.  It is time to see whether or not The Muppets is worthy of the Henson name.

Ooh, nostalgia.

In the months preceding this project, it was evident that this would be a personal trip down memory lane for writer Jason Segel.  He grew up as one of the biggest Jim Henson fans, and we are going to be sharing his own relationship with the Muppets.  So, rather than start with Kermit or any of his Muppet pals, we meet two completely new characters named Walter and Gary.  Via flashbacks, we see the two brothers grow up in Smalltown, USA.

A picturesque little town that you probably grew up in.

Walter begins to notice that he is different than the other boys (mainly because he is a puppet) so when he discovers The Muppet Show, he becomes instantly attached to this group of outsiders.  He and Gary spend their free time watching the Muppets' old shows and become an inseparable duo.

Just like normal brothers in their late 20s.

On the day Gary is to leave for a trip to LA with for his anniversary with girlfriend Mary, he invites Walter along so that he can visit the world famous Muppet Studios, fulfilling his lifelong dream.  Gary assures Walter that Mary won't mind the company, and the two head out for the day, singing our opening number, "Life's a Happy Song."  Penned by Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, this self-referential "happy song" parody sets the tone for the film.

Despite not having seen the Muppets in person yet, the film definitely feels like a Muppet movie with this opening number, harkening back to The Great Muppet Caper's, "Hey, A Movie!" opening.  Gary takes a break from the song to pick up Mary, who has finished repairing a station wagon similar to the one from The Muppet Movie for her elementary school class.  This absurd bit of visual humor keeps the tone similar to the classic films.

Normal teacher stuff.

Mary shows some internal concern when Gary reminds her that Walter is joining their anniversary trip, and she has a musical soliloquy in which w learn that she hopes Gary will propose to her on this trip.  Now that we've got these three characters set up, we can get this show on the road and head to LA.

10 minutes in and still no regular Muppets in sight!

To appease Walter, the gang first visits the dilapidated Muppet Studios.  See, in the world of The Muppets, the Muppets have been out of action since 1981, when The Muppet Show ended...except they make references to post-Muppet-Show works such as The Muppets Take ManhattanMuppets Tonight and Muppets from Space, so it's pretty unclear when the Muppets supposedly disappeared.  Somewhere in that 1980s to 1990s area, the Muppets stopped working, and as a result, the Studios have become a depressing wasteland.

Hurry up!  We've only got four days to spend at the... Wod Fir?

All the attractions have been closed down, due to the lack of demand.  A melancholy Alan Arkin leads misplaced Japanese tourists on a lackluster tour of such thrills as the room where the wires and ropes are kept.

How the mighty have fallen.

Walter sneaks inside of Kermit's old office where he sees a bevy of classic objects and photos with old guest stars posing with the Muppet cast.  But Walter has little time to react when a posse of villains enters the room.  Waldorf and Statler lead oil-tycoon Tex Richman (with his henchmen Uncle Deadly and Bobo the Bear) to Kermit's Rich and Famous Contract from The Muppet Movie.  Appearently, the expiration date is almost up and unless the gang raises $10 million, the theater will be sold.  Richman claims he'll turn the studios into a Muppet museum, but he'll really begin drilling for oil as soon as he can.  Tex Richman, like Doc Hopper and Nicky Holiday, is a great Muppet antagonist, as his goal is realistic and yet absurd at the same time.

Strange how these four are the most evil Muppets they could come up with.

After an amusing few minutes of this:

Walter alerts Gary and Mary to Tex's plan.  They wind up at Kermit's house in Beverly Hills and tell him of the horrible news.  Kermit (and his servant the '80s Robot) ponders the possibility of reuniting the gang to put on one more show to raise the $10 million.  As he walks through a hallway of portraits of his old friends, he imagines them coming to life and supporting his vision, though he knows they are just "Pictures in My Head."

So far, the movie is two for two on gorgeous musical numbers.  Although the movie asks a lot of us to pretend the Muppets never performed since the 1980s, this number gets right to the emotional core of the issue and we truly believe that our protagonists haven't seen each other in a long time.

 We've got to go back, Kermit.

Tomorrow, we see what our other friends have been up to during their time off.  And maybe, just maybe, things will return to their former glory.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

He's the Baby, Gotta Love Him

Everyone loves babies!  They are adorable and precious and needy and loud and smelly and cute and innocent and destructive.  Television babies often fall into one of two categories: they are mindless props that exist to have others dote on them, or they are mini-adults with intelligence and a skewed world view.

Then there's Baby Sinclair.

Who, me?

Baby Sinclair exists in the nether region between the two types of fictional baby.  He has intelligence (at least, he can speak and reason), but he still has a solipsistic world view that drives his actions.  He doesn't give a damn about anyone else in the world or in his life.  And he thrives on it.  As a child, Baby was may favorite character because he was funny and adorable.  But now that I am older, I can see the evil tendencies that lurk behind his innocent eyes.  He is almost as bad as Cartman in his narcissism, but what do you expect?  He is just a baby after all.

Baby Sinclair was the most heavily marketed character in the series.  With his Elmo-esque voice and his violent tendencies, he became the face of the show.  Perhaps it is best to let Baby himself explain what he is all about in his hit single, "I'm the Baby (Gotta Love Me)."

That phrase is the exact reason one could consider Baby to be a malicious spirit.  He knows that he can get away with anything because he is the baby and there is no choice but to love him.  His repeated attacks on his father became his signature shtick, and although Earl tried to curry his favor with gives and affection, the baby grew ever resistant to "Not the Mama."

Earl nearly gets his wish to be rid of the little hellion in "Switched at Birth." On Baby's first birthday, it is discover that his nest was switched with that of another baby's during an earthquake at a (pointless-for-egg-laying-dinosaurs) Lamaze class.  Fearing the worst/best, the Sinclairs contact the Molehill family to meet their son and discover that the father has the exact same personality (and skin color) as Baby Sinclair.

He also has Jason Alexander's voice!

Not only that, but the Molehill's baby is quiet, reserved, non-violent, and green!

And just happened to be wearing Earl's shirt.

After a quick paternity test at "Absolute Proof Laboratories," the suspicions are confirmed that the baby's had indeed been switched.  Both fathers delight in having their new children, but the mothers having formed a bond with the babies can't bring themselves to stay apart.  Eventually it is decided that wise Solomon the Great shall decide what to do.  In reference to his biblical namesake (or was King Solomon named after him?), Solomon decrees to cut the babies in half.

Via magic act.

The fathers finally show their true colors, expressing that they've grown attached to the baby that they raised, even if they weren't their true sons.  And to wrap everything up, the tests turned out to be wrong and Baby Sinclair returns to his family to cause his father more pain.

But things get even scarier at Baby's second birthday when he enters "The Terrible Twos."  Baby was already demanding and violent to begin with, so his Terrible Two phase is exponentially worse than any other baby's.  The baby becomes so demonic that an expert exorcist... I mean, babysitter is called in to quell his hell-raising behavior.  He tries reading to him from the Good Book (a Dr. Seuss parody), pacifying him with his crucifix-shaped pacifier, and feeding him his healthy dinner of rice before dessert.

The power of rice compels you!

But even he cannot handle an amplified Baby.  Ultimately, the only solution is to trick Baby into thinking it is his third birthday and that the Terrible Twos have passed.  And the trick works because, after all, he is a baby.

But despite how scary and evil they make Baby Sinclair out to be, there is still a charm in his baby-like outlook on life.  He barely understands the stories that play out around him, but he tries to remain involved, inserting himself into the action (demanding rewards all the way).  In today's age of shows built around unpleasant, selfish, deplorable people, one need only remember that this is not a new idea. We were all babies once.