It’s Time to Meet the Muppets

It’s time to light the lights…

When the snow started falling a this past October, I decided to stage a private rebellion by popping in my favorite Christmas movie, weeks before my Scroogey friends even started complaining about carols and decorations in the stores.  A Muppet Christmas Carol, starring Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens, Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchett, Michael Caine as Ebeneezer Scrooge, and countless Muppet vegetables and animals and monsters singing and hobbling around with the perfect balance of comedy and sentimentality only the Muppets can deliver.  I watched it twice before the power went out.

The Muppets have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  In fact the oldest possession I have is a very worn Miss Piggy doll-  the third of a series of Miss Piggy dolls that I carried around with such devotion that I believe the second one was lost to my Grandpa’s shovel when he thought it was something a farm cat had killed and dragged in the house.  Miss Piggy was my hero a decade before I could have enunciated a feminist position on a role model with a positive self-image who defends herself and her friends ferociously.  (Remember what she did to the cat-calling construction workers in The Muppets Take Manhattan?)

Muppet Show– We have Seasons 1, 2 and 3 of The Muppet Show here at the library-  a Muppet hosted variety show with special celebrity guests of just about everyone you could think of (and many you’ve probably forgotten all about.)  It is sensational, inspirational, celebrational, and most importantly, Muppetational.

I feel it’s fair to say that the Muppets helped raise many of us in my generation (I was born during Season 5 of The Muppet Show, just after The Muppet Movie came out.)  They worked hard going after their dreams, cared for each other in a world that often tried to take advantage of naive bears and frogs, and even in their success, they maintained their self-aware senses of humor and their salt-of-the-earth good characters.

Muppet Movie 1979-  This is the movie that begins with Kermit the Frog’s #1 song “The Rainbow Connection.”  He decides to take his bike and leave the swamp to become a star inHollywood.  Along the way he meets Fozzie, Miss Piggy and The Electric Mahem, and several other new Muppet friends.

In an odd way, the characters of the Muppets are almost more human than their actually human co-stars.  Perhaps it’s simply that they have been around, essentially unchanged, for forty years, making many of them some of the most recognizable faces around.  Perhaps we trust their integrity to a greater degree, having seen them back stage on the Muppet Show, arguing and working things out with special guest stars who have aged while their Muppet hosts have stayed the same.  We’ve seen them in a few flops over the years, and we’ve seen them recover.  The Muppets can even break character while telling a classic tale- something only the most famous of actors can get away with.

You’ll often find in interviews with actors and celebrities who have worked with the Muppets that the difficulty of working with the Muppets was not the same as in other movies where they may have had to work with CGI or trained animals.  Jason Segel said it was quite natural talking with Kermit, but disturbing to see him set aside, lifeless, while not working.  The Muppets are more than real to me.  This became very clear to me while watching a clip of Kermit on the Dr. Phil show.  At one point Dr. Phil’s wife leaned over and petted Kermit while he was talking.  I found this completely offensive, as Kermit is not a toy or an animal to me, but a cultural icon, on the level of Bob Dylan or Audrey Hepburn.  You don’t have to like them, but show the appropriate respect!

WIRED magazine has an article on the new Muppet movie- “The Muppets.”  I find it fitting that the first magazine with an opinion on the new movie is the technological computer magazine.   (“That’s because smart people like the Muppets.  You can quote me on that,” says Ann Marie White, director of Oliver Wolcott Library.)

From what I’ve seen in previews, “The Muppets” looks like it’s going to follow the classic Muppet Movie theme of making it in show-biz, with the Muppets playing themselves.  The sweet and lovely Amy Adams (of Enchanted) is almost certainly going to annoy Miss Piggy.  If you need to do further research, the music for the new movie was composed by Bret McKenzie of The Flight of the Conchords–  the story of two men who could be Muppets, trying to make it inNew York City.

Muppets Take Manhattan 1984  In this movie the Muppets take the show toNew York City.  Kermit meets a nice girl in a diner, (which is also where we meet Rizzo the Rat for the first time) making Miss Piggy incredibly jealous.  She is comforted by Joan Rivers with a make-over.

Muppet Christmas Carol 1992 This was Brian Henson’s (the oldest of Jim Henson’s five children) first movie after the passing of his father.  When Ebeneezer has his breakthrough after the third ghost, the Muppets follow him around the snowy streets ofLondon buying presents for the Cratchetts with bells and velvet dresses in full Victorian Christmas splendor, singing of love and the joy of giving.  These are the kind of friends who, when you do want to commit a  completely outrageous act of kindness or sing Christmas carols in October, they won’t even question the revolutionary change in character, but follow with all the support they can offer, singing along in forty-part harmony.

Muppet Treasure Island 1996- Tim Curry is brilliant as Long John Silver in this movie, made all the better by perfect Muppet casting:  Kermit the Frog as Captain Smallet, Miss Piggy as Bejamina Gunn, Gonzo and Rizzo and sidekicks for Jim Hawkins, and Statler and Waldorf sea and scene-sick on the front of the ship throughout.

Muppets From Space 1999        Wallpaper, gonzo, video

The Muppets of the 90s are the same age as the Muppets of the 70s, but they keep up with the issues of the times, and are always willing to take on new friends.  Several of the characters from the short-lived but wonderful Muppets Tonight show join the cast, including one of my new favorites, Pepe the Shrimp.

(“I am a King Prawn, okay?”)    Old and new friends join together to save Gonzo and Rizzo from scientific testing, and help Gonzo to understand that his friends love and accept him, no matter where he’s from or what he’s made of.

So at opening night this Wednesday, with my crew of three generations of Muppet fans,  it will be like watching old friends.  I do sincerely hope that The Muppets is a hit, but if it’s not, my friends the Muppets will still have their place in my heart.

Miriam Lee is the Technical Services Assistant at Oliver Wolcott Library.  According to a Facebook quiz, if she were a Muppet, she would be Miss Piggy.  Of course.

“Would you look at that-  we’re in a blog about the Muppets.”

“Well, it’s better than being stuck in a room with them!”  “Bwa haa ha ha!”

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