Unsinkable! She Alive, Dammit! (It’s a Miracle!)

20 December, 2022 at 3:47 pm (film, muppets)

As of yesterday, it’s been 25 years since the countrywide opening of James Cameron’s Titanic, and it’s been seven months and three days since I finally watched it for the first time. We all have films that we’ve foresworn against, not because of having actually watched them, but because of the way they were sold to us. I remember my stepbrother going from hot to cold on Batman in 1989 as the hype amassed. As more and more people told him how great it had to be based on the budgets and the promotional photos and merchandizing, the more his fundamental contrarianism marshaled arguments based on similar — if not the same! — snapshotted details. As a young person who’d been swept away the achievements of Terminator 2: Judgement Day, who’d been wowed by the relentless pulp of True Lies, and who — having read and re-read Orson Scott Card’s expansion of The Abyss — hoped that one day the eventual video release of the extended director’s cut of Cameron’s full-budget vision would salvage the deus ex profunda ending, I should have been in the proverbial fifteen million-gallon tank for Cameron’s disaster romance. But I wasn’t. I found the whole existence of the exercise crass, and all the details that emerged about the manic attention to accuracy and the whirlwind glamour of the central story served only to bolster my recalcitrant position. I was the Titanic “truther” of 1997.

And why was this? At its heart, it was because in elementary school I’d read and re-read the Walter Lord’s step-by-step retelling of the sinking, A Night to Remember (a title I always think of when high school proms inevitably use that as the motto for their coming-of-age event). That slim volume — which only breaks two hundred pages by including the passenger list at the end — captured my imagination in a way that few other non-fiction books did. Despite being, notionally, a boy, I don’t have any memory of going through the traditional concrete operational period of falling in love with mechanics and statistics. While many, manymany boys process a desire for and attraction to functional and measurable aspects of reality, becoming obsessed with fire trucks or train sets, or starting to memorize baseball statistics, the closest I got to this sort of world was loving Lego and instinctively memorizing all the members of the X-Men. But, for me, that was about storytelling and characters, and the Dorling-Kindersley approach to the world — pictorial categorization of concrete phenomena — wasn’t interesting unless there was something especially aesthetic or connected to media where I’d become invested in the ‘verse.

So A Night to Remember was an interesting combination of those two worlds — a minute-by-minute accounting of events, decisions, and individuals involved in the collision, evacuation, and sinking, but told in a way that I could envision it as a narrative — but also with enough tension between the two techniques that I returned to it again and again… potentially looking for color, personality, and something beyond the blank, absurdist tragedy of the event to hang my hat on. And, weirdly, I did read and re-read — sometimes dutifully, sometimes skimming — that list of names, looking for something or someone to connect to that would make it real in a personal sense instead of in the larger, abstract sense of Having Actually Happened.

From that perspective, Titanic, as James Cameron executed it, should have been exactly what I wanted: the ability to distill it down to an emotional adventure story so that it existed both on the micro and macro scopes, historical and personal, massive and individual. But it didn’t strike me that way. Somewhere between ages ten and twenty-one, I’d embraced an adolescent ’90s nihilism that made me content with the stark, appalling meaninglessness of the true events. I suspect that this happened after the National Geographic footage of the rediscovery of the ship in its resting place, majestic in size, but otherwise smeared by decades of the uncaring sludge of Nature. Much like having hubristically declared the ship as “unsinkable”, any glory or status it might have had was now diminished beneath the weight of organic inevitability, making Titanic look like a the flagship in a cruise line designed by Antoni Gaudi.

So the decision to make a spectacle of the glory of the boat, of recreating it as exactly as possible, and lavishing Titanic‘s extraordinary budget on facsimiles to be deliberately destroyed felt weirdly tone-deaf to me. If there was anything the underwater cameras showed us, it was that glitz and glory will crumble to the inevitability of rot and ruin. So to spend so, so much money to recreate the folly, and to spend so, so much money recording its deliberate destruction felt asininely wasteful. And to do it in service of a romance between two fictional people, created deliberately to represent the simplistic Harlequin Romance transgression of attraction across classes (!!!) felt disrespectful to the people who’d actually suffered and died, and whose names I’d read over and over.

Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink Leave a Comment


22 June, 2019 at 3:31 pm (film, muppets)

PREVIOUSLY: It’s all been building to this: the beginning of it all, if you don’t count, y’know, the TV show and the talk show appearances and the general omnipresence. This was huge. And it was. Box Office Mojo doesn’t have the opening weekend numbers for The Muppet Movie, but it does list the overall gross at $65.2 million in 1979 money, which adjusts to $234 million today, kicking the revival success of The Muppets at a comparatively mere $101.8 million into a cocked hat. It was wildly successful financially, and continues to be a massive emotional touchstone for fans and families.

And what’s weird is that it doesn’t even start with the banjo. It feels like it should. The DVD does. The Blu-ray does. The Blu-Ray’s “Intermission” feature does. It’s hard to imagine that this iconic picking wasn’t something that pre-grabs an audience and transports them back to memories of this film, but was once an eight-bar intro to an unknown quantity. And its even weirder that the film takes forever to get there, with a truly extended bookend sequence, that’s incredibly slowly paced and does little that’s iconic, with two exceptions: Kermit’s dialogue to Robin (“It’s sort of approximately how it happened…” and the fact that the theatre screening seats that were designed to hide Muppeteers beneath them have now become the standard for cinemas.

Statler and Waldorf puppets at the Museum of the Moving ImageHowever, it would be remiss of me not to point out that The Muppet Movie does open with an absolute goddamn public service: it not only names Staler and Waldorf — names I can’t remember not knowing, but which seem to be largely opaque to much of the general public… a comprehensive text search of transcripts of current podcasts as well as conversations around me at the Museum of the Moving Image’s Jim Henson exhibit would reveal that hardly anyone knows that “those two old Muppets in the balcony” even have names — but also tells us which is which, something even I have trouble remembering on occasion. The film then very leisurely introduces the various personnages with a series of small in-character moments. The whole thing is very unhurried, maybe even deleteriously so. So it’s a welcome gag that Animal and the various Muppets (while displaying the worst cinema-going etiquette ever… something that they apparently were wont to continue thirty-two years later) get impatient for the film to begin and bully Kermit into starting the film without thanking everyone involved. (A joke, of course, continued in Muppet Caper‘s credits, as well — as I’ve previously mentioned — as in Bloom County in 1982.)

So it’s a full four and a half minutes before the banjo strings do their thing and our heartstrings do ours. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink Leave a Comment


15 June, 2019 at 9:44 pm (film, muppets)

PREVIOUSLY: As Fran Kubelik tells us, “Some people take, some get took — and they know they’re getting took — and there’s nothing they can do about it.” Well, Manhattan done got taken, that fool of a Took.

TITLE CARD: The Great Muppet Caper

While Manhattan is my brother’s favorite Muppet film, and while I think some of his comments and perspective helped me appreciate it as a sketch-movie, my comments about its utter lack of an earned ending do stand. And after finishing watching and reading about Muppets Take Manhattan, I was looking forward to revisiting my personal favorite of the Muppet franchise, and seeing how well it holds up and how well it might weather the scrutiny I’d been applying to the other Muppet offerings.

The disappointing news is: not well. I’ve been doing a whole bit over the course of this series where I’ve found a Group of Three, highlighting it early in the write-up, and eventually using it as the way of rating the film as a Success, a Mixed Bag, or a Basic Failure. The obvious way to do that with Caper is with Fozzie, Kermit, and Gonzo’s shipping containers. My notes say that my alternate take for ratings of this movie were going to be “A) Credit Card, B) Cash, or C) Sneak Out In The Middle Of The Night.”

Which would mean, if this film was only middling in its success, I’d have to give it a RATING between Bears, Frogs, and Gonzos of Frogs, which seems mildly insulting to Kermit. Surely a rating of Frogs should be excellent! Something that’s a mixed bag should be a rating of what is says on Gonzo’s crate, which is Whatever, but that’s the lowest rating, which this film doesn’t deserve. Or, at least, my twenty-year upholding of this film as the pinnacle of Muppet filmmaking won’t let me allow it.

Because, unfortunately, what I love about this film is the strange tone and pacing and the excellent post-modern wall-breaking, and almost all of that goes out the window in the final act, leaving us with a badly-paced, badly-assembled mess that needs more than charm to let the audience feel like their earlier generosity was justified. The deconstruction and chaos need to either pay off in a manner that shows that the clash of fiction and metafiction was purposeful, or need to build to a complete explosion of structure that just abandons structure altogether.

But, in order to show how it goes wrong, we do have to start at the start. Which is pretty wonderful.

GONZO: What a fantastic beginning!
Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink Leave a Comment

THE FELT-LINED COUNTDOWN: The Muppets Take Manhattan

8 June, 2019 at 5:55 pm (film, muppets)

PREVIOUSLY: The Muppets Take Victorian London. Those Muppets. It’s always take, take, take…

TITLE CARD: Muppets Take Manhattan

The film opens with a helicopter shot of New York City, and if you couldn’t already recognize parts of the skyline as dated, then the lack of a gyroscopic stabilizer on the camera would thorough date this footage as from the ’70s or ’80s. Immediately, the music starts with a loose series of dooting by Kermit, kind of scat singing — harkening forward to Whitmire’s excellent caroling with Tiny Robin in 1992 — but not really deviating from the melody as much as I associate with true jazz scat. Regardless, it is a pleasant introduction to the melody of “Together Again”, the song so catchy that they used it again as the closing number to Most Wanted thirty years later.

During this charming ditty, the name of the composer to the song comes up, and I have no idea who this is. “Music and Lyrics by Jeff Moss”? Who is this workaday imposter, I pre-emptively bristle. Well, allow Wikipedia to allay my immediate suspicions, as it turns out that Mr. Moss is the writer of “Rubber Duckie” and “I Love Trash”. This explains the catchiness of both the opening number and the later appearance of “I’m Gonna Always Love You”. I probably should have been able to let the music speak for itself, but it does help to know that the compositions come from the Muppet stable, as it were. It gives some faith in the proceedings to come.

That faith, unfortunately, is largely squandered in my eyes. The film has a perfectly fine notional story, with the Muppets taking their senior college revue to New York to try and get it produced on Broadway. Perfectly ordinary Rise To Fame narrative that would be pleasant… if it wasn’t basically the plot of The Muppet Movie from five years before. But that!, I hear the movie implore, was a film about a ragtag group of strangers coming together and finding each other; their success is based on the fact that they were stronger with each other! So the stakes of this movie will be that initial failure forces them to separate, and we are anxious about getting them reunited. All of this is encapsulated by the opening, which is the finalé of Kermit’s revue! So the film starts with its eventual conclusion, and it will all be full circle!

Which is a pretty great pitch. Which the film, I say again, squanders in many ways. I realize that I’m jumping straight to the end of the film, but the ending is very much what makes me stamp out of the cinema — or, now, my living room — irritated at the logical inconsistencies in the construction of this film. A film is not its ending, but the ending is the last thing a film leaves you with, and it can absolutely sour the previous hour and a half. The fact that the film doesn’t end with “Together Again” is nuts. Everything about the musical that they stage is nuts. It defies belief, it leaves me frustrated and irritated, and it makes me want to buy Muppets Take Manhattan Burger King glasses on eBay just so that I can smash them.

So let’s establish how the film violates our faith. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink Leave a Comment

THE FELT-LINED COUNTDOWN: The Muppet Christmas Carol

1 June, 2019 at 8:09 pm (film, muppets)

PREVIOUSLY: A “Muppet” movie is made where the primary character dynamic is between Tim Curry and young actor Kevin Bishop. Because it’s a Muppet movie. With Muppets.

RIZZO: I guess the human beings want to hang out together.  Huhn.

In the opening commentary for Muppet Treasure Island, director Brian Henson talked about the complexity of the opening pan, and the way it transitioned into the studio set, but that he’d opened Muppet Christmas Carol the same way. I gave him a little stick for the mild — very mild — grandiosity of the claim, as it didn’t seem to be a major stylistic flourish. However, in watching the opening here, I see why he wanted to recapture the idea, and even kick it up a notch by using a helicopter to incorporate real ocean and island footage. It works very well, in that it’s a slow, graceful pan over a model village of London rooftops, and despite being a solid two minutes in length, it’s not boring. Which is surprising, but a testament to the craftsmanship of the model.

TITLE CARD: The Muppet Christmas Carol

And maybe that’s part of what gets lost in the Treasure Island recreation. The giant pan over rocks and water should convey natural beauty, but instead captures the audience abstraction of distance. It doesn’t explode with natural splendor, it just is. In contrast, the the rooftops and chimney pots in Christmas Carol are close to the camera, and noticeable in their detail, and so even in the moments between credits, there is atmosphere and hand-built care to absorb.

The vibrant camera work continues during the opening number, “There Goes Mr. Scrooge”, which employs both interesting visual angles and inventive compositions for the Muppet interactions and framing. The song is a really good mix of the Dickensian language and front-loading the themes of the larger work, and the tune is fun and catchy. Paul Williams, notably the writer of some of stone-cold Muppet classics, brings some enjoyable playfulness to the opening. The only odd thing that struck me is that the beginning scenes do the typical thing of establishing a world in which Muppets and humans work and live alongside each other, but only the Muppets sing in the song. This becomes particularly apparent as the camera allows Caine to swish and stride through the streets, that while there are occasional other humans in shot, all non-felt people are noticeably silent.

This establishes the three pillars of the production: Michael Caine as Scrooge, the Muppets teetering between comedy and pathos, and the original content from the novel. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink Leave a Comment

THE FELT-LINED COUNTDOWN: Muppet Treasure Island

25 May, 2019 at 8:39 pm (film, muppets)

PREVIOUSLY: Gonzo can never refer to himself as a “Whatever” ever again. Except I don’t think we ever learned what his people are called… And I remain disappointed that there wasn’t an explicit reference to Koozebane anywhere in the film.

TITLE CARD: Muppet Treasure Island

The film opens with a long slow pan over physical mountains on location and seamlessly wipes to a studio lot that allows a mixture of Muppets and men to interact in song-styled backstory as narrated by Billy Connolly. There’s quite a bit going on here, according to director Brian Henson on the commentary track. He mentioned that this complicated melding of a composite helicopter pan with an on-set dolly pan was the same technique he used to open Muppet Christmas Carol, thus allowing us to infer that he feels it should be either a signature move for him as director or for Muppet movies under his watch. What’s interesting is that Henson is successful enough at the technical melding of the elements that it looks smooth and therefore feels… underwhelming? It should feel spectacular, but instead it just feels like a jumble.

While well done, it’s not showy enough to be impressive, which is a metaphor for the entire movie and perhaps the existence of the Muppets at large. We’ll return to the bicycles alluded to in this series’ intro post to see how full-body Muppets in space — like Gonzo on his tractor in Muppets in Space — are a technical achievement that becomes sufficient normal that audiences, instead of saying, “Wow, how’d they do that!”, are more likely to think, “Oof, we should not be able to see Fozzie’s legs.” Trick photography, well-constructed sets, Muppeteers stuffed into underwater tanks, and multiple stunt Muppets employed through careful cuts are all employed to take the characters from their artificial Muppet Theatre random half-height walls and place them in the Real World. And when it’s done well, it’s almost invisible. And perhaps that invisibility helps reduce the amount of craftsmanship involved.

Sweetums, Kermit, and Rita Moreno in the 'Talk Spot'Degrees of invisible craftsmanship are relative, though, when it comes to fake animals and singing foam statuary. It is acceptable to have the singing statues in the opening number look like Muppet statues, rather than have them be, say, photo-realistic stone idols that magically, seamlessly have flapping mouths. The former is part and parcel of what an audience accepts when it attends something with the Muppet trademark attached. The latter hypothetical scenario would also require realistic acting on everyone’s part, and would involved far fewer flagrant demolishing of the fourth wall.

Because the nominal stars of this film — in addition to the novel’s traditional human lead, Jim Hawkins — are Gonzo and Rizzo playing their twentieth-century selves. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink Leave a Comment


18 May, 2019 at 8:44 pm (film, muppets)

PREVIOUSLY: A beloved cast of pigs and frogs and dogs and bears and whatevers apparently wasn’t relatable enough, so a brand-new humanoid Muppet was created to save us all. What is this, Sesame Street?*

TITLE CARD: Muppets From Space

Well, not to make another entry focused primarily on music, but I feel obligated to begin by recanting my previous position that The Muppets was the first needle-drop Muppets soundtrack. Boy, was I wrong. The Muppets from Space soundtrack is a jukebox playlist that is as funky as it is dissonantly idiosyncratic. After the standard space-referenced star-field credit sequence, we arrive in a dream sequence where Gonzo is prevented from getting on the ark by F. Murray Abraham’s Noah. This is followed by the film’s opening number, a sequence of how long a wait it is to use the bathroom in the morning in the Muppets’ communal house. It’s a mildly amusing bit, gentle in its mundanity, but mystifyingly set to “Brick House” by the Commodores.

Personally, I have never been completely sure how, precisely, this song has been complimentary to its subject. Sure, “she’s mighty mighty, just lettin’ it all hang out“, but you’re still eliding the expression “she’s built like a brick shit-house”, which is a kind of sturdy, fecal association that one doesn’t necessarily associate with elegance, let alone with a sense of community. What is this song doing here with this scene? Did someone do a word search for songs associated with bathrooms and this was the only result that truly kicks it?

The Crooked Beak StoryProbably not, because the soul/funk timbre of the soundtrack continues beyond this intro. It’s a lovely, strange series of needle drops that never particularly gels with the theme or the content of the film. Despite the fact that the concept seems to have come from an initiative by director Tim Hill, I couldn’t find any connective tissue between this soundtrack and the message, lensing, or theme of the movie. The film ends with — Spoiler Alert! — Gonzo’s extraterrestrial bretheren arriving and singing a cover of “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang, but an alien funk performance does not necessarily justify an entire audio soundscape with no other connective tissue. My bemusement with the “compliment” of the lyrics aside, “Brick House” is a great song, as is the later use James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing” for Gonzo’s The Straight Story-esque journey to the television station, which also doesn’t really work but fakes it admirably.

But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink Leave a Comment


11 May, 2019 at 8:38 pm (film, muppets)

PREVIOUSLY: Three years after this, the next film picks up mere seconds after this film’s conclusion, and dueling Kermits vie for control of the troupe in a trope-filled trip across Europe.

TITLE CARD: The Muppets (2011)

Well, it’s a small thing, but the second The Muppets begins, with the above title card floating in a hazy 4:3 aspect ratio in the middle of a wide screen, this film marks itself as separate from all other Muppet films: by unadorned use of pop music. The Muppet Show was, of course, no stranger to either use of or focus on a contemporary hit or a died-in-the-wool radio classic, let alone folk songs or ballads. But while covers and musical guests filled out the television shows, the films have always seemed to eschew anything except original music. The Muppets has its fair share of original songs, but the very first impression is one of nostalgia, deliberately evoked by Paul Simon’s ’72 release “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”. For a film that’s about creating a bridge between the current generation and the previous, culminating in a demonstration that the fans of the Muppets never really went away, it’s a clear (possibly manipulative) way of evoking the past. This is undercut only by the fact that young people may not actually connect with a chipper playground tune by half of a sixties folk-duo, and not-young people, like me, may have the song already firmly and inexorably assigned in their heads to the Royal Tenenbaums montage.

About a third of the way through the film, we have a second pop needle-drop, with the accumulated Muppets rebuilding the dilapidated Muppet Studios to a montage of Starship’s “We Built This City”, a tune I still vividly associate with watching animation from Kidd Video one Saturday morning in 1985. It’s a strange choice, in that apparently it’s a song that has largely been reduced to the internet’s lazy choice for “worst song ever” (an achievement I usually still reserve for Dave Barry’s choice of “MacArthur Park”), and again therefore doesn’t seem like the likeliest of affecting bridges between the old generation and the new.

The next two homages feel more appropriate: two skits in the Muppet Telethon do a good job of capturing the kind of viral reappropriation the Muppets had excelled at in 2008 and 2009. The first is the eyebrow-raising choice of having Camilla and the chickens cover Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You” — a very strange thing to see as the title of an entry in the Muppet Wikia pages — which is fun in that since the entire song is performed in Chicken, the existence of profanity is skated over, but still feels like an edgy choice for a Disney production. Similarly, the necessity of kids having to ask their parents, “Hey, what’s a “libido”?” is handily evaded by having Beaker sing and therefore garble that particular word in the barbershop quartet cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, mee mee mee mo(Both these songs, by the way, are performed in abbreviated versions in the film’s montage of the telethon numbers, but get full, extended versions on the soundtrack. I gambled the the $1.29 each on iTunes, and it turns out I much prefer the full-length editions. “Teen Spirit” removes all of the Jack Black, thus emphasizing the barbershop quartet harmonies, and “Cluck You” enjoyably pushes its simple punchline to a full two minutes, twenty-eight seconds.)

It’s a curious blend of Muppet Show technique with Muppet Movie expectations, culminating in a cast-wide rendition of “Rainbow Connection”, perhaps the Muppets’ most famous contribution to pop culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink Leave a Comment


4 May, 2019 at 9:04 am (film, muppets)

Title card: Muppets Most Wanted

The second of the pure-Disney release Muppet films and the most recent theatrical Muppet Movie, we begin our peeling back of the Muppet onion with a great opening: the ending of the previous film. I’m not often a fan of “five minutes later” continuity (one of my main problems with The Incredibles 2), as it tends to mean that characters are plunged back into the waters of conflict after we’ve just reached some sort of catharsis and reconciliation, even if it was actually several years ago from the audience’s perspective. However, it’s hard not to be charmed by the audacity of beginning a film with fireworks and a “The End” card. (Especially as that’s the opening of my own unfinished screenplay…)

The film then charges into choppy waters. The very first scene is promising, in that it establishes that the end of the previous movie is the end of the filming of that movie, tapping into a conceit that is long rumored to be a key aspect of Muppet Movie-making: that all of the Muppet movies after The Muppet Movie are the movies that the Muppets made as part of their deal with Lew Grade. (Listen to film nerd and Muppet fan Griffin Newman speak on this as a guest on the No Excuses podcast.) The Muppet Movie is, after all, a screening of the Muppets watching “The Muppet Movie”, an “approximately how it happened” biopic of how The Muppets really got started. It’s an A Star Is Born narrative with the Muppets playing themselves, and most of the rest of the films are supposed to be films of the Muppets continuing to play the Muppets in various scenarios. The Great Muppet Caper perhaps does this metafiction best, with The Muppets Take Manhattan blurring the line the worst, but providing an explanation as to how Kermit and Piggy get married at the end of that film and yet remain romantically separated for the rest of their careers.

So this first scene starts in line with the metafictional expectations of certain Muppet fans — so far, so strong — but then immediately wrong-foots itself by launching into a backlot song-and-dance number. The song is moderately catchy but a little flat. I found the Hollywood backlot stuff confusing, as I didn’t click with the decision the grips and wardrobe people performing in a vaguely ’40s atmosphere, which serves as homage, but adds little else. The main problem is that the dancing line of the main Muppet cast is stiff, and lacks depth or interesting choreography, and the stilted Singing in the Rain antics of the humans does not make up for it, especially as the action is so obviously segregated on two planes. The film satire montage is fun, but both it and the retro heart of dance number seem to essentially misjudge the audience.

Thank goodness for the insane cut to Constantine: The World’s Most Dangerous Frog.

CONSTANTINE: The World's Most Dangerous Frog

“It’s like ’83 all over again. Out of the shadows and, ‘All right, squire?
Trust me.’ and gone before you know it. Christ, that was a laugh…”

Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 1 Comment


21 April, 2019 at 9:12 pm (clerical, film, muppets)

After the moderate success (read: I believe I still haven’t written at all about The Constant Gardener and my thoughts about Tinker, Tailor, Commissioner, Gordon are still conflicted and incomplete) of my series leading up to the release of the largely unheralded le Carré adaptation Our Kind of Traitor, I dabbled with the idea of blogging about each of the Oceans movies leading up to the release of Ocean’s Eight in 2018. The plan was to write about the Rat Pack original, the Clooney trilogy, and then Logan Lucky (aka “Ocean’s 7-11”) during the weeks leading up to number-one-with-a-Bullock release on June 8. (There was even a plan to cap it off the next week with a review of The Deep End of the Ocean full of complaints about how they totally violated the spirit of the franchise. It was going to be absurd, and may actually have stretched successfully to funny. We’ll never know.) It would have been a more manageable project with only six films, versus nine intended le Carré entries.

I have little memory of how I dropped that particular ball last year, but looking back on my calendar, it seems I watched the original Ocean’s 11, took some notes about some research I needed to do — including finding that elusive article about how the Soderbergh Eleven was picketed by men in Rat Pack cosplay, protesting that it was being remade* — and then I was overwhelmed by two twentieth reunions, supervising a TedX event, and family visiting from out of town. Real life sometimes gets in the way of even a dedicated commitment to pursuing an existence of entertainment.

So that plan was shelved, barring the slim possibility of a Bullock/Blanchett Ocean’s Nine. But then I noticed recently that we were coming up on the fiftieth anniversary of the theatrical release of The Muppet Movie on June 22, 1979. This seemed like a good opportunity to do a countdown to that event, reviewing the other theatrically-released Muppet films that spun out of that original, ahem, leap to the big screen.

What insights do I hope to gain by watching the theatrical Muppet films in reverse order? Is this a kind of return-to-basics, purity test, where I strip away all of the hullabaloo and see, progressively, what about the characters the audience wasn’t expected to take for granted? Is it a paean to primitivism, as the films in reverse chronology lose more and more special effects and trickery and revert to basic, essential puppeteering?

Maybe. Mostly, it will give me a chance to watch the newer films without comparing them to the earlier films I know best. I’ve watched The Muppet Movie easily a dozen times, and Great Muppet Caper half that. From there, my drop-off of exposure is precipitous, so much so that I haven’t ever seen the two post-Henson “storybook” adaptations. While Muppet Christmas Carol has become a staple in many of my peers’ holiday households, I’ve only ever seen the occasional clip from the film. So this will give me an opportunity to visit and revisit the films without the memory of my childhood ringing immediately in my ears, and perhaps therefore judge the films on their own merits.


May 4 — Muppets Most Wanted (2014)
May 11 — The Muppets (2011)
May 18 — Muppets From Space (1999)
May 25 — Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
June 1 — The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
June 8 — Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
June 15 — The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
June 22 — The Muppet Movie (1979)


Related Links:
+ A YouTube clip of the scene from the above screencap.
+ Review of the Kermit’s 50th Anniversary DVD edition of The Muppet Movie.
+ A pretty good Vox longread about the issues surrounding Kermit’s character, cultural footprint, and the firing of Steve Whitmire in 2017.
+ *EDIT: Hot damn, I found a paper print-out of the article from 2001 in a box, which allowed me to trace down the Salon article about protesting Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven. Yes, I am that guy who has paper copies of old articles in boxes, but it’s hard to argue with the lucky result.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »