Coming later this year: BlogalongaTrek. Starting in June, with Star Trek: The Motionless Picture, I’ll be reviewing a Star Trek film a month until the release of the twelfth in the series, next May. Given that only five of the eleven so far have been any good, and two of them are quite, quite awful, it’s sure to be an epic journey through pleasure and pain; even more so for me, as I only own the first seven on VHS. They are the last remaining videotapes I own. Join me, either by contributing here or by your own blogs, for the journey where quite a lot of people have gone before. Blogalong V: BlogalongaTrek, starting June this year.
But thanks again to all of my excellent bloggers, it’s been a fascinating journey, where we mainly learned that nostalgia isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be – unless you make a film about it. And that no-one thought Muppets From Space was any good.
The Movie Evangelist proudly welcomes its first disciple, Twinklytoes, who will be contributing reviews to give a second opinion to counter mine. We’ll either be the new Siskel and Ebert or the new Cannon and Ball, but hopefully you’ll enjoy reading someone’s opinions other than mine. First up, her review of The Muppets: it’s a different take than the one I offered, to say the least…
Well I can safely say that watching The Muppets is an experience that I shall not repeat in a hurry. The only thing unpredictable about it was the level of stupidity they achieved and the highlight was the end credits. Although even those were blighted with intolerable singing. Right from the off it was apparent that this movie could win an award for being even more irritating than High School Musical. If you haven’t seen the horror that is HSM – trust me, that’s a hard award to win.
I’m not sure what it was that irritated me so much about The Muppets movie. Maybe it was the cheesy grins, pathetic songs, terrible 60’s dance moves, obvious predictability or the fact that I wasted good money on seeing it? Who knows. What I don’t understand is how, in the name of all that is good and holy I appear to be the only one to despise this movie. The world appears to have turned into place populated by lovers of wailing puppets and cheesy, predictable story lines.
At the end of the movie (that didn’t come a moment too soon) the ‘baddie’ said ‘Stop singing!’ I have never agreed with someone so much in my life. So if you are planning on going to see this spectacular display of stupidity -take my advice. Get that hard earned cash and just throw it down the toilet, it would be much better spent that way.
The Review: Star Trek: Generations. Police Academy: Mission To Moscow. Trail Of The Pink Panther. Movie geeks will often debate the merits of sequels, prequels, interquels and lots-of-other-made-up-word-quels, but you can be sure that any film series that’s already been to the well six times has already taken quite a lot of the well water. But the Muppets have done more than that; on and off TV for over forty years, with two Sesame Street films and two TV films as well as countless other ventures which didn’t have the name Muppet in them, so you could be forgiven for thinking that the Muppets had seen their time come and go. But what if the very nostalgia for the good times gone by was what could make The Muppets great again?
Jason Segel obviously craves that nostalgia, having tried to write a puppet Dracula adaptation while a struggling actor. Much of his back catalogue has also been filled with meditations on nostalgia or reflection, as well as themes of family and relationships, and The Muppets is built around two clear aims: to evoke an emotional response from a collective fondness for the Muppets, which might burn stronger in anyone old enough to remember the TV series from the first time around, and to explore the nature of relationships and relationships and themes of loyalty and love, using both the Muppets and their human counterparts. The early stages of the film are slightly more stylised than many previous outings, but after that The Muppets settles very much into the kind of formula established in the first three Muppet movies of the Seventies and Eighties.
Those formula elements include a small central human cast, in this case Segel and Amy Adams as the romantic couple whose trip to LA kicks off proceedings, and as both have form in this area both are well suited to their roles; Chris Cooper is more of a left-field choice as the nominal baddie, but has his moments to be allowed to chew scenery. There should also be a wide variety of smaller cameos, which indeed there are, although your recognition of some and enjoyment of many will depend on how much US TV you watch. The songs range from good to excellent, Flight Of The Conchords’ Bret McKenzie adapting his usual intense wordplay style to a more traditional musical feel, although there could possibly be time for one (or two) more of them. Finally, in terms of the Muppets themselves, unlike many other supposedly great Muppet films which end up sidelining their stars, Kermit and Miss Piggy are centre stage, and although a handful of the Muppets Tonight-era Muppets get a look in at various levels, it’s the traditional Muppets that form most of the cast, so fans of everyone from Rowlf to Scooter and Animal to Bunsen and Beaker should be satisfied with the screen time for their Muppet.
What sets this apart from previous films is that the self-referential, fourth-wall breaking comedy that typified the earlier films is not only in place here to drive many of the jokes (and the Eighties Robot is a source of lots of them alone), but by referencing back to the TV series and earlier films, and the love that the charactes themselves had for those films, that sense of nostalgia sought is powerfully evoked, and there are a selection of moments spread throughout the first half of the film that could move a few of the grown-ups in the audience to tears. But the Muppets have always been about the laughs, and the last act of the film, when the telethon to save the Muppets themselves is in full swing, captures the random anarchy of the Muppets at their very best. Almost as if someone could distill pure joy and bottle it, for Muppet fans this is an absolute treat; there is still the odd rough edge (a slightly rushed ending that’s still playing out when the credits have started rolling, for example), but for the Muppets it’s the seventh time that’s the charm.
Why see it at the cinema: My one caveat for this would be that it’s maybe not suitable for very young children, judging by the amount of fidgeting in the screening I was at. For everyone else, the laughs, the tears and the pitch perfect recreation of one very particular Muppet moment demand to be seen on the largest screen you can find.
The Score (out of 10):
Final ranking of the Muppet movies
1. The Muppets
2. The Great Muppet Caper
3. The Muppet Christmas Carol
4. The Muppet Movie
5. The Muppet Treasure Island
6. The Muppets Take Manhattan
7. Muppets In Space
We’re almost there. I’ve watched so many Muppet films this week that I’m starting to see felt people walking down the local streets, I’ve started inserting the word Muppet into random sentences and I think I may be forming a bizarre attraction to Miss Piggy (or maybe I always had that, and was just afraid to admit it to myself). Anyway, it’s obviously been a unique Muppet experience, and it’s one that will draw to a close for me today with my review of The Muppets on the big screen. Muppet.
But you know me, I’m a sucker for a list, and I couldn’t let the occasion pass without one more list. I’ve stuck resolutely to the films, but this is an opportunity to celebrate the whole wide, wide world of Muppets. Here, in an order I’m sure I’ll want to change later – because they’re ALL my favourite – are twenty of my favourite Muppets. Apologies to any Muppets I may have missed out – I love you all!
20. Pepe The King Prawn
19. Convincing John
18. Sam The Eagle
17. Count Von Count
15. Gonzo The Great
14. Forgetful Jones
13. Cookie Monster
12. Gobo Fraggle
11. Dr Teeth And The Electric Mayhem
10. Bean Bunny
9. Bert and Ernie
8. Fozzie Bear
7. Miss Piggy
6. Rowlf The Dog
5. The Swedish Chef
3. Dr Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker
2. Statler and Waldorf
September 5th feels a very long time ago now. It was the day that I launched BlogalongaMuppets onto the world, with a view to watching each of the Muppet films in order before the release of The Muppets. Tomorrow, that dream finally becomes a reality, as Mrs Evangelist and I will head off together to watch the still-confusingly-titled The Muppets. It’s been a slightly strange journey, as when I set out I thought that I’d not seen many of the films, only to realise when watching the films that I had actually seen most of them before. Except this one.
Muppets From Space came out in 1999, and despite being 25 I did contemplate seeing it at the cinema. If I was as obsessive then as I am now, I probably would have done. But then, the Muppets were on the way down, not bathed in the warm glow of nostalgia that surrounds them today. (That glow had surrounded them at the start of Muppets Tonight three years earlier; then people actually saw the show.) The ingredients were all there: it was co-written by Jerry Juhl, long time Muppet writer who’d worked on the show, as well as the Caper, Christmas Carol and Treasure Island films and other Muppet projects like Fraggle Rock, and was directed by Tim Hill, who’s written more episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants than anyone except the show’s creator. (He has gone onto make Alvin And The Chipmunks and Hop, which maybe explains something).
But it’s just not right. While it follows the formula, with all of the formula elements in place, and a mixture of Muppets from pretty much every era, the need to explain Gonzo’s back story, and make him an alien rather than a whatever, detracts from the character. At only one hour and eighteen minutes before the credits roll, it’s also far too short. It’s undoubtedly an acquired taste; somehow attempting to describe it doesn’t feel as if I could do it justice, so here’s eight screen shots taken from the movie itself.
Make of them what you will.
Next time: Not quite The Muppets. Before the film itself, I’ll be running down my favourite Muppets, from every different version of TV, film and whatever the hell this was. Then The Muppets.
Parental discretion advised: two of the videos in this post feature naughty language, and one of them is just plain disturbing.
Despite the relative box office failure of The Muppet Christmas Carol, four years later enough money had been taken, and good will accrued, that another Muppet movie could be considered. But after two original Muppet movies which stuck very closely to a formula, then one which sort of meandered around it, TMCC was a complete break from that formula. Just to remind you, the formula established in those original Muppet movies was:
- Have lots of songs
- Muppets acting in only the way that Muppets do
- More celebrities in lead human roles
- More famous celebrities in cameo roles
- The bits with Muppets in are the best bits of the film
It was a formula that TMCC resolutely ignored – it had lots of songs, but it revolved around the human more than the Muppets, had only one main human actor, and many of the best bits were the interaction between the human and the Muppets, rather than being purely Muppet based.
So which is better? The modern day Muppet formula, or the literary reinvention? There’s only one way to find out. As it turns out, that’s to watch Muppet Treasure Island, for this is almost the best of both worlds. What Treasure Island does demonstrate is the difficulty to get the balance between the two, with only a couple of excellent Muppet based sequences (the ship-based roll call and Miss Piggy’s introduction being the standouts) and some otherwise middling Muppet activity, but also human sequences which somehow don’t serve the humans involved as well as they could, with the likes of Tim Curry’s Long John Silver never living up to their full potential. While TMCC was very faithful to its source material, a decision that worked in its favour, MTI is also faithful to its literary forebear, almost to a fault, being forced into making narrative decisions that lead the storytelling down blind alleys and cul-de-sacs.
Apart from Curry, the main human star of the film is the role of Jim Hawkins. A whiny, irritating brat with a weak singing voice, it would have been no surprise if Kevin Bishop had disappeared without trace, a single child acting role to his name. So here’s the first episode of the second season of The Kevin Bishop Show from 2009.
And yes, that was Karen Gillan off Doctor Who dressed up as Julia Roberts from Pretty Woman. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
This got me to thinking, though: if Bishop could be such a success, with two series of his own show following Star Stories (and don’t think he’s disappeared since 2009; he’s popping up in Keith Lemon: The Movie later this year, for example), then what had become of the rest of the talent involved with Muppet Treasure Island?
Following a long career in stage, screen and voice work, Curry has had to reduce his workload in recent years due to ill health, but his voiceover work last year included this:
and also the voice of the titular character in this, Gingerclown 3D. (This is the disturbing one I warned you about earlier.)
Billy Connolly is still touring as a stand-up comedian, but in the last two weeks has short shows in Blackpool and Scarborough after people heckled and went to the bar during his set. Billy Connolly is also still acting; he will have a tiny role (no pun intended) as a dwarf in The Hobbit this Christmas.
Jennifer Saunders is still making Absolutely Fabulous. She has been doing this for so long that no one can even be bothered to update this on her Wikipedia page anymore.
Brian directed Muppet Treasure Island, as well as The Muppet Christmas Carol, and later went on to direct Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars. Brian is currently attempting to get sequels to The Dark Crystal and Fraggle Rock made, without much success as of yet.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson continues to see yet another version made of Treasure Island around every three years; in between, someone else makes a different version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Mr Stevenson is still very dead.
So arguably, the guy who’s about to be in the Keith Lemon movie who was the whiny, irritating brat in this film is at least the second most successful person, twenty years on. And the one person probably more successful is currently dead. Who saw that coming?
Current ranking of the Muppet movies
1. The Great Muppet Caper
2. The Muppet Christmas Carol
3. The Muppet Movie
4. The Muppet Treasure Island
5. The Muppets Take Manhattan
Next time: Muppets From Space. I’ve never seen it…
My Muppet journey has finally arrived at Christmas. For a supposedly joyful season, Christmas can be a dark time: from It’s A Wonderful Life (a film about a man who attempts suicide, then goes a bit mad) to Bad Santa (where the nicest character is a thieving drunk who vomits in front of children), but for the Muppets it was an attempt to put behind them some real life dark times. Since The Muppets Took Manhatten Then Realised They Had No Idea What To Do With It, both Jim Henson (Kermit / Rowlf / Dr. Teeth / Swedish Chef) and Richard Hunt (Scooter / Statler / Janice / Beaker) had passed away, at a combined age of less than 100. So for their first visit to the big screen in eight years, it seemed fitting that the Muppet movies should undergo something of a reinvention.
So gone were the modern day settings, the self-referential knowingness and a lot of the Muppets that we know and love. (Wait, what?) Yes, call it controversial, but while The Muppets Christmas Carol has come to be regarded as a classic Christmas movie, it isn’t actually a classic Muppet movie. Part of this is the sidelining of so many of the main characters of the core Muppets ensemble: with the loss of Henson and Hunt, the likes of Rowlf and Scooter are sensitively rested this time out, but those that do make an appearance often have less screen time, with even the likes of Miss Piggy reduced to an extended cameo. The only two Muppets who get any extended screen time are Gonzo and Rizzo, as even the Ghosts themselves aren’t portrayed by regular Muppets (the original plan to have the ghosts portrayed by Miss Piggy, Scooter and Gonzo being, perhaps sensibly, put to bed).
But The Muppets Christmas Carol is a classic Christmas movie, even if, like many of its contemporaries, it didn’t grab audiences at the time. It’s A Wonderful Life wasn’t truly appreciated in its own lifetime, only finding life on cable TV re-runs many years later, and similarly The Muppets Christmas Carol struggled to find an audience first time round. Look at the box office chart (courtesy of Box Office Mojo) for 1992 for the US:
There it is, 47th best of the year. Note that it only just beat Howards End despite being on four times the number of screens, and lost miserably to The Lawnmower Man despite another screen advantage. (Screens is the number in the fifth column, in case you were wondering.) So why is it now so loved by so many at Christmas time?
In my book, there’s two reasons. One is the faithfulness of the adaptation; while respectful, it’s never reverential but captures just the essence of Dickens’ seminal seasonal story, even to the extent that the finer details, such as The Ghost Of Christmas Present aging during his time with Ebeneezer, are faithfully captured. The other reason is this:
Again, in a departure from previous efforts, there’s little human presence here. Steven Mackintosh is a moderately familiar face, and a couple of the young Scrooges have also popped up on TV, but the Muppet Christmas Carol stands and falls on the performance on one man, and thankfully the one man is one who has one of the safest pairs of hands in the business. Oddly, or maybe not, The Muppet Christmas Carol represents some of Caine’s best work and is certainly a better performance than at least one of the Oscars he’s picked up.
But while The Muppet Christmas Carol can stand toe to toe with It’s A Wonderful Life and Die Hard as perfect examples of Christmas movies, it’s not quite as good a Muppet movie as some of the earlier efforts. Guess you can’t win ’em all.
Current ranking of the Muppet movies
1. The Great Muppet Caper
2. The Muppet Christmas Carol
3. The Muppet Movie
4. The Muppets Take Manhattan
Next month Later today or tomorrow because I got quite some way behind: Pirates! AAAAR! It’s Muppet Treasure Island.
I set out on the odyssey that is BlogalongaMuppets for many reasons; partly my enthusiasm for the Muppets; partly for my anticipation for their upcoming film, The Muppets; but mainly because I’m a shameless plagiarist incapable of having my own ideas, content to copy other, more respectable Blogalongas. What I hadn’t realised before I started is quite how much I’d forgotten about the Muppet movies, having seen them all before – apparently; in the case of The Muppets Take Manhattan, this is particularly shameful as I saw half of it on TV only three months ago.
Watching The Muppets Take Manhattan on a lazy Bank Holiday a few short months ago inspired in me just enough nostalgia to start off this whole crazy enterprise, but having seen the first three in order, I’ve come to the unexpected realisation that The Muppets Take Manhattan is to The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppet Movie what Alien 3 is to Aliens and Alien. Let me briefly explain by running through the elements of the formula that I looked through for Movie and Caper.
Two months in, and there was a nervous air of anticipation gripping BlogalongaMuppet HQ. I thought I remembered all of the Muppet movies from when I was younger, but I have to admit that, having watched it, I really didn’t recall much of The Muppet Movie. For some reason, I remembered the “watching-the-movie-within-the-movie” opening, I vaguely remembered Big Bird’s cameo and Animal bursting out of the top of a building left some sort of impression. But very little else in The Muppet Movie seemed to imprint on me, so it came as something of a surprise when I found it just a bit “meh”. And I was not alone; the general reaction to the first in the Muppet series from my fellow BlogalongaMuppeters was also to be similarly underwhelmed. What had I done? Like Moses leading the Israelites into the wilderness only to discover I’d left the satnav back at Pharaoh’s palace, I was suddenly concerned that this was all a mistake. Were we facing six months of tedium and torture?
Thankfully, of course, my concerns were unfounded, and the reason that we’re all looking forward to The Muppets next year is that the Muppets have made great movies before, and The Great Muppet Caper is a great Muppet movie. Somehow The Muppet Movie managed to get all of the pieces in place, but didn’t manage to quite get them to fit together, but Caper pulls it off much more successfully. So what did The Great Muppet Caper manage to do so much more successfully than its predecessor?
All good spin-offs start with some form of link or reference to the think which has spawned them, and BlogalongaMuppets will be no exception. There’s one difference between the Bond films and pretty much everything else: I, like pretty much every other blogger involved in BlogalongaBond, seems to have little difficulty in watching the films because they already own them. Whether it be Blu-ray, DVD or tatty VHS copies kept under the stairs, most red-blooded males (and females) seem to have direct access to the Bond films, but I was ashamed to admit that I didn’t own a single Muppet movie. Not even The Muppet Movie. So the first step to blogging about Muppets was to acquire a copy of the film itself.
That’s where my confusion started, because what arrived was this:
Those paying close attention will notice that it says “50th Anniversary Edition” at the bottom of that cover. Now, it doesn’t take a mathematics graduate or an astonishing pedant – both of which I happen to be, unsurprisingly – to work out that it’s not been 50 years since 1979. At least, not yet. But apparently, the anniversary was in 2005, and was Kermit’s 50th anniversary. The Muppets have been around in some form for 56 years, which would explain why they are part of so many people’s childhoods and why everyone descends into teary-eyed nostalgia when they are mentioned. They had managed three whole TV seasons, 72 episodes, before finally making the jump to the big screen, but the TV format wasn’t one that would easily adapt itself, generally being a loose collection of sketches tied together by Kermit’s attempts to keep everyone in check. (And usually failing miserably.)
So I can confess now that I’d never seen The Muppet Movie all the way through, despite having been just young enough (five) to have seen it when it came out the first time. So my observations are free of the burden of nostalgia and are instead laden with the bitter cynicism of a middle-aged man desperate to hang on to the last vestiges of childhood by writing about children’s films on a monthly basis. Anyway, here’s the main things that stood out for me having watched The Muppet Movie for the first time.
1. The Best Song Oscar really isn’t much of a category, is it?
The one thing that most people old enough to remember The Muppet Movie remember is the songs. Or, more specifically, the song – The Rainbow Connection, which managed to pick up a nomination for Best Original Song. There’s a couple of things to observe about that: firstly, that the competition that year wasn’t exactly memorable – if you’ve even heard of all the films that got a nomination that year, then well done you.
Winner: “It Goes Like It Goes” — Norma Rae
“Through the Eyes of Love” — Ice Castles
“The Rainbow Connection” — The Muppet Movie
“I’ll Never Say Goodbye” — The Promise
“It’s Easy To Say” — 10
Sadly, the maudlin schmaltz about rainbows isn’t even the best song in The Muppet Movie – the toe-tapping Movin’ Right Along is much better for a start. If you don’t believe me:
So yet again, further proof that Oscar knows nothing, and that hearing enough songs about rainbows in 90 minutes will sap the patience of even the most upbeat person. It’s a cynical time we live in now, unfortunately.
2. The Muppets will certainly go far – they’ve got legs
Because my memories of the Muppets seem to be completely grounded in The Muppet Show, and fairly selectively at that, I’d forgotten that Muppets are actually meant to have legs, and the big screen and big budget allowed this conceit to be thoroughly explored. From riding a bike to sitting on a log in a swamp, Kermit behaves like any frog with legs would; so you have to applaud the technical wizardry and commitment (including Jim Henson spending a week in a hollow drum under a log in a swamp) to pull off that illusion.
(Of course, that doesn’t stop them doing the bobbing along walking thing that marks them out as Muppets whenever they move from any point to any other point. A walk which I spent most of my childhood doing, and my mother attempting to train me out of.)
3. You can convince pretty much anyone to be in a Muppet movie
What’s the best cast list of any film from the Seventies? The Godfather? The Deer Hunter? I’d argue it could be The Muppet Movie. What other movie could convincingly claim to have the best comedy cast of the decade? Not only does it have the freakin’ Muppets, but most movies would be happy to have one or two of the list of cameos above. As long, of course, as they got their Seventies counterparts; there’s a fair few names on that list that are now past their best, and that’s the ones that haven’t gone to the big Muppet show in the sky. But at the time, this was an impressive list. As the original series mustered one guest star a week, the net effect of this was like watching about two dozen episodes that had been ground up in a blender and then thrown at the screen.
4. You don’t even have to convince them to be onscreen
The other observation from the end credits is how many of the Muppet performers double up. Frank Oz, for example, portrays Miss Piggy, Fozzie and Animal, and Jim Henson is not only Kermit but Dr. Teeth. So who’s putting their arms up these Muppets? The answer, it seems, is quite a lot of people, including some well known names; John Landis, of all people, was making Grover’s mouth move, and according to him Tim Burton was also in that crowd (as a Muppet, obviously). The memorable days when both of them were actually making good movies…
5. The best bits, as always, are the bits with just the Muppets
But for all of those celebrity appearances, the best bits – in fact, by and large all of the good bits – of The Muppet Movie are the bits with just Muppets in. From the moment when Kermit turns out to be a much better comedian than Dom DeLuise (and for anyone old enough to remember The Cannonball Run, they’ll know how easy that is), the movie soars whenever the Muppets are on screen; at least in comparison to whenever the celebrities turn up and the film invariably stalls. The three exceptions to this are Charles Durning and Austin Pendleton, who have the job of driving the plot, such as it is, to the end of the movie, and aren’t bad, and Big Bird, who’s not a Muppet Show Muppet, but is still more entertaining in his – her – its – appearance than most of the Hollywood talent.
So overall the first Muppet movie is a mixed bag; extra celebrities, but at the same time a loss of the sketches that made so many love the Muppet Show in the first place. It was also astonishingly meta, to a level that would probably have made Christopher Nolan scratch his head; when The Electric Mayhem manage to locate Kermit based on the screenplay that he gave them earlier, it’s the equivalent of the giant Animal turning to face the audience and winking. But a new formula was being constructed, and it would be attempted a couple more times in Jim Henson’s lifetime.
Current ranking of the Muppet movies:
1. The Muppet Movie
Er, that’s it. Join me again next time for The Great Muppet Caper.