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.