BlogalongaMuppets

The Muppets Take Manhattan: It’s Not Easy Being Ginger

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Well, I did think about dyeing it, but I've got bigger fish to fry; my eyes are actually attached to my glasses, for a start.

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.

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BlogalongaMuppets: The Great Muppet Caper, Or How To Perfect The Formula

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Look! No hands!

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?

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BlogalongaMuppets: Things I Learned While Watching The Muppet Movie

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A film from a more innocent times, when double rainbows were just a dream in a leprechaun's eye.

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?

Just sitting here on my own, strumming my banjo. And no, that's not a euphemism.

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
Also nominated:
“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

Astonishingly TK Maxx just happened to have cowboy boots in Kermit's size.

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

Orson Welles, star of this and The Transformers Movie. And those adverts. And probably other stuff.

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 Muppet version of Where's Wally was made more difficult by the giant rainbow.

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

"Help me - Burt Reynolds wants to make another Smokey And The Bandit!"

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.

BlogalongaMuppets: It’s Time To Play The Music

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"Writing about six Muppet movies? That'll be painful." "Not as painful as watching them!" "Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha..."

When the history of mankind comes to be written, and man’s greatest achievements come to be listed, it won’t be fire, or the Pyramids of Giza, or the indoor toilet that stand proud at the top of the list. (It’ll probably be the iPhone, won’t it.) But standing in such illustrious company will be two things that could be the greatest combination since bread and slicing: James Bond films, and Blogalongabond. Illustrious and industrious blogger The Incredible Suit had one of those life-changing moments of inspiration in January of this year, upon realising that the release of Bond 23 was but 23 months away, and that blogging about all of the films would result in an average of precisely one a month.

Since then, BlogalongaBond has averted many potential tragedies, including (a) being called BlogalongaBond, which is a silly name, but no-one seemed to actually mind; (b) Bond 23 being brought forward by a month, which caused two days of mild panic before Mr Suit took the sensible decision to ignore it and carry on regardless; and (c) the fact that ITV are currently showing the films at the rate of one a week, which is generating lots of traffic now, but in about three weeks will create an unrealistic expectation in the readership of about two dozen varied bloggers. Well, I’m not writing one a week, you can forget it – it’s enough of a struggle writing one a month.

Despite this calendar based challenge proving such a struggle that I lasted precisely six months before I missed my first deadline, I always had a feeling that if a similar excellent film series lent itself to a similar calendar-based challenge, that it would be a shame to miss the opportunity. As if by chance, I found myself watching The Muppets Take Manhattan on the Bank Holiday last week, and got to wondering how many Muppet films there’d actually been. If you can’t see what’s coming next, then you’ve really not been paying attention…

Yes, The Muppets, the confusingly titled seventh theatrical release featuring Jim Henson’s creations arrives in theatres in America in November this year, but isn’t unleashed onto the British public until February 10, 2012. Just as many great TV series had their spin-offs, so has BlogalongaBond spawned another, which makes this the Frasier of cinematic blogging endeavours – or possibly the Joanie Loves Chachi of cinematic blogging endeavours if it all goes horriby wrong. You wouldn’t let that happen, would you?

What with us being in September now, that means that the BlogalongaSchedule looks like this:

  • September – The Muppet Movie
  • October – The Great Muppet Caper
  • November – The Muppets Take Manhattan
  • December – The Muppet Christmas Carol
  • January – The Muppet Treasure Island
  • February – Muppets In Space
  • Also February – The Muppets

Which works out nicely as one a month, as long as you don’t mind doing what the Bond bloggers must do and writing about the new one in the same month as the last old one. But surely a little detail like that won’t let you stand in the way of the chance to watch all of the Muppet movies, will it?

In case you’re new to this, follow these simple steps to become part of the collective:

  1. Watch the movie for the month in question.
  2. Write about that movie on your blog.
  3. Post a link to that blog post on the Facebook page, which you’ll find here.

If you’re feeling industrious, and particularly into the Muppets, you could also share your thoughts on any of the following in addition to the regular schedule:

  • The Muppet Show regular episodes
  • Sesame Street
  • Fraggle Rock
  • Muppet Babies
  • It’s A Very Muppet Christmas Movie (TV movie)
  • The Muppet Wizard Of Oz (also TV Movie)

or the host of other Muppet related TV and video events from The Tale Of The Bunny Picnic to Kermit’s Swamp Years. But mainly, the point is to blog about the films. So you’ve got 24 days to track down and watch The Muppet Movie. You up for it?

Just in case you’re still not entirely convinced, allow me to present some clips, both classic and modern, to help seal the deal.

The Swedish Chef

Bunsen And Beaker

Pigs In Space – With The Cast Of Star Wars

The Muppet Movie – The Rainbow Connection

OK Go sing The Muppets Theme

Go on, you know you want to!