Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Muppets

One of my earliest memories is seeing the first ever episode of Sesame Street which my teacher graciously played for us in our Grade One class. The bit I remember was when Ernie asked Bert to throw the soap into his bathtub, Rosie.

"Ernie, why do you call your bathtub Rosie?"

"Because Bert. Every time I have a bath, I leave a ring around Rosie." And Ernie laughs that laugh.

I remember my ambivalence when The Muppet Show came on TV because, geez, there was no Grover or Cookie Monster and no Bert and Ernie, but there was Kermit and a whole bunch of new Muppets (Sweetums!!) and it was somehow so grown up, The Muppets being on TV in the night time.

Of the movies, I really only remember the first one. I had the record and could sing all the songs. To this day I can't spin off a bottle top without quoting Steve Martin's cameo: "Do you wish to smell the cap?"

Ian and I drove into the movie parking lot last night and it's as full as I've seen. Ian thinks it's because of Twilight. "Why do so many people come to see bad movies?" he asks. I tell him about subjectivity and the difference between entertainment and art, how the Transformers can entertain with 'splosions and noise and how it can be roundly panned by critics because there's no craft, no heart.

So let me tell you why there's been all this preamble.

The Muppets is about heart.

It's about heart in the way the new Muppet, Walter, is the most expressive character in the movie. Even the human actors are "playing" their parts, mostly because it's in keeping with the sly style of the show: the self-awareness, the songs and the dances, its deliberate old-fashionedness (the vintage bus is numbered "1949"), the breaking of the fourth wall, Mickey Rooney.

There's a lot of earnestness in the movie but the most honesty comes from Walter. It's no small feat by the film-makers that they have created in this unassuming new Muppet such a range of expression and emotion. Some of it is done by the performance of the puppeteer and some comes by swapping out a different set of eyes or a particular set to his mouth but where in the Muppet Lab is the box that's full not of eyes or noses but of soul? Walter has a lot.

The feel of this movie in an otherwise tech-heavy world of cinema is very organic. Muppets walk and dance and karate kick, but the movie feels like it was made by hand - or slight of hand - and not by computer. This deliberate retro-feel is the source of both the films greatest strengths and weakness.

For me, an adult, watching and remembering all those Sesame Streets and Muppet Shows of yore, the best bits were evocative of things past. The movie hits one of its strongest beats when the gang runs The Opening for the Muppet Show. I found shivers going up my back at all the recalled beats: Zoot blows that single note on his sax, the full-size monster Muppets stomp on for their entrance, and OH MY GOD I forgot about Gonzo's trumpet gag at the end! Gonzo's not-quite-right fanfare is where I laughed hardest.

Later, as the Muppets Show Telethon draw ever closer to their 10 million dollar goal, (raise the money or lose the studio to an evil oil tychoon named, of course, Richman), Kermit and Miss Piggy do a duet of "Rainbow Connection". It's the best song of the whole movie.

And therein lies the rub.

There are some fine moments in the other numbers, the best where Walter's human counterpart appears, but as good as the movie is, its superpower comes from previous work. The new story contains a lot of back and forth plot beats. Can we do it? If we all pull together, yes! Oh gee, something happens and no we can't. Well wait, yes we can! And so on. Insert some heartfelt monologue. As an adult, I patiently floated through these bits but found that Nostalgia was the nuclear core that powered the whole rest of the movie. Ian didn't know The Muppet Show, so later, as we talked about the movie, I had to explain why I found that bit with Gonzo and his trumpet so delightful. The worst part of the Muppets is that there isn't anything new in this movie that's better than many of the best bits of the old movie. It makes me wonder how successful any future Muppet sequel might be.

But I loved this one. For me, the best element of the movie that did not draw on past glories was, of course, Walter. Walter who is called on to save the day. Walter the reluctant hero, performing ... something; he is charged to find his hidden talent and what that might be was obvious neither to him nor to me in the audience. Where so many movies would have used so many different cheats, The Muppets finds a resolution that is wonderful, charming, elegant and - most of all - honest.

When we got home, Ian and I spent a lovely time looking through Muppets clips on YouTube, which is to say: the movie left us wanting more.

Ian's P.O.V. of the Muppets 2011

When I was little kid I only knew of Sesame Street and Kermit the Frog as one thing and I did not know that Kermit was not a part of Sesame Street and a part of a different group called the Muppets. I learned that like 2 or 3 years ago so me seeing the Muppets only knowing Kermit and maybe Ms. Piggy, I've learned a lot of more about the Muppets and the big sensation they were and seeing their guests like Peter Sellers and Steve Martin after the movie was prety cool.

So I guess my dad sums it up, it's a great movie, and what really was a surprise was that i did not know how many stars there were in the movie. I'm 12 and a little bit of a movie guy but I named 6 movie stars (Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Jack Black, Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez and Neil Patrick Harris) also lots of funny jokes with the age group being 7 years old, 12 year old or 47 years old, the Muppets is a very funny movie and a great family movie.

The only bad thing about the Muppets for me is that it's "all over the place." They do this, then this, then this, oh we can't do this, oh we did it, know we got to do this, and then this, and it it's really boring and that's the only downside to the movie and it's very unnoticeable but no movie is perfect. Right?

Three Straws.

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