So, last week a new Muppets movie came out. (And they put out about a million different trailers, and I have had to watch them all multiple times. Evil marketing, Disney.) I went to see it opening night with my sister-in-law and her husband with great expectations, but despite it being fun and full of Muppet-y humor, it still felt a little too…close to home.
Hm, how to explain this?
Jim Henson died twenty years ago. He managed great things in his lifetime: Sesame Street, the Muppets, Fraggle Rock, Labyrinth, Dark Crystal – movies and television shows denoted with humor and life lessons and imagination, pushing the envelope of how far you could create a fantasy world without the use of computer animation. The Muppets have always been there, always been real. When actors act opposite to them, they have something there to act off of, to see react to them. I read something once where the Muppeteers think of each Muppet as their own individual being, where the Muppets will do and say things unplanned by the human moving the mouth and speaking the voices.
We lost a visionary when we lost Jim Henson, and I sometimes feel like the Muppets lost something too. We had Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island within a few years of his death, helmed by Brian Henson, and those feel good. Feel natural, feel right. But since then…well, there was Muppets Tonight in the late 90s, which I liked, but overall, it’s kind of felt like something was missing.
The Muppets have kind of dropped off the radar, except as something we look back on as something we used to enjoy. And the new movie plays on this a lot – the Muppets, even in the movie, are forgotten, out of place in a world where flashing lights and computer graphics are all the rage. And it felt like that while I was watching it too – at the theater on opening night, sitting in a theater that was maybe half full at best.
And the new movie isn’t bad – it’s good, the story resonates, and all the Muppets you’ve ever loved are there, from Piggy and Kermit to Waldorf and Statler to Sam the Eagle and Rizzo the Rat. Most of the songs are catchy (if you ignore the one, extremely random rap number), and they play old favorites like the Muppet Show theme and Rainbow Connection.
But there is this overall feeling of having been lost for some time, and it makes me wonder where the Muppets would be today if Jim were still with us, and had had them under his wing for the past twenty years.