Nerdstalgia: Muppets... Again? Only After the Season 4 DVDs, Please

I love the Muppets.  Ever since I was a spoiled child whose parents got cheap HBO and got to see the Down at Fraggle Rock behind-the-scenes special, Jim Henson has been one of my heroes.  As I get older, I appreciate his creations more & more not just out of nostalgia but out of an ability to see more than just silly felt & foam creatures doing silly things.  So it pains me to admit that, well, as much as I love the Muppets, I didn't really enjoy The Muppets.  And I kind of dread The Muppets... Again! to a degree.

Any movie that requires you to watch the deleted scenes for the basic plot & character beats to make sense is a movie that has failed.  There were three key flaws to it: Its main thematic driving element was an appeal to nostalgia without anything to really back up the feeling presented, it focused too much on a new creation at the expense of the existing well-loved characters, and it focused too much on the roles played by the human guest stars.  There's a fourth one, but that's larger than any movie can possibly address.

Let's start with the simpler problems.  The Muppets was built around assumed audience nostalgia for the original Muppet series & movies, but it did nothing effective to remind viewers of what gave them that nostalgic feeling; the humor wasn't as sharp or even in focus enough to evoke that feeling again.  Worse, there was nothing to explain to viewers unfamiliar with the Muppets why someone might be nostalgic for them in the first place, so it effectively alienated the audience through an appeal to nostalgia with nothing but nostalgia to back it up.  Second complaint is Walter, a wholly uninteresting character - boring design, boring personality, boring gimmick, boring spotlight song.  The lion's share of the movie focused on him, making him what TV Tropes used to call The Wesley - a character their creator loves & dotes on at the expense of the rest of the previously-established cast.  If he is given less time, I don't think anyone except Jason Siegel would mind.  And speaking of Mr. Siegel, there's the third complaint - for a Muppet movie, it felt like an inordinant amount of time was focused on him & Amy Adams as well, mostly because they were the "real" stars.  They felt like a waste of time, and the other guest stars' role, especially compared to the 80s movies, were total wastes as well.  It felt like a Muppet movie made by a committee that had only seen maybe two or three clips from The Muppet Show on Youtube in their entire lives, not one made by people who actually cared about reviving the brand.

But like I said, there was a bigger problem and that is this: The Muppets, as a brand & concept, are too sincere enough for the modern era.  I'm as big a sarcastic asshole as the next guy, but there seems to be a vibe that anyone who doesn't hold that as their default reaction is being naïve at best.  The Muppets - and honestly, most of Jim Henson's work - is all about sincerity & optimism & seeing the good in the world.  I don't think you could show a general audience The Muppet Movie without them being incredibly dismissive of its personally very touching positivity.  I'm sure many people who got the DVDs before Disney abandoned them were rolling their eyes at the classic "Turn the World Around" segment instead of taking in its message.  We're a very cynical, snide, pessimistic world now, and I just don't think that Muppets as a concept are capable of being accepted as anything but objects of oddly-placed nostalgia except for those of us that are life-long fans.

So because I don't think it'll play any better than its predecessor, I can't really get excited about The Muppets... Again!  It feels like a Ricky Gervais movie with a side of Kermit, not an actual Muppet movie, in each & every description I've encountered.  But this is a bitter world, and bitterness is the antithesis of everything that drove Jim Henson's body of work.  Optimism, friendship, silliness, & openness aren't easily welcomed anymore unless they're attached to a political movement, not to silly felt & foam creatures.  I'd rather see the Muppets confined to the safe zone of nostalgia than dragged kicking & screaming & throwing penguins into today's general tone.  It has its place, and those that do it can frequently do it very well, but that place just doesn't include the Muppets.  And for that reason, I feel like a bad fan for being more worried than excited by their continuing revival.

(Unrelated-but-not: I'm putting this out here.  I cry every time I hear "The Rainbow Connection"... with the sole exception of its reprise in The Muppets because it felt so forced.  It's a song I love so much I want it sung at my funeral.  Let's hope they don't try to shoehorn it in again.)

Comments

  1. You know, I'm of two minds about the whole thing. On the one hand I enjoyed "The Muppets". I thought Siegel and company showed a lot of love for the concept. I didn't feel like the film is as calculated as you describe. I don't think the project would have made it past the initial stages if Siegel hadn't loved the muppets as much a lot of folks his age do.

    Was it a perfect movie? Hell no. It had flaws and many of those revolved around taking Henson's world view and attempting to warp it to our current one. Walter was a bit of a misstep, but at the same time without him "Man or Muppet" wouldn't exist, and that song is a muppet classic in my book.

    But at the same time, I see where you're coming from. "The Muppets" felt like a pale imitation. It had some really great moments, but as a whole the movie doesn't deliver any kind of feeling. I think that there were just too many cooks in the kitchen. We've seen it too many times, a solid concept ruined by too many folks chiming in on how to make it "better" when they really mean "more accessible to folks who aren't going to like this kind of thing in the first place".

    But "Rainbow Connection" and all it entails just doesn't click in our world. You're right. And the movie even points that out several times. But the optimism that maybe the muppets can survive is also right there in the film. Are they going to have to change a little? Yeah, but I think that most of us who love the original series and movies have already picked them up on our own and have them to rewatch.

    Hey, I know how hard it is to see something you grew up with get tarnished (in your eyes) by an update. I used to be a hardcore Star Wars fan until around 2000 or so. I look back at anime from the 1990s fondly and wonder what happened to the good storytelling from that decade. I also don't get the big deal about the Nolan Batman flicks. Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It can make it hard to see the good point of the new (but not necessarily improved).

    Finally, I would love for Disney to just put out that last season of "The Muppet Show". I thought maybe Mr. Lucas wasn't allowing the parody material for "Empire Strikes Back" to see release. But now that Disney and Star Wars have combined forces, it shouldn't be a problem any more. :)

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