Muppet Love

Over the Thanksgiving break, I took the kids to see The Muppets. As a longtime Muppet fan, I was so excited for this movie—the previews gave me hope that this was going to be the Muppets of my childhood, and not just some recognizable puppets in some other story. Don’t get me wrong—I like Muppet Treasure Island and Muppet Christmas Carol well enough, but I’ve been longing for the Muppets of The Muppet Show and the original Muppet Movie. In an age where television was a treat, my whole family carved out time to watch The Muppet Show together and I have such fond memories of those times.

And The Muppets didn’t disappoint. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to seeing it again, this time with my dad.

With a little distance from the movie, though, I realized that it’s not that The Muppets is such a great movie. The reason I loved it so much is that it didn’t let me down.  Movies are expensive both in time and money, and I only go see a handful of them every year. All too often something that I looked forward to lets me down, even if my expectations weren’t that high to begin with. This is especially true with sequels and adaptations of books since my expectations are already somewhat formed before I go see the movie. I want those movies to be worthy of how the story has been told before.

A few months back I talked about how I felt Cars 2 let my kids down. Even though I like Twilight and I still enjoy going to the movies with my best friend, I can’t help but feel that they’re inherently insulting to the audience. Plot and acting issues aside, the vampires are supposed to be stunningly beautiful. And they’re starting out with some pretty stunningly beautiful people. Yet somehow their makeup and wigs look like a student production on a shoestring budget. It distracts and annoys me and, if red-rimmed lids are any indication, also annoys the actors’ eyes. I can’t help but imagine a board room where people are saying, “These fools will go see any piece of crap we slap the Twilight name on—we’ll make more money if we slash the hair and makeup budget.”

The Muppets stands out because it doesn’t feel like that. As Richard Dansky points out on his blog, it feels like a love letter to the fans and to the Muppets themselves. They took the extra steps to add in pictures of Jim Henson in the background whenever possible. There are tons of in-jokes aimed at those of us who grew up watching The Muppet Show, while still ensuring that new fans won’t be left behind. I’m sure I’ll see even more little details when I go see it the second time. Even though it’s definitely not a perfect movie, I get the impression that it will stand up to multiple viewings because of all the love that obviously went into making it.

This isn’t to imply that there aren’t other lovingly made movies out there. Of course the Lord of the Rings stands out (we just finished watching that with the kids and it was wonderful to share such beautifully crafted movie making and story telling with them). While I may not agree with all the choices made, I felt justice was done with Harry Potter and, to a lesser extent, with the Chronicles of Narnia. But I can easily name more that let me down, such as the Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Last Airbender, and the Star Wars prequels. So much potential, so many poorly made movies.

I get that making movies is a business. The whole point is to make money. But when you sacrifice story telling so you can blow your budget on mind-blowing effects or count on the name to gloss over a multitude of movie-making sins, it’s insulting to the audience and disrespectful to books or movies that came before. We deserve better than that. And I’m so grateful to The Muppets for delivering that in their goofy way. I just wish it didn’t feel so unusual.

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4 Responses to Muppet Love

  1. I’m glad to hear your take on this. I was worried that the new movie was going to be too snarky and self-aware, with the look of the muppets on the outside but the inside hollowed out like a corporate-built golem.

    Note to self: cue up Muppet Christmas Carol for seasonal viewing.

    • ayvalentine says:

      I was really worried about that, too – the previews gave me hope, but I was still prepared to be devastated. It’s sad when “You didn’t betray me!” makes a movie one of best ones you’ve seen lately.

      Also, “Light the lamp, not the rat! Light the lamp, not the rat!” :)

  2. I grew up with the Muppet Show as my regular choice of prime time programming (thanks to Muppet fanatics as parents.) In fact, I might have seen the The Muppet Movie before my first viewing of Star Wars (I was 4 so the dates get jumbled and I didn’t see SW in theaters). Needless to say, I am dying to see this film, and if not for SWTOR’s beta test, I would have this weekend with my beautiful wife.

    That said, I’m glad to see such in depth praise from someone whose opinion I value. And I can absolutely agree with every other judgement you’ve laid down here from the praise of LOTR, to the disappointment of the Matrix filsm and SW prequels.

    Thanks Amanda.

    ~Joe

    • ayvalentine says:

      It’s well worth seeing, especially for any fan of the Muppet Show. We came home and the kids and I watched the one DVD of the Muppet Show that we have – I think we might have to finally add to that collection! It stands up remarkably well.

      I’ve heard unsubstantiated rumors that this movie is a precursor to a new Muppet Show. As long as they are as true to the source with a show as they are with this movie, I’ll definitely tune in!

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