Ever since Disney announced they were relaunching the Muppets with a new Muppet movie, one that stars my imaginary BFFs Amy Adams and Jason Segel, as well as my actual BFFs Rizzo the Rat and Crazy Harry, I've been counting down the days until the film's release. (Less than a month now!) So I was extremely disheartened to read in the Hollywood Reporter that Frank Oz and others in the old guard Muppets crew are expressing concern about how much Segel really GETS the Muppets, y'know? (Read that sentence again as Janice, and it's a lot more fun.) But then I read it as a Muppet Show fan, and thought to myself, "Maybe they're just bitter?" In fact, there's only one thing I'm scared about from the trailer that might make it into the movie: the use of "We Built This City" by Starship. Let's go through the Reporter article, shall we?
1. The Plot Is Pure Muppet (SHOW)
One of The Muppet Show’s running jokes was Kermit having to give the gopher who will go-fer sandwiches, Scooter, whatever he wants because Scooter’s uncle, J. P. Grosse, owns Muppet Theater. Kermit was forced to appease Scooter because J.P. was always tempted to replace the Theater with a more profitable venture. The movie’s plot: a rich oilman wants to raze Muppet Theater and put something more lucrative in its place. In a 2008 interview with Coming Soon, Segel said, “I just remember being 10 years old and for me, Kermit was Tom Hanks. Kermit is like the original every man and I remember watching the old Muppet with my parents and seeing Peter Sellars and people like that on.” I’ve always gotten the impression that Segel was writing the film as an extension of The Muppet Show, rather than any of the movies, and those are two very different properties. In this respect, he's remaining faithful to the original.
2. “Fart Shoes”
The “fart shoes” joke, which is maybe the biggest source of concern in Muppetgate, isn’t meant to be funny. I saw it is a meta example of Segel and co-writer Nicholas Stoller acknowledging how far the Muppet brand has fallen, particularly with 1999’s Muppets in Space and, to a lesser, yet still subpar extent, Muppets Tonight, the ill-fated ABC series that ran from 1996-1998. Plus, Fozzie isn’t funny. I mean, he is funny, but he’s not a funny comedian, and that’s the joke. There’s a reason Statler and Waldorf constantly targeted him, and why they would give him the heckling of a lifetime for “fart shoes.” Plus, Fozzie has attached a Whoopee cushion to the bottom of the "fart shoes," and the Muppets have never shied away from using novelty items as a joke—remember this scene (three minutes in) from The Great Muppet Caper?
3. "They're looking at the script on a joke-by-joke basis, rather than as a construction of character and story."
Ultimately, The Muppet Show was an extended vaudeville act, where the characters would do anything for a laugh. Just last night, I watched a skit from the Bob Hope-hosted episode that concluded with a duck that's about to be killed dropping a frying pan on the Swedish Chef's head. The next sketch: a Muppet News Flash, where an overweight opera singer drops from the ceiling, on top of the anchor. The sentimental feelings for the Muppets didn't really come into play into the films. On The Muppet Show, there was very little backstory on some of our favorite characters. Rowlf, for instance: we know he's a piano-playing dog and that he occasionally hangs out with Fozzie, but that’s really about it. We liked him because he was a gifted piano-player and told a lot of funny jokes. It's when the writers got too far into a certain Muppet's story that things began to dovetail, i.e. Gonzo and Muppets in Space.
4. "Kermit would never live in a mansion, as he does in this movie."
Actually, he might. One of the things that have shocked me upon going through The Muppet Show from the beginning is how much of an asshole Kermit can be. He strung along Miss Piggy, rarely encouraged Fozzie, underpaid his employees, and was jealous when the other Muppets professed their love for the guest star over him. It was only when they needed him to sing "Bein' Green" did the Kermit we know now appear. As much as I love that Kermit, which is the Kermit that appears in the movies, where he's a stand-up guy (frog, whatever) who would do anything for his chums, I actually prefer the early Muppet Show host Kermit (I always envisioned Host Kermit to be the real Kermit, not Skit Kermit), and think him living in a mansion isn't totally out of character. Although he would always invite Robin.
5. Um, Frank?
I appreciate Frank Oz as much as the next Sam the Eagle fan—not only is he the voice of many of my favorite Muppets, he also directed Little Shop of Horrors, What About Bob?, In and Out, Bowfinger, the good Death at a Funeral, among many other non-Muppet movies. But he’s bitching about the integrity of the Muppets after voicing Yoda in the terrible, awful, horrific, hideous, repulsive, and repugnant Star Wars prequels? Either the new Muppet movie is as bad as he says (not likely), or Frank Oz is full of it.
Josh Kurp realllllyyyy hopes the movie's good.