The Conversation: Does the Backlash from Frank Oz and Others Hurt Expectations for 'The Muppets'?

The Conversation: Does the Backlash from Frank Oz and Others Hurt Expectations for 'The Muppets'?

Oct 21, 2011

I'm such a film cynic that in spite of being a fiend for all things Muppet I've been worried about Jason Segel's The Muppets for a while now, even after the recent trailer that was supposedly cynic-proof (the fart shoes joke really is lame). At its very best, I'm expecting a movie exuding the kind of grown-up-fan love mixed with studio compromising that we witnessed from Joe Dante and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. At its worst it probably still has nothing on this scene (it sure sucked when all we had was a VHS copy). But a number of Jim Henson's Old Guard are seeing this as the worst thing to happen to the brand and characters since, well, Henson died. Frank Oz rejected the whole thing because the script sucked. Other performers who did work on The Muppets thought about taking their names off. As a cynic, all I really need to know is if Statler and Waldorf still are one of my people.

Well, if The Muppets is indeed a disappointment to those of us who grew up on the good stuff, there are at least plenty of documentaries abound lately for the purists to enjoy. This weekend you've got the theatrical opening of Sundance favorite Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey, about the Sesame Street star and the guy who gives him 'life'; Toronto Film Festival hit Paul Williams Still Alive, about the songwriter behind such classics as "Rainbow Connection" and the soundtracks for Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas and The Muppet Christmas Carol (never mind that clip above); and less related is Puppet, a doc that debuts on Documentary Channel this Sunday that unites your Henson and Being John Malkovich love.

Okay, so even I can admit no documentary is as fun as a great Muppet movie. 


What are others saying about the Muppets backlash? Here's The Conversation heard around the blosophere and Twitter: 

I don’t want to take anything away from their scorn of someone who loves the Muppets and is rising in popularity (Segel) trying to keep his childhood obsession alive, as the old writers and voices – and even Jim Henson before he died – are all complaining that the Muppets have faded, but they do know that they’re talking about a show that centered around a pig trying to rape a frog, right? - Burnsy, Film Drunk

What really seems to be happening is the continuation of a rift between the Jim Henson old guard and the execs at Disney, who are seen by Henson’s old crew as being interested only in the bottom line. That characterization may well be true, but there’s also the fact of Jason Segel, whose enthusiasm for the characters is very easy to see every time he talks about the Muppets. And while Jim Henson would have done things one way, things can’t remain unchanged forever. Either the Muppets need to be retired for good, to preserve the Henson vision of the characters, or the idea that they might change a little bit has to be accepted. - Russ Fischer, /Film

the Number One question everyone's afraid to ask: Would Jim Henson have liked this? It's partly not a fair question: Influences will never approve of everything they influenced. But this is Kermit. That's the thing about nostalgia: It's handy and warm and comforting to think about it, but when it becomes reality, you run the risk of ruining what you loved about your nostalgia in the first place. - Will Leitch, The Projector

On the one hand, one wants to "side" with the originators on things like these. On the other hand, the issues raised (risque jokes, altered characterization) sound more than a little like overprotectiveness and resistance to new blood. Deep as my respect for Team Henson runs, it can't really be ignored that the franchise was on a long downswing after "Muppet Christmas Carol;" and the last "in-house" feature "Muppets From Space" just wasn't all that good. - MovieBob

Sometimes, when characters haven't gone anywhere for a while, they need to find new ground before returning to their roots. Something tells me that by the end of "The Muppets," all will be right with the Muppet world. So much so that even Frank Oz won't be able to complain. - Andy Neuenschwander, Yidio

Oz’s feelings must be a bit burned because while he had his own Muppets project he was developing to direct at the studio, Disney began talking to Segel at the same time and it was his film that ultimately went forward instead. - Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist

Look, until Beaker goes on the record, it's all hearsay. - Kyle Buchanan, Vulture


@Da7e: Ok this Muppet thing is being blown slightly out of proportion. New Era of Muppets means new ways of looking at those Muppets. "backstory" wise, I don't care if Kermit lives in a mansion or Fozzie has fart shoes. In CAPER they were brothers; depends on movie. 

@TVWithoutPity: But they were cool with Muppets From Space? 

@tokarrai: It can't be as bad as some of the other recent Muppet films.

@ElisabethRappe: Where was all this criticism from the Muppets team when they were putting out those Disneyfied made-for-tv movies?

@PhysicistLara: @ElisabethRappe there's muppet criticism? those people can go fuck themselves, i'm stoked as hell about jason segel's fanboy-made movie

@BrianSchaefer: Frank Oz thinks the Muppets script doesn't respect the characters. Says the guy who did all the Star Wars prequels and Blues Brothers 2000.


Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic) to join The Conversation.

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