Critics' Corner: Why Do Still We Love the Muppets After All These Years?

Critics' Corner: Why Do Still We Love the Muppets After All These Years?

Nov 17, 2011

Grae: It's time to start the music, it's time to light the lights! It's time to get things started on the Muppet Critics’ Corner tonight!

Dave: I like your enthusiasm. It reminds me that I should try having some. Now we should begin by saying that we have both seen The Muppets already. BUT…

Grae: (and there’s always a big but…)

Dave: We are not allowed to discuss the details of that movie until the studio lifts the embargo on reviews.

Grae: And we are good little critics that follow the rules.

Dave: ... which is a thing that readers should understand about how the relationship between movie critics and studios often works. We get to see things early and, in return, we promise not to blab too soon.

Grae: Yeah. We can't say anything about it, people. Not even if you torture us.

Dave: Other than that...we both loved it. I don't think we'll be in trouble for saying that.

Grae: The Muppets have been gone so long, it's been nice to start thinking about them returning and reassuming their position as one of the most enduring parts of pop culture ever.

Dave: Absolutely. But our praise will mean nothing unless something vital takes place on a large scale...

Grae:  What's that?

Dave: Well, I just found out that my nine-year-old niece and my seven-year-old nephew have never seen the Muppets do much of anything.

Grae: WHAT.

Dave: They were nominal Sesame Street watchers, but with the glut of options in children's entertainment, they were more often tuned into Nickelodeon or The Disney Channel. They have no idea what The Muppet Show was, nor have they seen any of the Muppet movies.

Grae: I feel like this is a reason we should go back to only having eight channels and Steve Allen tells everyone what to watch.

Dave: They do have half-remembered glimmers of that TV Christmas movie from a few years ago, the one where Piggy starred in "Moulin Scrooge" as Saltine.

Grae: Hmm. Although I didn't see that, I am guessing it is the Muppets at about half speed, if it's anything like the more recent movies.

Dave: Yes, it was a lesser version of them. It was still The Muppets, but there've been some missteps.

Grae: You have to go back to the beginning (cue wavy lines indicating flashback). So what is your game plan to make your family whole human beings again?

Dave: I'm going to make the kids watch The Muppet Movie before the new one comes out, so they have, at least, some reference points. 

Grae: Why do you think their parents haven't led them to the banquet of Muppet awesomeness?

Dave: They do this weird thing for fun: they go to all of their children's athletic events and school functions and are always participating in their kid's lives instead of parking them in front of the TV to watch Fraggle Rock.

Grae: So they're neglectful, basically.

Dave: Exactly. Which is why Uncle Dave has to come in and save the day. And plus, it's completely educational. The Muppets can teach you so much--Kermit teaches you how to be nice and diplomatic, Piggy teaches you how to get ahead by bulldozing everything in your path. Fozzie teaches you to be fat and tell jokes.

Grae: Statler and Waldorf teach you how to make fun of people so other people laugh.

Dave: Gonzo teaches you to do whatever Gonzo does.

Grae: Beaker teaches you how to take a punch.

Dave: Animal teaches you how to be awesome on every level, and Sweetums teaches you to be comfortable in the background doing nothing and not freaking out about it, just being chill.

Grae: And the Swedish Chef teaches you how to put the gobbley in da pot.

Dave: These are all important lessons. But here's my big statement about Why the Muppets Are Important. They are masters of communicating on multiple levels at once, and that takes brains.To be indirectly funny and make people of all ages fall in love with you, you have to aim for a diffuse sort of appeal, and the Muppets do this. Kids hear and see one thing. Adults see and hear another.

Grae: Much like Looney Tunes, but with a much bigger "Aw" factor, because Looney Tunes never made me cry.

Dave: Exactly. In The Muppet Movie, when they meet Big Bird on the street and he tells them he's on his way to break into public television, you laugh. And kids just go, "Big Bird!"

Grae: The Muppets are master jugglers, delighting all ages at once. They could even be racy and completely get away with it. Like seeing Lena Horne and Kermit together helped me understand how to act on a first date.

Dave: Well, that explains that. But yeah, they're always intelligent and incisive and never cruel, or flippant, or pandering. As a group of characters, they're completely varied and, yet, all manage to walk a tightrope of appeal, even if they're essentially negative, un-role-model characters like Miss Piggy.

Grae: The Muppets are just about connection, be it rainbow or otherwise. Their message is always to keep trying, be good to all the people you know, stick together and tough it out even when it's not necessarily practical.

Dave: It's an ideal way of being that's not annoying. So if you're going to ignore your children by pushing them in front of a TV, this is what you push them to. You're being responsible that way, at least. You're giving them the best that pop culture has to give.

Grae: Exactly. It's a responsible babysitter (unlike me when I was a teenager).

Dave: Yes. And they communicate complex, seemingly contradictory messages as well, like the idea that there's still fun to be had in failure.

Grae: And don't forget to sing a song to express yourself.

Dave: Right. The music isn't just a way to stop and do something else, it's part of their personality--it's comedy and it's storytelling, and when it's great, like "The Rainbow Connection," it's also incredibly moving.

Grae: That song never fails to tear me up. Then I remember that it's sung by a frog and I laugh.

Dave: "The Rainbow Connection" was nominated for Best Song at the 1979 Academy Awards. And it lost to…"It Goes Like It Goes" from Norma Rae. Quick, sing "Goes Like It Goes" for me.

Grae: I just tried, but it came out sounding like the "The Rainbow Connection."

Dave: Exactly.

Grae: Another reason the show endures in our hearts is because trust is such a big part of the Muppet world. The audience has to trust them in order to surrender and have fun and the characters must always have faith that they'll do the right thing in the end.

Dave: I think the closest thing to them that we have right now as a cultural phenomenon are the Toy Story characters.

Grae: Who also manage to be magical without being lame.

Dave: They're a group of characters that appeal to children and adults simultaneously while dealing with the entire audience on appropriate levels of sophistication.

Grae: In fact, I can't think of another example, especially ones that have multiple movies or shows, which is why we have to cling to these things and cherish them appropriately. It's much easier to just write a poop joke and have someone fall down, then get everybody home in 86 minutes.

Dave: So let's say you've never seen anything Muppets. You must see The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and Muppets Take Manhattan.

Grae: And at least a handful of episodes of The Muppet Show.

Dave: I was a big fan of ‘90s TV show Muppets Tonight, which is where Pepe the Prawn was introduced.

Grae: He is not a shrimp…HE'S A KING PRAWN!

Dave: Yep. And he is in the new film -- sorry, another spoiler.

Grae: If you see the best Muppet movies before this one, you will appreciate the new film even more. But it works on its own.

Dave: You should just pony up and buy them. These are films to love and watch over and over, frankly.

Grae: They help us oldsters remember a time where every moment had the potential to become a dance number led by a pig, chicken, or snowth.

Dave: So okay, everybody reading this, just take our advice and go see The Muppets. We are not on the take from Disney when we tell you this. We are just on board for this one thing. Trust us. In fact, go back and look at my Cars 2 review if you want verification that I'm not simply a shill for The Mouse.

Grae: From now on, can we call ourselves the Statler and Waldorf of Movies.com?

Dave: Sure, though I've always thought of myself as more of Sam the Eagle meets Rowlf.

Grae: I'll take that as a yes.

Now you tell us--what is it you love about the Muppets? Are they still relevant? And will you see the movie when it opens next Wed.?

Categories: Critics' Corner
Tags: The Muppets
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