Phantom of the Opera: Everything’s better with Muppets

phantom5

 

Faust, a five-act grand opera, is by Charles Gounod with a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré.  It is loosely based on Faust, Part I, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  Goethe’s lesser-known follow-up, 2 Faust 2 Furious, focused on a man who made a deal with the diesel.”

–Erik Forrest Jackson, pushing all my geeky English-major buttons in an explanatory footnote of Muppets Meet the Classics: The Phantom of the Opera

When I opened the book and saw that the epigraph was a quote from a renowned French philosopher and a line from an old infomercial, I knew I was going to like this book.

When I started laughing hysterically at the table of contents, I knew I was going to love this book.

When I finished reading it, I wanted to go back and read the original novel again to compare the two; the mark of a good book is that it makes you want to read more.

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The ‘Phantom of the Opera’ is here…

…inside my house!

*dramatic organ music*

Remember when I entered a contest by The Muppet Mindset in which I drew a picture of Walter as Harry Potter and somehow won a copy of a free Muppet book, even though Walter looks like he only has one arm and the rampant Gryffindor lion on his Hogwarts insignia looks more like E.T.?*

Well, my 15 minutes of sketching and two months of patience have finally paid off, because today went to the mailbox (for the first time in the better part of a week) and received my Muppetized version of Phantom of the Opera!

YAY!

Before I forget, a big thank you to Jarrod Fairclough and Mitchell Stein at The Muppet Mindset for hosting fun contests and giving out free stuff, and specifically for their very generous assessment of my drawing.

Even more fortuitously, I have today, tomorrow, and most of next week off from my part-time job, so I really have nothing to do in those evenings except read.  So I’ll go start it now, and when I finish, I’ll come back and tell you what I thought about it.

In the meantime, give yourselves in to the “Music of the Night”:

______________________
*Although I am proud of one subtle Muppet reference that I put in there: the Ravenclaw crest is supposed to be a bronze eagle on a blue background, but I made the background bronze and the eagle blue as an homage to Sam the Eagle.  “Is nothing sacred?”

“Which one of you is the real Kermit?”

Answer:  Neither of them.  It’s a trick question.

So…this last Monday that just happened, there was a Pentatonix Christmas special on TV, and the report was that Kermit was going to make an appearance.  I debated with myself about whether or not to watch it, and ultimately I compromised with myself that I would watch it, but only with the sound down and the captions on.  And I hoped that Kermit would appear early on, because watching a musical program with the sound down didn’t really appeal to me.

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Manufactured Malfeasance

Let me set the stage:

Apparently, Eric Trump tweeted that it is inappropriate for ABC News White House Correspondent (and my fellow South Dakotan) Jonathan Karl to criticize Donald Trump’s use of the name “Pocahontas” as a derogatory term because ABC’s parent company, Disney, once made a movie about the historical Pocahontas.

Sonny-boy, leave the Disney-bashing to the experts:

“The [ABC] news division as a whole was reliably profitable [in the ’90s when Disney bought the ABC network].  But it [the news division] often balked at the idea of promoting other Disney ventures, persisted in making unflattering references to Disney (an investigative piece on sweatshops that mentioned Disney products especially infuriated Eisner), and, in general, was sanctimonious, in Eisner’s view.  Its ability to appeal directly to the public by invoking its mission of public service journalism–a higher, nobler purpose than making money–also meant that it was difficult, if not impossible, for Eisner to control the New York-based news division from Burbank.” (James B. Stewart, DisneyWar, page 410)

After acquiring the ABC network in the mid 1990s, Michael Eisner and Bob Iger tried to make a deal with David Letterman to bring his late-night talk show to ABC, planning to give him the timeslot otherwise occupied by Ted Koppel and Nightline.  When that deal fell through, “Iger [negotiated] a more radical approach to the news division: spinning it off into a new company that would merge ABC news with CNN […] ridding Eisner of an increasingly unwanted stepchild from the ABC acquisition.” (page 412)

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Fraggle Friday: Episode 102–“Wembley and the Gorgs”

“The Gorgs might be the bullies at school, but they might also be a mean boss, or an abusive boyfriend, or the Taliban. It’s a good thing we have Fraggle Rock, to help us figure it out. For all we know, there might be Gorgs everywhere.”
 –Danny Horn, “My Week with Fraggle Rock, Part 2: Big Shots,” ToughPigs.com, November 4, 2004.

I’ve wanted to write about this episode of Fraggle Rock for four years now, long before I had a Muppet blog, and long before the Schism.  I hope I can do it justice.

Let’s start things off with a song.  Take it, Wembley:

This song plays a relatively minor role in the episode, but I wanted to highlight it because it is one of my very favorite Wembley songs.  Steve’s voice here is like a soft, cozy blanket–warm and fuzzy and friendly.  Which, come to think about it, is a good description of Wembley’s character in a nutshell.

Now, instead of looking at the episode chronologically, let’s jump around and look at it thematically.  To that end, let’s get started at the end of this episode, in which Wembley makes a very profound statement: “I guess some slavery feels like freedom.”

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“The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson”

On November 21, 1990–twenty-seven years ago today,  and six months after Jim Henson’s death–the tribute special “The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson” aired on CBS.  It was Steve Whitmire’s first performance as Kermit the Frog.  He had had less than six months to prepare.

Here is the finale.  Kermit enters at 04:27:

Puppetry-wise, Steve was spot-on from the very beginning, giving Kermit these beautiful, subtle facial expressions.  You can feel Kermit’s emotions as you watch; the sorrow and pride, the quiet joy and gratitude.

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“We will march against the mighty; we will march against the strong”

“Why are you wasting your time with those puppets?” asked Rudy Pugliese, one of Jim Henson’s college professors.

I sometimes hear a similar question in my head: “Our democracy is imperiled, our Constitution is in crisis; why are you wasting your time worrying about the integrity of a bunch of puppets?”

To which the short answer is, in the words of Cantus, “No time is wasted time.”

Yes, the Muppets are puppets; that is undeniable, and it would be pointless and silly of me to argue otherwise.  But they are so much more than that.  They are symbols; they are fuzzy mirrors in which we see our own flaws and foibles reflected; they are useful rhetorical tools with which one can make subtle arguments against injustice and demagoguery in a nonthreatening way.  In the words of Steve Whitmire, “These characters stand for all of us, and we’re worth defending.” (my emphasis)

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“Steve Whitmire Saturday” (The Muppet Mindset: September 5, 2009)

In 2009, Disney briefly replaced Steve Whitmire as Kermit for a few appearances, most notably on America’s Got Talent. I was curious about what the mainstream Muppet fansites thought about that at the time, so I went digging through the archives and found this gem by Muppet Mindset founder Ryan Dosier about why Steve should not be replaced:

Steve Whitmire is Kermit the Frog, and Muppet fans should fight for whatever they must to keep it that way.”

Oh, what a difference eight years makes!

But Ryan got it exactly right in 2009, and good on him for it. I don’t know if he still stands by what he said back then.  Nevertheless, everything that he said back then is as relevant and true now as it was when he originally wrote it eight years ago. 

(Except the part about Steve being “scraggly-haired” in the ’70s; the available evidence suggests that he was, in fact, meticulously coiffed according to the style of the times.)

Also of interest is that our old frenemesis “Anonymous” makes an appearance in the comments section, up to his old tricks (although back then they might have been new tricks) of trashing Steve relentlessly, without regard for either facts or feelings. How far back in time does this ridiculous grudge go anyway? Dude, get a life!

The Muppet Mindset

The year was 1978. A 19-year old, scraggly-haired, tall, lanky puppeteer approached a bin of puppets. These weren’t just any puppets, mind you, these were the Muppets. This young man had his wish granted by truly the greatest genie of all time, Jim Henson. A man who, to this young puppeteer, was on the same plane as John Lennon is to a musician, Albert Einstein is to a physicist, or Thomas Edison to light-bulb enthusiasts. This young man picked up a puppet, came up with  a voice, and was immediately a featured player on The Muppet Show. The most widely aired show ever.

This young puppeteer was named Steve Whitmire, and this is his Saturday.

STEVE WHITMIRE

Main Characters…

Kermit the Frog (1990-still)
Rizzo the Rat
Beaker (1991-still)
Statler (2002-still)
Ernie (1990-still)
Wembley Fraggle
Sprocket

Secondary Characters…
Foo Foo
Lips
Marlon Fraggle
Bean Bunny
Waldo C. Graphic
The Muppet Newsman…

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It’s Not Easy Being the Last Jedi

You don’t want to admit how possessive you’ve become [of Luke Skywalker]. There are times where you go, ‘Really? That’s what they think of Luke? I’m not only in disagreement‚ I’m insulted.’ But that’s the process and you thrash it all out.”
                            —Mark Hamill

Watch your back, Mark.  Star Wars is a Disney property now, and at Disney, nothing is sacred, everyone is expendable, and expressing opinions about a character you’ve played and/or been associated with for decades is considered “unacceptable business conduct.”  If Kermit the flippin’ Frog is fair game, so is Luke Skywalker.

(Also of interest is the original New York Times article in which the above quotation originally appeared.)

 

Sin of Omission


(Isn’t it miraculous how there seems to be a Fraggle Rock song that fits every occasion?)

Dear Steve, especially…but also friends, readers, “followers,” and people who surfed in here randomly looking for extended metaphors on child care or something…

(To that last group: thank you for stopping by, and I’m sorry that I didn’t have what you were looking for.)

I have a confession to make:

I went to a Halloween party on October 21st dressed “sort of approximately” like Kermit, with the intention of, to paraphrase what I said on October 19th, getting the word out, trying to evoke some “epiphanies” in the casual fans, perhaps spurring them to some kind of action, but at the very least, bringing them into the conversation.

And I failed.  

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Kermit’s Appearance on “Dancing with the Stars”

MY MOM:  You were in kind of high dudgeon [about Kermit’s recast] before.
ME:  Yeah, I still am.
           –Excerpt from phone conversation, October 29, 2017.

Well, it’s been two weeks, so I should really talk about this. 

It’s hard to find good clips of this on YouTube.  Here’s a short, official clip:

Here’s a bootleg clip, which is very tiny and has a flashy background that I think should come with an epilepsy warning:

Some general comments before I get to the Kermit-specific stuff:  Drew Scott’s Miss Piggy impression sounds more like Yoda, which (a) is hilarious, and (b) may have just become my new OTP (Yoda and Kermit, that is).  

During the actual performance, I didn’t like the style of the vocalist that they had singing “Rainbow Connection”–and also she got the words wrong, which really rubs me the wrong way (as my mom could tell you, I’m sorry to say). 

Nevertheless, I’m glad they didn’t have Kermit sing it; it’s still too soon.  Not “Rainbow Connection.”  Not now.  Not yet.  

Also, the fact that they had Kermit judge the dance but that his score didn’t count is strangely ironic and sadly fitting.

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What Would Walt Disney Do?

(or “WWWDD?”)

I think I was about seven years old when I learned that “Walt Disney” was the name of an actual person.  Prior to that point, I assumed that it was just a meaningless, made up brandname, like “Kodak.”  I bring that up because it seems to me that a lot of people, even–and perhaps especially–those who work for the company itself, sometimes forget that there was a real person behind the name, a man behind the mouse.

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Quiz: Who Said It–Jim Henson, Frank Oz, or Steve Whitmire?

In the renewed interest of reaching out to fans, both casual and mainstream, about my concerns about Disney, the Muppets, and Steve, I created a quiz to see if Muppet fans could correctly identify quotes by Jim, Frank, and Steve.  Please feel free to share it through social media, if you are so inclined:

Who Said It:  Jim Henson, Frank Oz, or Steve Whitmire?

(Please take the quiz before reading any further.  Thank you.)

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Emperor Disney Has No Clothes; or, Attempting to Strike While the Iron Is Hot

I intended (and still intend) to write my own review of Vogel!Kermit’s appearance on Dancing with the Stars on Monday, but I was waiting until I had a chance to talk to my mom about it, because I suspect that she will give me a good sound bite to turn into an opening quote.

But I’m just now hearing about the negative reaction to the appearance on Twitter from the casual Muppet fans, and it is strange and wonderful.

(Here’s the link.  Just watch the video.  Don’t read the little story underneath it; it’s unnecessarily snide and hurtful.)

It’s strange (and a little frustrating) because this issue has consumed my life for three months now, so to see other people just cottoning on now kind of makes me want to scream “Where have you BEEN for the last three months?!?”  But it would be hugely hypocritical of me if I were to scream that because (a) prior to when the news broke in July, Muppets had been a fairly low priority for me and (b) I’m the woman who came 30 years late to the Fraggle party; I can hardly criticize anyone for being a measly three months behind the times.

On the other hand, after three months of rationalizing and justifying from the mainstream Muppet fandom–all the walking on eggshells on the big-name fansites for fear of pissing off Disney–and Tom Bergeron et al. on the show itself pretending that everything is normal, it’s so refreshing to hear people outside of our little die-hard circle of Steve’s loyal fans candidly speak up, like the child in The Emperor’s New Clothes, and say, “What the hell is going on?  That doesn’t sound like Kermit at all!”

I’ve never considered myself a Jeanne D’Arc, and it doesn’t come naturally to make a call to figurative arms, but now might be an opportune moment to try and get the word out about what we know to be true about Steve and Disney.  Now might be a good time to write more letters to the Disney execs.  Now might be a good time to start re-circulating the petition.  Now might be a good time to start talking to the casual fans about our concerns.

At the very least, we should try to gently persuade them to direct their anger where it belongs, toward the suits at Disney and the Muppet Studios, and try to deflect their anger away from Matt.

The mainstream Muppet fandom seems to have largely turned its back on both Steve and us, so now might be a good time to get the word out, to try to evoke some epiphanies in the casual fans, perhaps spur them to some kind of action, but at the very least, bring them into the conversation.

(And for me, it starts on Saturday when I’m going to a Halloween party dressed “sort of approximately” like Kermit.)