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”:

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*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?”

Creativity

“Do something creative because you can’t NOT do it.”
–Kermit the Frog

Last week or so I was in a morbid mood, indulging in my self-defeat and wallowing in self-pity as I looked at my life:  Working two jobs to make ends meet, which sucks up all the time I’d rather be spending on researching and writing.  One job transcribing/editing other people’s words instead of writing my own; the other job working in retail, making me feel like I’ve come full circle and ended up right back where I started in high school, as though all my education and training and experience and suffering over the past 20 years has all been for naught.

Desperately in need of some inspiration, I turned back to Kermit’s TED talk from 2015, and that was very helpful.  One part was particularly helpful, and you know how much I love to take other people’s/frogs’ words and put them into big block quotes, so here goes:

“We need to help kids–and all of us trying to connect with our inner tadpole–to pursue our passion, even when the going gets tough.  Now, for grown-ups, that just might mean, folks, you gotta have a day job.  Cuz let’s face it, it’s easier to take creative chances when it’s not how you’re trying to support yourself.  That can be tough.”

That made me feel better about taking the second job.  No shame in doing what it takes to survive, so long as you don’t hurt others in the process.  And if that means I have to try to bang out part of a blog post in the time between stopping one job for the day and starting another, then I guess that’s what it takes.  It’s not ideal–it’s not at all the way that I prefer to work–but if that’s what the situation calls for, then I’ll just have to be flexible and learn to adapt, which is a professional skill on which I have always prided myself.

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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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Thanksgiving

Character.chistmasturkey

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I know the holiday is not really a thing outside the U.S. and Canada (and in Canada it happened a month ago), but there’s never a bad time to be grateful for the good things in our lives, especially when the bad things threaten to overwhelm us.

Thank you especially to Steve Whitmire, for teaching us (back in 1987) that turkeys are selfish, ungrateful bastards and that we should eat them, because if we don’t, they will conspire to murder Big Bird. 😉

Seriously, though…

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Sesame Saturday: Sesame Street Trumps Donald Trump

“There is one source that has always recognized Trump for being the absolute villain that he obviously is and that’s Sesame Street. Sesame Street has been touting the dangers of a Trump Presidency since the late eighties!”
 –Louie Pearlman, “Make America HATE Again: Ronald Grump on Sesame Street,” ToughPigs.com, January 29, 2016.

This is an excellent article that appeared on ToughPigs just before the 2016 primaries…so, almost two years ago?  Oh, how time flies when you’re in constant mortal dread for the future of humanity!  Anyway, the article is well worth a read, but I had a few thoughts to add from the perspective of being almost a year into the Orange Muggle Voldemort presidency.

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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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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.)

 

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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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.)

Fraggle Friday: Episode 507–“Gone, But Not Forgotten”

This may well be the most discussed Fraggle Rock episode of them all.  I don’t think that I necessarily have anything new to add to the discussion.  But it’s October, and I always get to feeling morbid in October, and this episode suits my current mood, so I’m just going to go with it.

It’s interesting that, for all the Fraggles’ preoccupation with death, and notwithstanding the numerous close calls, this is the only episode that deals directly with it.

 

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Muppets and Literature

The one thing I love more than anything else in this entire world is Muppet parodies/interpretations of literature.

(With the possible exception of Muppet Christmas Carol, but that’s because of all the baggage that came with it, which is a topic for another day.)

I really think that that’s part of the reason why I decided to major in English, because I realized at an early age, sitting on the floor watching “Monsterpiece Theater” on Sesame Street, that the more familiar you are with the source material, the funnier the jokes are.

So when I heard that there was going to be a Muppetized version of the novel “The Phantom of the Opera,” (one of my favorite novels/stories of all time) starring a perfectly-cast Uncle Deadly as the Phanton himself, my kneejerk reaction was: “YES!”

(At least somebody at Disney has good ideas about the Muppets.)

And then I remembered…I can’t buy the book because (a) I have no money, and (b) I have principles. 

Which is merely to say that I’m being judicious in how I spend my money on Disney-related stuff unless/until they bring Steve back to the Muppets.  It’s not to say that I wouldn’t spend money on a Muppetized version of a classic novel, but I would have to do a lot of soul-searching before I could commit to such a thing, and I first would look for (legal) alternative ways to acquire it without exchanging money with Disney itself.

Fortunately, one such opportunity presented itself.  When I saw that The Muppet Mindset was having a contest to give away free copies of the book, I leapt at the opportunity, without putting a lot of thought or preparation or effort into it.

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Looking at what I don’t see

“With a war of words in the press with the Hensons, Disney executives will never be held accountable for mediocre creative directions that lay at their feet, or for the way I have been treated.  After literally refuting every one of Brian’s allegations on paper throughout the night, I cannot bring myself to send it to the media out of respect for Jim. No matter how carefully I frame it, because I know so much about them, it feels like a counterattack that might do real personal damage. […] I will continue to speak about the issues surrounding my dismissal by Disney, but I cannot in good conscience speak against my mentor’s children. It flies in the face of a great man’s philosophy of watching out for each other and loving and forgiving everybody.”
                     –Steve Whitmire “The Last Few Days, Part 1,” July 22, 2017

Rarely have I seen a better practical, real-life example of someone “turning the other cheek” (cf. Matthew 5:38-39)  than this example of Steve refusing to fight back against the unwarranted personal attacks leveled against him by the Henson children.  It tells me everything I need to know about who Steve is as a person and completely validates the faith and trust that I have invested in him.

And yet, while I understand and agree with Steve’s personal decision not to retaliate against the Hensons, I nevertheless feel that the Hensons should be held accountable for their words and actions.  As responsible adults, we all understand (or, at least, we should understand) that actions have consequences, and one cannot reasonably expect to be held to a different standard due to the high regard in which people hold one’s late father.  In fact, it is precisely because of the high regard in which we hold Jim Henson that his children ought to be held to account, because their actions are reflecting badly on him, and he’s no longer able to defend himself or assert his own point of view.

I agree with Steve that it is inappropriate for him to criticize the Hensons, for the reasons that he stated, but I don’t think it necessarily follows that the Hensons should not be criticized at all.  If I criticize the Hensons, it is unlikely to turn into a war of words, as I doubt that they would consider refuting me to be worth their time.  I have already provided well-reasoned, well-researched criticism of Disney and will continue to do so; therefore, I do not anticipate that anything that I have to say about the Hensons will distract from the Disney critique but rather show it in sharper relief.  Moreover, since I do not know the Hensons personally, I doubt very seriously that my criticism of them would have the potential to do “real personal damage.”

Which is not to say that anything and everything about the Hensons is fair game.  I have always been mindful of the inexpressible pain that they must have felt, and presumably still feel, about the loss of their father, and I will always try to be sensitive of that, as I always have.   And yet, I look to the example of Jon Stewart who, when he was hosting The Daily Show, had a talent for knowing what was foul and what was fair, for calling people on their hypocrisy without hitting below the belt.  And if Jon Stewart were still hosting The Daily Show, I would like to think (though, of course, I have no way of knowing) that he would have devoted some time–not a lot of time, mind you, maybe just five minutes of the show on July 17th or July 18th–to go over to camera 3 and say, “Seriously, what the hell, Hensons?”

So that’s what I’m trying to do now.  More than that, however, I’m just trying to work through the negative feelings of hurt and betrayal that I myself feel over the Hensons’ words and actions.  These negative feelings are burdensome to me, a stumbling block that I will have to get over if I have any hope of being able to move past these issues towards the forgiveness which Jim Henson himself advocated. 

If Steve is reading this, I hope that he will understand my rationale for doing what he has nobly refused to do and forgive me if I am out of line in doing so.

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Manny’s Land of Carpets–Redux

(Well, so much for the peaceful, quiet relaxation.)

First it was a migraine, then it was personal/professional issues…maybe there are forces out there that don’t want me to say what I was originally going to say about the Fraggle Rock episode “Manny’s Land of Carpets.”  Or maybe last week, or even yesterday, just wasn’t the acceptable time for me to be able to do it full justice.  In any case, I think I’m ready now, and I feel compelled to revisit my original ideas about this episode:

GOBO: Why does the Wish-Granting Creature promise so many things in so many different voices?  Something’s wrong here! […] I wish I knew which voice to believe.
ECHO: Believe!…believe!…believe…
[…]
GOBO:  All of a sudden, I know which voice to listen to!

We live in a schizophrenic society.  There are more voices now than ever before, all saying different things and all with different–and often sinister, or at least selfish–motivations.  We live in a world in which foreign agitators promulgate fake news stories across social media platforms to influence our elections.  We–well, I and at least some of you–live in a country in which those in authority try to undermine the credibility of those journalists who are actively TRYING to be truthful–or, at least, accurate–by disingenuously calling them “fake news.”

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