“Who is that strange, bearded man?”: Muppet Family Christmas at 30

Jimchristmas

Today is the 30th anniversary of the special “A Muppet Family Christmas.”  I watched it originally when it aired in 1987.  We taped it off the television (except that we apparently were not prepared to do so and missed the first 6 minutes or so–tragedy!), and I’ve treasured it ever since.  I’ve watched it unabashedly at all times of the year, not only at Christmas.  After Jim Henson died, it was one of the sources available for me to turn for comfort.

Continue reading

Sesame Saturday: “True Blue Miracle”

Friends, this evening I witnessed something truly inspiring, and I wanted to share it with you.  A family of four came into the store where I work part-time and purchased nearly a thousand dollars’ worth of toys to donate to the less fortunate.

And if that isn’t a true blue miracle, I don’t know what one is.

Continue reading

Sesame Saturday: Episode 2096–Retrospective on a Revelation

“When Snuffy wasn’t being used, cables were attached to his head and back and he was hoisted 40 feet in the air, where he was out of the way and safe. […] What made this so much fun was that in those days, we had a lot of kids on the show […] Many of these kids spotted Snuffy hanging overhead.  When they did, they went nuts!  Kids would grab the leg of the nearest adult and yell, ‘Look!  Look!  It’s the Snuffle-upagus!’  And, the adult response was always the same: ‘Aw, c’mon, kid.  You can’t fool me.  There’s no such thing as a Snuffle-upagus.'”
                  –Joseph A. Bailey, demonstrating the sadistic attitude of the adults on Sesame Street in the ’70s and early ’80s in his book, Memoirs of a Muppet Writer.

Someone once asked Street Gang author Michael Davis, in an interview that seems to have become lost among the shifting sands of the Internet, what was the most significant episode of Sesame Street.  

I thought about the question myself and I decided that, for me, there’s an objective answer and a subjective answer.  The objective answer is the same that Davis gave, the death of Mr. Hooper.  But the subjective answer, for me, is the episode in which Snuffy was revealed to be nonimaginary, which aired 32 years ago on November 18, 1985.  I was five years old at the time, and I was watching.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Songs for Puerto Rico

For years and years, whenever anyone ever mentioned the words “Puerto Rico” in my presence, my automatic response has been to sing the opening line of the song “America” from West Side Story.  There’s no reason for it; it’s just a silly, meaningless habit that I picked up somewhere along the way.  But in the current context of the devastation caused by the recent hurricane, that particular response doesn’t seem so silly but rather callous and cruel, which is why I didn’t quote the line here.

So I said to myself, “Man, I really need a new song to associate with Puerto Rico.”

Lin-ElmoRosita

Fortunately, Elmo and Rosita sang a song with the brilliant and Muppety Lin-Manuel Miranda, which was posted yesterday to Elmo’s Twitter feed.

(By the way, why does Elmo need a Twitter feed?  I mean, I understand it from a Doylist point of view, but from a Watsonian point of view it makes no sense whatsoever, because Elmo can’t even read. )

Sorry, I got distracted there for a second.  Anyway, the gifted and beautiful Lin-Manuel Miranda also wrote and produced another song for Puerto Rico called “Almost Like Praying.”  It is available on all digital media platforms, and all the proceeds go to hurricane relief.

On Amazon, it costs less than a buck and a half, so it’s one small way that we can all help out our fellow Americans and fellow human beings who have experienced horror and degradation the likes of which most of us cannot even begin to imagine.

 

Fraggle Friday: Episode 218: “The Day the Music Died”

Well, the best-laid plans of Fraggles and frogs often go awry, I suppose.  I had a whole Fraggle Friday feature all planned out…and then I developed a migraine, with its attendant photosensitivity, which means I can’t turn on a light to see my notes, at least not without feeling as though a Doozer with an ice auger is standing on my head trying to bore its way into my skull.

So instead, let’s focus on the night when the lights went out in Fraggle Rock: episode 218, “The Day the Music Died,” aka The One With the Ditzies.

Continue reading

One of these things is not like the others…

Today, while doing research online, I found a quiz that was put together a week ago by Slate Magazine asking the reader to identify (by voice) the puppeteer performing Kermit in various audio clips.

Sarcastically, I thought, “Oh, that’s nice.  Turn Steve’s professional tragedy into a party game.”

But I took the quiz anyway, hoping to prove the point that, as wonderful as Matt is, he doesn’t sound anywhere near as much like Jim as some people would like to believe he does.  

Continue reading

Sesame Saturday: All About Ernie

Not counting Kermit, who appeared on Sesame Street but wasn’t created specifically for it, Ernie is probably my favorite Sesame Street character of all time, although it is hard for me to choose between him and Bert (they’re always at their best when they’re together).  If you were to ask former classmates of mine whether I was more like Ernie or Bert in school, most of them would probably say Bert.  But in my own mind, I always identified with Ernie.  Certainly, Ernie is everything that I would like to be: clever, funny, easygoing, with an infectious laugh and a perpetual smile on his face.

And yet, I said before that, of all of the Muppet (and non-Muppet) characters that Jim Henson created, Kermit the Frog is the most “real” to me.  So when Sesame Workshop recast Ernie in 2014, my reaction was one of mild annoyance rather than panic.

It was the episode in which Bert learns to ride his bike without training wheels (clip).  At first, I was happy to see a street story featuring Bert and Ernie because that hadn’t happened since who knows when.  Then Ernie opened his mouth to speak and I said to myself, “Is Ernie going through puberty?  Because his voice seems to have changed.”

Continue reading

“…the lovers, the dreamers, and me.”

What follows is a clip from a 2014 benefit screening of Muppets Most Wanted at the White House for military families.  Kermit speaks eloquently to the children of military personnel about the challenges they face:

You know, I’ve watched a lot of interviews with Kermit, and Steve as well, and one question that comes up a lot is who are their favorite celebrities that they’ve met and worked with.  And, speaking strictly for myself, any or all of the Obamas would be near the top of the list.  But I imagine that getting to do things to help kids–like this, or like the Labor Day telethon, or Make-A-Wish visits–would be the most rewarding part of being a Muppet performer.  I imagine that that stuff would stick with you longer than the bits with the celebrities, although those bits would be fun too.

Continue reading

Sesame Saturday: The Curious Case of Herry Monster’s Legs

And now for something completely different.

Today I was in the early stages of thinking about a new “Salient Themes” post which, if it makes it to the publication stage, will involve Herry Monster, that gruff but lovable stalwart of ’80s Sesame Street.  

That reminded me that I recently read that Funko had released a Herry Monster toy (it happened almost six months ago, but I only read it recently).  Which is very cool even though, like most Funko Pop figures, it has black, soulless eyes that look ready to swallow you whole.  But still, Herry needs more merchandising love, so let’s take what we can get.

I sneaked a quick peek at the responses on the forum, and they were talking about Herry’s pink-striped pants and whether we actually ever got to see them on the show itself.  And that reminded me: not only does Herry not wear pants on the show (as far as I know), but sometimes Herry doesn’t even have legs.

Look at this sketch in which Herry is sitting and talking with Edith Ann (Lily Tomlin) in her gigantic chair:

You could assume that he is kneeling on the chair, with his legs tucked under him (that’s probably how I interpreted it when I was a kid), but in that case, wouldn’t he have …I don’t know…knees?

In this one, Herry plays a butterfly in the school pageant about the lepidopteran life-cycle, and at the end he is  hoisted into the air on a fly system, and it is readily apparent that he does not have any legs:

Didn’t they know ahead of time that Herry was going to be flying?  Why didn’t anyone think to build him any legs?  This is what happens when you let someone other than Prairie Dawn run the school pageant.

So I started getting quasi-philosophical about all this, and I thought, “Well, Sesame has always been good about including people/characters with disabilities; maybe from that we’re just supposed to assume that Herry just doesn’t have any legs, and they never bring it up because it’s not a big deal.”

But then I remembered the Monsterpiece Theatre sketch “Chariots of Fur,” in which Herry and Grover run down the beach together to awesomely inspirational music.  Running typically requires legs, and in this instance Herry does have them, and we get several close-ups of them:

So has Herry been to a prosthetist since the butterfly pageant?  Or maybe Herry doesn’t have legs, but the character he’s playing in “Chariots of Fur” does have legs, and Herry is just that good an actor!

I just blew your minds, didn’t I?  😉

 

I wonder…

I wonder what would have happened if no one had asked Disney about Steve Whitmire’s status with the Muppets.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not making a value judgment either way.  But I just wonder what would be different now.  Would Steve have started his blog?  Would the Vogel!Kermit (henceforward to be known as “simula-Kerm”) video have dropped in July without fanfare?

That’s one thing that’s been gnawing at me all these almost two months, and nobody else seems to think that it is as significant as I do: when the news first broke back in July, Disney promised a “Muppet Thought of the Week” video with Matt Vogel as Kermit the following week.  The fact that they claimed to have it cued up and ready to go, and yet didn’t make an announcement regarding the recast until specifically asked about it, implies to me that they intended to just release the simula-Kerm video on the world without comment, to try to sneak it past us and hope that we wouldn’t notice.

It’s frankly insulting.  We’re Muppet fans, dammit!  We notice tiny details; what makes you think we aren’t going to notice a seismic shift in the Muppet universe?  We get pissed off when Fozzie wears the wrong color tie; what makes you think we’re going to let the end of the Second Muppet Era pass by without comment?  What have we been doing for the past 27 years but analyzing Kermit’s voice?  Of COURSE we were going to notice!  We were always going to notice!

Then the whole thing became a bit like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  Steve took a Harry Potter-like stand by starting his blog to tell the world the truth of what had gone on at Disney.  In response, Disney took a…well, to be fair, a relatively mild Dolores Umbridge-like stance and started trying to discredit Steve in the press.  And a sizable chunk of the Muppet fandom started taking an Dumbledore-specific-to-OotP-like stance and started ignoring Steve just when Steve needed them the most.  This was a rare miscalculation on Dumbledore’s part, but at least he had good intentions behind it.  Perhaps the fans that have turned away from Steve have good intentions as well; history will be the judge.  But I digress.

Amidst the fallout from all that, the simula-Kerm video drop was delayed by over a month.

This, I think, was a diabolically clever move by Disney.  It gave people the opportunity to get used to the idea of Matt performing Kermit, to convince themselves that even a simulacrum of Kermit is better than no Kermit at all.  (On which issue, by the way, I am still undecided.)

If, on the other hand, Disney had released its simula-Kerm video in July with no fanfare, the way it seems to have wanted to in the first place, not only would there have been confusion and uproar, but it would have demonstrated dramatically how little respect Disney has for us Muppet fans: the insult of thinking they could recast Kermit without our noticing or caring, added to the injury of ripping away the soul of our beloved froggy friend.

Then again, maybe it would all have come to the same pass anyway.  Forced to do damage control, maybe Disney would have still released their same statement about Steve’s “unacceptable business conduct” and the Hensons’ support of their decision, and maybe the Hensons would have chimed right in on cue with the Steve-bashing, and maybe that same contingent of Muppet fans would have been convinced that they are right.

I don’t fault the guys at ToughPigs or The Muppet Mindset for investigating and publishing their findings; if anything, I wish they had been willing to do more investigating, to use the unique resources available to them to uncover the truth of the matter. In any case, what had seemed initially to have been an embarrassing inconvenience for Disney actually ended up playing right into their hands.  Disney, with its Machiavellian efficiency, managed to turn a disadvantage into an advantage.

On the other hand, it also led to Steve starting his Muppet Pundit blog, which has become a joy and a blessing in my life, so I’m grateful for that.  Nothing is so evil that good cannot come out of it, one way or another.