Revisiting the Patriarch: The Muppet Movie


The Muppet empire was created by a group of incredibly ambitious dreamers that strove to perfect the art of puppeteering, making it something far more than an easy, cheap go-to children’s entertainment option. Jim Henson, known for being an avid perfectionist, was the mastermind behind the ordeal, and it’s thanks to him that some of my all time favorite movies have been made. The Muppets themselves have had a fantastic career in the film industry over the past few decades, most recently with their comeback hit The Muppets. The Muppets was a fun and lovingly crafted piece of work that pays tribute to the origins of the group, but it lacked two major components that can never truly be replaced; Frank Oz and Jim Henson.

The Muppet Movie was the beginning of the road for the motley crew of fabric puppets. Like quite a few movies I’ve watched recently, the overall tone is very self-aware. We quickly realize that we, the audience, are watching the screening of a film that tells the story of how the Muppets ended up in Hollywood (approximately). We’re introduced to Kermit as he sings and plays his banjo in the swamp. He’s accidentally discovered by a lost Hollywood agent who convinces him to audition for a movie role. Kermit then embarks on a cross-country adventure that gives a back story to the majority of the cast of the much beloved Muppet Show. Although filled to the brim with musical numbers and cameos, the movie really shined in it’s masterful use of the puppets that run the show.

As I mentioned before, Jim Henson was a perfectionist. He had a vision and he wanted to make sure that his vision was accomplished exactly as his mind saw it. So, when we watch the opening musical number that shows Kermit sitting on a log in a swamp playing his banjo and singing we think very little of what it took to accomplish a feat like that at the time. In truth, the scene took five days to film. Jim Henson was submerged under the water in a small metal container with an air hose and a monitor so he could watch his actions with the puppet. While watching it today may not have the same aw-inspiring effect he originally intended, this was the first time a hand puppet had performed on screen with its entire body showing. The intention of the film, aside from making people smile with fun music bits, corny puns and tons of guest appearances, was to wow the audience with what could be done with puppets. Little things were huge successes, particularly the scene where Kermit rides his bike down the street. It’s not a close up shot, it’s not cutting off his legs with the shot, it’s showing him riding down the street in full view. The ingenuity and creativity of Jim Henson is seen in full force in their first ever feature film.

Some might argue with my opinion that the pacing of the film is a bit slow thanks mostly to some less that incredible songs. Visually and technically it is a masterpiece, and most of the music in the movie is fun and engaging in the way it draws the audience closer to the story and the characters. However, some of the songs seemed a little out of place an unnecessary, proving to detract from the overall pace of the movie. It’s a very small gripe in comparison to the whole. The Muppet Movie has, and always will be able to impress me. It’s the original, the beginning to one of the most beloved media empires in our history, an empire headed up by a felt frog.

The Little Mermaid is on Blu-Ray!


My favorite Disney Princess movie has made it’s way on Blu-Ray this month and I was fortunate enough to receive a copy for my birthday! A review would be all too redundant since it was released before I was born and has been loved by viewers ever since. However, to celebrate this occasion I’ll redirect you to a discussion on the beloved film by Paul Boyne and myself on our joint blog “Gaffer Macguffin’s Movie House”. Recently, Paul watched every single Disney Animation film made, which gave us the chance to talk about a couple of them. The Little Mermaid played a pivotal roll in bringing about what is known as the Disney Renaissance. Head to the discussion here!



     Disney has had a long history of creating imaginative retellings of classic fairytales in a way that no other production company has managed to pull off. Often times these stories that are well known are taken and tweaked, adding musical elements and a level of detail rarely afforded to otherwise small stories. The Disney Princess line of products and films is one of the most lucrative business models on the planet, because of this the company is always eager to expand that universe. While, arguably, the messages behind the stories are dangerously optimistic, few can deny that when they’re on their game, Disney Animation studios manages to give the world entertaining stories of extreme optimism with fantastic attention to detail. Tangled was released in 2010, expanding the Princess universe to include a computer animated counterpart in Rapunzel. The film managed to capture most of what makes the classic animated films so great, namely beautiful animation, quirky humor, and catchy musical numbers.

     Tangled retells the story of Rapunzel, the princess who is locked in a tower for, what she assumes is her own protection. Her most noticeable attribute is, of course, her incredibly long hair. What she doesn’t know is that the woman she believes to be her mother is actually her captor. She was kidnapped at birth for her hair’s magical ability to rejuvenate the elderly and wounded. When the dashing thief, Flynn Rider, enters her life, they embark on an adventure together filled with one liner quips and bouncing musical numbers. As things progress, the villainous “mother” attempts to reclaim her prisoner, while Rapunzel begins to remember her true family.

    Computer animated films are filling a void left by traditional animation. This higher saturation of CGI, has created an expected amount of mediocre films, which is exactly what I expected Tangled to be. These cartoons are huge money makers for the studios that produce them. What I loathe about Pixar, happens to be their single largest cash cow, and that is the Cars franchise. What I was unaware with this particular project, was the amount of money it cost to produce. To date, Tangled is the second most expensive film ever made, costing an incredible 260 Million dollars. While that kind of money is never a guarantee for quality, it appears that it was put to good use.

The Inspector General

Inspector general


The Inspector General allows one of the greatest comedic actors of all time to explore the social awkwardness of a lower class citizen being put into the position of an Inspector General, an official whose job it is to inspect villages, expose corruption and place it’s affairs in order. Danny Kay, (White Christmas) plays Georgi, a man with far too large a heart to be an adequate assistant to the con man he works for. Kay is an incredible, multi-talented thespian with impeccable comedic timing. He is the main attraction to this quirky little period comedy, however he is surrounded by an equally odd supporting cast that adds to the humor and unique nature of the film.

Georgi, after being thrown out of his traveling medicine show, is forced to wander off on his own. His tattered clothes leave him looking like a tramp, eventually causing him to use a counterfeited piece of parchment bearing the fake insignia of the emperor, Napoleon, to plug up a hole in his shoe. He wanders into a small town and is almost immediately accused of stealing a horse. The town, whose leaders are full of corruption, learn that there is an Inspector General traveling incognito from town to town, doling out death penalties to inadequate governmental leaders. Long story short, thanks to the counterfieted signature in his boot, Georgi is mistaken as the Inspector General and must overcome the fact that he is an illiterate con-man who is generally too kind to pull any wool over anyone’s eyes.

Though simplistic, the plot works extremely well, especially with Danny Kay leading the way. At one point in the film, he doesn’t entirely know what’s happening when all of the sudden he is released from jail and is offered a feast in his honor. Due to the fact that he hasn’t eaten in 3 days, he gladly overlooks the oddity of the situation and tries his best to play the part just long enough to get something to eat. It isn’t until he passes out after the meal and wakes up the next morning that he realizes the position he’s found himself in. Kay proves himself to be an oft overlooked master of slapstick physical comedy, as well as witty banter.

Though it’s understandable that The Inspector General isn’t the most well known of Kay’s films, it certainly is given less attention than it deserves. It lacks some of the vibrancy of The Court Jester and it doesn’t have the star power associated with White Christmas, however the little odd-ball movie has, much like it’s main character, a huge heart. It is, for lack of a better description, a nice movie. Our protagonist is kind and wanting to help others before helping himself, he demonstrates a level of love to complete strangers that is almost never returned in the film, and yet it isn’t sad. Georgi’s kindness transcends the actions that others do to him, and he instead focuses on how he himself treats others, which is often times quite humorous.


Beyond the Sea



Kevin Spacey is (or rather was, in 2004) far too old to play a young Bobby Darin, the musical artist who is perhaps best known for his hit “Splish Splash”. This is a fact that Spacey himself admits within the scope of his semi-biographical film. In an early scene we see Darin being informed he’s far too old to play himself in his film biography, but this doesn’t dissuade him from doing so; the same way that Spacey placed himself in the lead roll for a film about a man living primarily in his 20s while he himself was in his 40s. Beyond the Sea is a musical centering around the life and career of one of the greatest night club singers of all time: Bobby Darin. Directed, co-written and starring Kevin Spacey, we’re given a polished up glimpse into the sordid affairs of a national icon. We see what drove him, the struggles he was forced to overcome, his ego and his health problems that plagued him his entire life. I’m not completely familiar with the life story of Bobby Darin, but a quick internet search can shed light to the facts pertaining to this movie. Rather, I would like to focus on the aspect of why this movie is worth your time.

Despite the massive discrepancy in age between how old Darin is supposed to be in the film and how old Spacey is in actuality we’re given a performance that is completely packed with emotion. And it isn’t just Spacey that gives a powerful performance, John Goodman plays “Boom Boom”, Darin’s agent and Kate Bosworth plays an excellent Sandra Dee. Darin has such a huge ego throughout the course that when set next to Sandra Dee’s strong will the emotions just naturally flow through both actors, oozing out of the screen and into the consciousness of the audience. Shortly after Darin fails to procure an Oscar, one of the most entertaining, and best acted arguments I’ve seen in recent memory erupts from the screen; the scene involves Darin threatening to leave his wife, Sandra Dee. in response she becomes enraged at the idea that HE would leave HER. She refuses to allow him to leave before she does. As they hurl verbal insults at each other they both race to fill their suit cases and take their own cars in an attempt to be the one doing the actual leaving. The solid performances put in by the entire supporting cast is simultaneously convincing and entertaining, allowing for a good mixture of comedy and drama.

The world that these incredibly talented actors are set in is, quite simply, beautiful. The premise of the movie is that a biographical film ins being made about Bobby Darin spanning over three decades, the seams between reality and fiction are blurred so much that it becomes incredibly easy to forget that the elaborate dance numbers and sets are all part of the facade, to the point that it’s hard to tell if it ever was a facade and not just the reality that the film is based in. The dance numbers are stunning as well, taken strait out of an old time Hollywood flick in which every cast member must not only act, but sing and dance as well. This is, after all, a biography about Bobby Darin, there has to be music, a beat that pulses through the entirety of the film. That pulse is felt and heard through the entire movie, sure it slows when Bobby seems to have lost himself, but it inevitably beats stronger as he finds himself. Darin belonged on the stage, that was something that everyone around him knew, but that he sometimes forgot. The music he created parades through the course of the movie non-stop, it compliments the phenomenal acting, the beautiful set pieces and elaborate dance numbers to the point that you can’t separate one aspect of this movie from the other.

The slump in this movie happens roughly three quarters through the film, at which point the vibrant and vivacious Darin succumbs to bouts of depression and sets off to find himself. It’s not that this isn’t an important aspect of the movie, it’s just the drastic change in pace that seems somewhat jolting. The slower pace only lasts for a short time, almost as a way for Darrin to take care of a few things before approaching the final act of the film. And what a final act it is. Beyond the Sea is a celebration of life, as ugly and devastating as it sometimes can be.

The Happiest Millionaire

Certain human experiences will always transcend time. They make themselves prevalent throughout life, becoming visible not only in first hand accounts, but through art, literature and music created by people wishing to express the way they feel about a particular emotion. If film has done one thing it has popularized the streamlining of ideas by taking something that someone feels and repeating that sentiment over a multitude of flickering moving pictures. No one has accomplished this better than Walt Disney; their message of “follow your heart” has been repeated continuously for the last few generations. While that message is almost always given with a healthy dose of “magic” often relying on the supernatural elements of their stories to emphasize the ability of the heart, one particular film stands out due to it’s use of fantastic musical numbers, but a complete lack of anything truly magical. I am referring to, of course 1967’s The Happiest Millionaire.

     I should clarify; though The Happiest Millionaire is devoid of magic, it is certainly not lacking in the absurd. The story follows the life of the Biddle family through the eyes of the newly hired Butler, John Lawless (Who is played impeccably by Tommy Steele.) The Patriarch of the family, one Anthony J Drexel Biddle (Fred Macmurray) is a man that is as eccentric as he is rich; and he is extremely rich. Among Mr. Biddle’s hobbies is boxing, mixing Bible study with exercise routines, raising alligators in the conservatory and singing opera. Biddle is forced to face certain realities, particularly with his socially awkward Daughter Cordy. While she is on the cusp of becoming a woman, she has been raised with two brothers. She is interested in boys, but knows more about boxing than she does about flirting. The film progresses to her eventual courtship and engagement to a young and equally rich gentlemen, and follows the complications that arise from having such an odd family.

The Sherman brothers have created more music for film than any other song writing duo. Which is why their involvement in this movie (which is similar in style tofilms like Marry Poppins) comes as no surprise. The score, along with the narrative musical numbers in this film help explain the emotions and thoughts of the characters perfectly, which is no easy task when considering the range of characters within the film. Tommy Steele in particular is fantastic as the newly immigrated butlerand narrator of the story. It’s a blast to see him weave through the sets, often times breaking the fourth wall.

It’s a fun and meaningful story that is connected by sweet melodies and meaningful lyrics. While certainly not gaining as much notoriety  as some of the more well known live action Disney musicals, The Happiest Millionaire certainly upholds the Disney standard. As I said before, it’s devoid of “magical” elements, though it lacks no charm and only adds to the fact that the Biddle family actually existed, and Mr. Biddle was just as eccentric as Fred Macmurray was in this film.

The Muppets (2011)

The  Muppets, and pretty much everything else to come from the Jim Henson Company, represent something truly unique within the entertainment industry. They are not only pioneers, they are masters at totally encompassing bits of fabric and giving them more personality and wit than most actors can accomplish. The Muppets themselves have had a very long and successful career, one that has entertained both kids and adults alike. After the death of Jim Henson, Things started to change. While their previous films centered around the puppets, they began taking a back seat as supporting members of the cast; the films they starred in went from original scripts to re-tellings of classic literature. In an attempt to bring things back to their past formula, Muppets From Space took on the task of telling an original story while putting The Muppets as the head of the cast. The movie had it’s funny bits, but it was one of the weaker films to come out of their career. For 12 years their presence in feature films was completely absent. In 2011, Jason Segel successfully launched The Muppets back into the spotlight they deserved.

The Muppets is a return to the origins of the film franchise. Segel, who wrote and starred in the film, proves himself  a passionate and true fan by including many allusions and nods to the original film, The Muppet Movie, while updating many of the jokes and humor for a modern audience. The world has changed since we last saw the gang, both in real life and within the scope of the film. The gradual downward spiral of popularity in The Muppet franchise that started in the early 90s is certainly acknowledged, as is the fact that the connection that most older viewers have with the likes of Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog are all but lost on this younger generation. Segel doesn’t change The Muppets at all, on the contrary, this feels like a modern sequel (which, I suppose it is) to the original movie that was released in the 1970’s.

My appreciation for this movie increases with each viewing, making it easily one of my favorite movies of 2011. The Muppets present such a positive and upbeat outlook, fun musical numbers, celebrity cameos, and an excellent sense of humor that is great for any age. The skill, not only for the puppeteers (Muppeteers?) but the skill of those having to interact with the puppets, the writers and film makers. It’s a kids movie that is expertly crafted and can, and should, be enjoyed by everyone. In Short The Muppets returns the franchise to it’s originating elements that made it awesome, it updates the jokes while maintaining the essence and quality that fans have come to expect.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Back in 2008 there was a little problem in Hollywood; namely the Writers Guild of America was on strike, thus halting the majority of film and television productions. During this lull Joss Whedon decided to write, direct and fund a project that became Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a three part web series/movie that allowed him to work in the medium he loved without breaking the terms of the strike. The entire movie/show was released online and became wildly popular. Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day, the movie won multiple awards, including a People’s Choice Award for favorite online sensation. Whedon did something that had never been done before, released a professional grade mini-series on a shoe string budget and released it exclusively online.

The film follows Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), an aspiring super villain, as he attempts to prove his worth to the “Evil League of Evil”. His arch Nemesis, Captain Hammer (Fillion), is a self inflated egotistical imbecile. We learn through Dr. Horrible’s video blog that he loves a girl that he frequently sees at the laundromat. When this girl, Penny (Felicia Day), begins dating Captain Hammer, Dr. Horrible becomes even more determined to join the Evil League of Evil in a misguided attempt to impress her.

The low budget is evident throughout the movie, but ads far more to it’s value than it subtracts. As is the case in much of Whedon’s work the characters and the jokes are very tongue in cheek, almost to a fault. Any amount of cheesiness (intended or otherwise) is completely forgivable due to how well each of the three main characters portray their parts. The music is poppy and fun and the story is quirky in that it takes the sympathetic side of the villain.

Whedon’s signature style of storytelling glares through the entirety of the project. Witty dialogue and events that the audience “needs not wants” show us that even in something as humorous as Dr. Horrible there are elements of storytelling that should not be ignored. This project is just about as opposite as you can get to his more recent film The Avengers, however he maintains his professional love for movies. It’s a lovingly crafted piece of film history that was shown the same level of  any large scale blockbuster. If you have Netflix I believe it is currently available for streaming and well worth your time to watch.

Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors is the dark story of a man that sacrifices human life to feed a monster that promises him a successful and happy life; a dark story that is brightened by Do-wop musical numbers and a giant puppet. The eclectic elements and incredibly talented cast gives the screen a rare treat in the form of one of the most entertaining musicals in recent memory. Director Frank Oz, being no stranger to musicals or puppeteering for that matter, uses his experience to weave together visuals and storytelling that borders between dream and nightmare.
The opening titles are the first thing to grab your attention. Theatrical music screams to life as a deep voiced narrator describes the setting of the film, his words scrolling across the screen from bottom to top. Immediately after the narrator finishes speaking the music changes and we’re treated to the movie’s titular theme song, sung by a new set of narrators; a group of three young women who lace the story with insightful information, through song; information that none of the characters themselves would possibly be able to know. Every song is filled to the brim with the dark humor and odd characters living in the strange world that this film takes place in.
     There could not have been a better choice in cast for this movie. Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene are equal parts quirky and endearing as the odd pair of romantics in the overly pessimistic streets of skid row. Bill Murray, Steve Martin and John Candy are just a few people who make cameos in the film. The musical numbers are all catered to each of the singer’s personalities and struggles. The neurotic and socially awkward salesman (Moranis) Continually tests the limits of his conscience in order to secure both his own happiness as well as the happiness of those he cares most about. Both the use of Jim Henson style puppets and tongue-in-cheek jokes makes the movie feel like a Muppet movie gone horribly wrong, which, given the Director’s long history with the Muppets, isn’t far off.     The production of the sets, costumes and props further ads to the aesthetics of the film, portraying every location as perfectly stereotypical. From the dentist office with it’s sterile white used as a backdrop to the sounds screaming children, to the “little shop” itself; a quintessential floral shop. The best use of sets is in the song where Audrey (Ellen Greene) dreams about her ideal future. During this segment we’re treated to one of the most stereotypical and hilarious ideas of the perfect life circa 1950, complete with separate beds for her and her husband.

     Underneath the dark humor and catchy musical numbers lie a number of allegories and parallels to both the real world and age old tools of story telling. Foremost among these allegories is the cautionary tale that shows the danger of compromising ones morals in order to achieve any type of gain . With spoiling as little of the movie as possible, I simply want to recommend this movie to those that love musicals, dark humor, or Rick Moranis.

“The Pirates of Penzance” The Greatest Pirate Story Ever Sung



The Pirates of Penzance is a light opera that has been performed on thousands of stages from the time of its original writing in 1879. Created by Gilbert and Sullivan, it was later created into a movie that has become an all time favorite of mine. The story follows Frederic, a young man who finds himself accidentally apprenticed to a band of pirates until his 21st birthday. Frederic considers himself a slave to duty, and as such tells the band of pirates that, although he loves them like brothers, he finds it his duty that when he is released from his apprenticeship he will have to devote himself entirely to their extermination. The cast is led by Rex Smith, Linda Ronstadt, Angela Lansbury and Kevin Kline (Kline gives one of the best Pirate performances ever committed to film).
       The play is timeless, due to this fact the movie version differs very little from a stage performance. The sets are (sometimes to a fault) obviously fake; painted backdrops and exaggerated props add to the feeling that you could be watching an excellent stage production from the best seat in the house. Aside from the overture, which bursts forth with the most exciting themes from the movie, thus preparing the audience for what’s to come, the movie cuts out various characteristics common to a stage production. We don’t have to suffer through awkward pauses in the dark while sets are changed and there is no intermission, likewise the performances are polished and lines are not forgotten or fumbled. It is far superior to a stage production in the area of perspective. We, as the audience, are not subject to one single angle for the duration of the production. Modern film editing and cinematography allow us to see every action and reaction of the characters as close as any other movie. This factor is absolutely invaluable. The comedic timing of all involved (particularly Kline) is never squandered, but even in this format the movie warrants multiple viewings to witness all of the little quips and quirks of the various characters.
        The film is, of course, a musical. It takes on a very nautical feel early on, despite that the majority of the movie takes place on land. The band of pirates is pitted against various bands of civilized individuals, namely a wiry police constable and his cowardly deputies. Each group has their own themes that intermingle and change speed in regards to what is happening with the plot. The individual songs which take the place of nearly all dialogue is witty and just as funny as when this was originally produced. The story centers around a series of misunderstandings and simple minded mistakes, all of which are reflected in both the music and the lyrics. The production prides itself in its witty lyrics combined with the speed at which they are presented (using multiple songs as elongated tongue twisters), a testament to both performers and writers.
       The story centers on miscommunication so heavily that at times we find ourselves wondering (as the characters often do) what is going on. Lies lead to awkward confrontations, misunderstandings lead to apprenticeship to a pirate and identity is searched for, but almost never found. As I stated before, Kevin Kline gives an impeccable performance as the pirate king. He, for most of the film, presents himself as a fearless, masculine and ruthless leader of a band just as bloodthirsty as himself; only to find himself moved to tears by the song of an elderly gentlemen singing about his life as an orphan. The emotions shown by the characters are almost never mild, it is one extreme or the next.
        It should be noted that if you found yourself wanting to watch this, there is a stage production on DVD with most of the same actors. I would not recommend this, as you lose most of the things that make the movie so good. A stage production has limitations (though undoubtedly is incredible to see live) whereas a film production can smooth the rough edges and show you things in greater detail. the 1983 film version is the one to seek out, as it is nothing less than a comedic and musical romp. There are few films that I consider watching over and over, but this film has always been a pleasure to watch and listen to.