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 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.

Being Elmo: A Puppateer’s Journey

Being Elmo is the story of a man, who spent his entire life captivating the imaginations and the hearts of the world. He has worked as one of the most influential and beloved entertainers of our generation. This is the story of Kevin Clash and his persona as the heartwarming, bright red puppet, Elmo. Clash modified the character’s voice and personality; and in this touching, and surprisingly human, documentary we catch a glimpse into the life a man who used his voice, hands, and heart to turn felt and foam into a universally recognized and loved entity that represents the most powerful force on earth: love.
The movie is as wide eyed and innocent as any of the Sesame Street Muppets. Drawing in the audience it forces us to confront and question the cynical messages we have come to expect from reality based entertainment. This is in every way a documentary about real life, and yet it contains the same amount of magic as any Disney animated feature I have ever seen. It is a testament to hard work, imagination and never giving up on your dreams.
The story begins with Clash’s fascination with Sesame Street,a program that, unlike most other shows on television, took place in a neighborhood much like his own. It showed a community full of racial diversity, so much so that it even included puppets. Clash describes (and consequently we are shown) a scene from the first episode of Sesame Streetwhere Burt and Ernie speak directly to the viewer. This acted as one of the many influences that caused him to take a hands on approach to puppeteering. Early on in the film, Clash describes how he looked into his father’s closet and saw a trench coat whose fabric would be perfect for a monkey, so he proceeded to cut and stitch his very first puppet in a long legacy of creatures that he would give life to.
Kevin persisted in his dream, though some would ridicule and mock his fascination with his fabric creation. But the years of high school torment payed off when he was offered a position performing on a local television program. From there he only went up, first with a job on one of his favorite TV shows Captain Kangaroo and eventually on to working full time for Jim Hensen. We go along on this incredible journey side by side with Kevin. He retells us bits of information about his inspiring journey, and simultaneously we are shown bits of his history through studio recordings and old photographs, we don’t have to take his word for it, the proof is laid out in front of us.
The runaway success of his Elmo character was certainly unexpected. I say “his” Elmo character because the high voiced, friendly red monster we know now was not the original. Before being placed into Kevin’s hands, Elmo had a deep voice and almost caveman-like tendencies. That all changed. As Clash worked through voices and personalities, he settled upon the idea that this creature should be the embodiment of love. Elmo became kind and understanding and wanted simply to smother virtually everyone with hugs. A trait Clash soon learned to be invaluable as his Elmo character’s popularity soared.
One unforeseen result of the new adoration came in the form of children from the make a wish foundation wanting to meet Elmo. Clash retells us the first time he was told that a little girl had, for her dying wish, expressed a desire to meet Elmo. A challenge that Elmo, with all his gusto and giggles, rose to. This is just one of the many sobering elements of the film. For a movie documenting a puppateers life, the emotional levels are staggering. We relive the world’s reaction to the death of Jim Henson, we see a man who, though he was making millions of children around the world smile, wished he would have spent more time with his daughter. Kevin Clash is just a man, and is by no means perfect, he is the first to admit that. The power behind the emotional truths conveyed in this film are what make it so great. While the whole movie comes across as somewhat sugar coated, it is far from unbelievable.
Kevin had a dream, in the same way that you may have dreamed to be an astronaut or a firefighter, and he succeeded. It takes years of hard work, it takes ridicule and sacrifice, he makes mistakes and he wishes he had done certain things differently, but he succeeds. Elmo and Kevin Clash are one and the same. Kevin’s enthusiastic and optimistic personality pour through into the fabric and life force of Elmo. We are given a rare glimpse into the life of a very different type of man. A man that makes it his job to express kindness to millions upon millions of people around the world.