A Not-so-Brief Word on Muppetgate


?A lot of people have sent me the news that some of the old Muppet guys, particularly Frank Oz, are kind of upset with Jason Segel’s new Muppet movie The Muppets. Let me quote two paragraphs from the Hollywood Reporter’s article on the kerfluffle:

A small example is in one of the many trailers Disney has released, when Fozzie makes a fart joke. “We wouldn’t do that; it’s too cheap,” says another Muppets veteran. “It may not seem like much in this world of [Judd] Apatow humor, but the characters don’t go to that place.”

There is a list of similar concerns: Kermit would never live in a mansion, as he does in this movie. The Muppets, depicted in the script as jealous of Kermit’s wealth, would not have broken up in bitterness. The script “creates a false history that the characters were forced to act out for the sake of this movie,” says an old Muppets hand.

And here’s the key quote from Oz:

Frank Oz, the most famous living Muppets performer — known best as Miss Piggy — spoke more harshly in a recent interview with the British paper Metro. “I wasn’t happy with the script,” he said bluntly. “I don’t think they respected the characters. But I don’t want to go on about it like a sourpuss and hurt the movie.”

Now, I think the “Muppet Old Guard” should be afforded all the respect in the world. Additionally, none of us have read the script or seen the movie yet, so maybe, Segel’s movie is crass and vulgar and more Meet the Feebles than Great Muppet Caper.

But I don’t think it is. First of all, all Segel has ever talked about is how much he loves the Muppets, well before he was ever approached to do the Muppets movie. Obviously, you can love something and still make a terrible movie of it, but so far, every single trailer and promo from the movie I’ve seen — from the insane “Bohemian Rhapsody” video to the latest trailer, seems exactly like Segel gets it. At no point during any of this stuff did I once think “this Muppet wouldn’t do that.” And apologies to whoever, but Fozzie is a bad comedian. Shoes with whoopie cushions on them are a bad joke. It fits perfectly for me. And I’d say there’s a pretty massive distance between whoopie cushions and the stuff Judd Apatow does.

What’s more important to me is that the Muppets seem not only fun again, but a little edgy. I’m old enough to remember how truly subversive the Muppets can be, something that has rarely shone through in the Muppet oeuvre since Jim Henson died (the insane Very Merry Muppet Christmas being an exception). I mean, to do a straight-on parody of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trailer? That’s madness, but that’s also totally awesome. And while they have made a few videos aimed at joyless adults like myself, I don’t think you can watch that last trailer and tell me the movie isn’t also aimed at kids, too.

From everything I’ve seen, The Muppets is the Muppets I remember, and have missed for quite some time. I think the “old guard” is set in their ways, and understandably so, since they’ve been doing it longer than anybody. But — and god forgive me for using these terms — but the Muppets were once fresh and hip, and I’m honestly not sure if 67-year-old Frank Oz can pull that off as Segel appears to have. How ever the movie ends up, Segel has made the Muppets — and everything leading up to it — look both fresh and hip, for the first time in quite a while.

And I don’t blame Oz for not approving of the movie, because to make something “fresh” and “hip” (I’ll stop saying that now) in 2011 requires things far different than in 1976. Case in point: Would the old Kermit, when mistaken for a Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtle, so happily roll with it? No, the old Kermit would just
frown. I love the old Kermit, but I love this slightly more manic new
Kermit, too. And I think new Kermit works better for modern audiences.

Look, maybe Segel’s pulled a Loonatics here, but I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that, at least yet. And I really hope he hasn’t, because I’m — and a lot of other people seem to be — excited about the Muppets for the first time in a long, long time. Maybe the Muppets aren’t exactly the way they used to be, but there’s a chance for the Muppets to be huge again, and I think that’s worth some leeway. Especially a pair of fart shoes.