Last weekend, some friends and I were reminiscing about Jim Henson's Muppets. We determined that a.) "Muppet Babies" was probably one of the best cartoons of our childhoods, b.) we had no idea what was wrong with Beaker, and c.) it was odd that some of the Muppets were clearly identifiable animals (Fozzie, Rowlf, Kermit, Piggy), while others were completely unidentifiable beings (Gonzo, Animal, Oscar the Grouch, Elmo). Anyway, Muppets were on my mind this weekend.
Didn't it come to my great surprise, then, to coincidentally discover last Thursday's New York Times article announcing the return of the Muppets. Brook Barnes takes us on a pretty mind-blowing exploration behind the scenes of the new Muppet franchise about to be launched, which will include, among other things, TV specials with the cast of "High School Musical" and the Jonas Brothers, videos for Disney.com (Jim Henson's family sold the Muppets to Disney in 2004), a Christmas special on NBC in December, several new feature films, and merchandise to be sold at Urban Outfitters, Limited Too, and Macy's. (On that last point, my friend Mitch is that much cooler for having rocked an Animal T-shirt with regularity about eight years ago. Actually, he probably still wears it.) Anyway, read the article to get the full scoop.
Let me clarify my stand on the Muppets here. I already said I loved "Muppet Babies". I also count The Muppet Movie among my favorites from childhood, and I'm enough of a purist to have skipped the last feature film, Muppets in Space, in 1999. I might even be less comfortable about this new Muppet effort as I was with the new Star Wars movies 10 years ago, because at least those were made by their original creator, George Lucas. In the case of the Muppets, however, we have a bunch of Disney marketing executives who are preparing to bring them "into every pop-culture nook and cranny that the company owns or can dream up", the idea being that "the film will make a bigger splash if the marketplace is prepped first."
I guess it really gets to a larger issue that I'm constantly struggling with: why do I have a problem with brands from my childhood being resurrected for the next generation? I'm stubborn, old-fashioned, traditional? I don't know. I think I would just rather kids be forced to like the old Muppet movies and shows than being encouraged to embrace a new and potentially tainted form. Unfortunately, this dad's experience doesn't bode well for me:
[And some parents are starting to notice that the Muppets are suddenly on the radar screens of their young children.
“I tried getting them to watch DVDs of ‘The Muppet Show’ probably a year or two ago, and they weren’t that interested,” said Tom Weber, a New York father of two girls, ages 5 and 9. “But now that Disney is making its marketing push, they seem more aware and into it.”
Ellie Weber, the 5-year-old, confirmed it. “Miss Piggy is really funny,” she said. “I like it when she plays with the froggy.”]
Well what about the next movie, due out in 2010? Interestingly, it's officially in the hands of Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller, writer and director, respectively, of this year's Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Um, is that really necessary considering a guy by the name of Frank Oz is alive and well and looking for work? You know, the Frank Oz who wrote The Dark Crystal and The Muppets Take Manhattan (which he also directed)? The Frank Oz who has provided the voice behind half of the Muppets for over 40 years and has been involved in every Muppet production since 1963?
Ah, yes, and the Frank Oz who, along with most of the Henson family, has publicly derided Disney's acquisition and management of the Muppets for the past decade. It all comes back to politics, then, doesn't it? I'm with you, Frank. Disney better know what they're doing, and they better do it well...