Blake Taylor - The world's toughest film critics aren't found anywhere near the presses--one needn't look any further than the nearest preschooler's playroom to locate the harshest judges on the planet. These hard-to-please viewers don't waste any energy in sugar-coating a complaint with positive adjectives so as to make their disapproval less slandering. Instead, they immediately pound their fists to the floor and cry hysterically until mommy changes the channel. So I find it curious that, as a three-year-old, I let myself be entertained by the antics of a puppet frog, a joke-telling bear, and a pig with anger management issues.
It was through a sing-along VHS tape that I was first enchanted by the magic of Jim Henson's Muppet characters. Most of the content came from 1970's-era clips of The Muppet Show. Looking back, I see the irony of a 90's preschooler finding enjoyment in content created over a decade earlier, and contained no explosions to boot. Granted, I was much more familiar with the "other" Muppets—you know, the ones that hung out over on Sesame Street. But as for the Muppets (as in, those of the trademarked-by-Disney variety), I don't glaringly remember anything I adored about them. They were always part of the ensemble of family entertainment that I was so excessively and wonderfully exposed to, but they weren't in the forefront of my favorites.
As the years passed, the Muppets never really vanished from my family's many movie-related activities. I remember seeing Muppets From Space in theaters in 1999, watching the made-for-TV It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie on Thanksgiving night in 2002, and experiencing Muppet*Vision 3D on numerous trips to Walt Disney World. It wasn't until 2005, when Kermit and crew debuted their newest foray, The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, that I consciously sparked an appreciation for these characters' unique brand of humor. They were downright hilarious. Hysterical, even. Why had I never liked them more? I was humored by a karate-chopping pig, captivated by a Spanish-accented king prawn. In short, I was enthralled by the way these creatures seemed so real. (I now find it amusing that the film that won me over is generally considered one of the weakest Muppet productions by longtime fans.)
As with any new-found obsession, I quickly got my hands on anything and everything even remotely pertaining to the Muppets. I read, I watched, I appreciated. I came to pick favorites (namely Sam the Eagle and his "salute to all nations, but mostly America") and to learn which projects I wasn't too fond of (Miss Piggy's swimming pool number in The Great Muppet Caper particularly disturbs me... the rest of the movie is wonderful, but I've always found that scene a bit bizarre).
Thankfully, this fascination with Jim Henson's legacy was not a passing phase. It stayed with me, and still does stay with me today. It is with a great sense of pride that I see the Muppets catapulted into the spotlight where they belong with the recent release of The Muppets, their self-titled feature film, their first to hit the big screen in twelve years. So much rests on this movie; there is unlimited potential to enchant audiences in a way that hasn't been done in a long while.
Disregarding the significant boost in Muppet mania that Disney is sure to greenlight if the film succeeds financially—which is a hugely significant possibility—what rests on The Muppets far more than box-office gain is the soft spot that so many people have for Jim Henson's characters. These creations have the ability to transcend generations; the Muppets are personalities that remain culturally relevant to today's children, while at the same time represent a fond window back into the childhood of many, many parents who grew up watching The Muppet Show. The Muppets are an engrained part of American popular culture that many families have a very strong connection with.
I'm having to pinch myself everywhere I turn. Last week Kermit and Miss Piggy crashed Saturday Night Live just days after they co-hosted Good Morning America. Even before that came the frog's appearance on the freaking cover of Entertainment Weekly. It's gratifying to finally see so many others be touched by their magic the same way that I was at age three in front of the television, especially in a project that views their return as a genuine homecoming, one that is truly heartfelt. Keyword felt... Wocka! Wocka!
You can hear more from Blake at his website, BlakeOnline.com.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org