1 The Muppet Mindset: September 2012

Sep 29, 2012

Elmo: The Musical - A Review of the Revue

The 43rd season of Sesame Street debuted on Monday and the new big thing on the show this year is a brand new segment, Elmo: The Musical. The all-singing, all-dancing segment is designed to replace Elmo's World, which has really been starting to show its age in recent years. Thankfully, not only does Elmo: The Musical provide a fitting replacement for the legendary Elmo's World, but it is infinitely more fun and entertaining for anyone who might tune in.

What struck me first about Elmo: The Musical was how incredibly well made it is. Set entirely against a computer animated background, the show not only looks amazing, but feels like we really are participating in Elmo's imagination right along with him. The colors are vibrant and exciting and the scenery is always fantastic--so much better than the stagnant crayon room of Elmo's World. In the three segments I watched, "Athlete the Musical," "Sea Captain the Musical," and "Pizza the Musical," Elmo's imagination took us to an Olympic-sized stadium, a grand ocean, and the outer reaches of space. The segment really allows Elmo to stretch and show off his vibrant imagination and gives us a peak at the giddy fun that is Elmo's mind.

Another truly excellent factor of Elmo: The Musical is the music. Each different sketch has so much new musical content in it--and every note is pitch perfect. The songs are not only catchy, but they brilliantly straddle the line between education and humor, just as any good Sesame Street content does. Musical repetitiveness is used to great effect here. A prime example is in "Athlete the Musical," where Elmo is competing to win a pair of golden shoes. Every time Elmo mentions the prize, he slides off to the pedestal where the shoes are sitting and sings a hysterical refrain of "Golden Shoooooes..." This happens four or five times with increasing hilarity. Watching Elmo long for these shoes is fantastic. My favorite song from the three segments I watched was "Dancing with a Whale" from "Sea Captain the Musical." In this song, Elmo sings with a giant pink whale he's been searching for, Captain Ahab-style, throughout the entire show. It's hilarious and the tune is wonderful.

The thing that really makes Elmo: The Musical stand apart from Elmo's World is the number of characters present in every segment. While in Elmo's World it was mostly Elmo talking with the silent Dorothy and Mr. Noodle (with a brief appearance by another character near the end), Elmo: The Musical showcases numerous new characters for Elmo to play off of. I saw Martians, an Enormous Athlete, Chicken Sailors, a Pink Whale, Cheerleaders, a Chicken Darth Vader, and more that I'm probably forgetting spread across these three segments alone. They always play secondary to Elmo, but they're always fun and very funny--especially when they're interacting with Elmo. These characters are what really make Elmo: The Musical so much better than Elmo's World. Elmo isn't talking to the three year old watching, he's talking and singing with characters on screen. It's charming and adorable and fun and funny--all the things Elmo is meant for.

The only recurring character in the segment besides Elmo is a giant curtain named Velvet. She is performed by Leslie Carrara-Rudolph brilliantly and is possibly my favorite new Sesame character in ages. Her voice is lilting and operatic, even and she is so excited for Elmo's newest musical. She completely outshines Elmo's previous sidekick, Dorothy the goldfish, because she can actually communicate and interact with Elmo. Elmo and Velvet are such a fun pair and I'm so glad the producers decided to include this character. Velvet is a true delight--which I mostly attribute to Leslie's incredible voice-acting.

One of the only changes I would make to Elmo: The Musical is adding in other established Muppet characters besides Elmo. I would love to see Grover or Murray or Telly participate in one of Elmo's big musicals. But really, this is a small complaint because we do get to see new, fun one-shot characters in each segment. This allows the Muppeteers to stretch their acting and singing and it's fantastic. I just think it might be fun for Abby Cadabby or Rosita to get into the mix for one of the Musicals.

In the end, Elmo: The Musical is really the perfect new segment for Sesame Street. It appeals to a much broader, older audience than Elmo's World ever did. It's all about music and imagination and fun and it is a brilliant showcase for Elmo, who, incredibly, never becomes obnoxious here. He is a natural born performer and Elmo: The Musical is excellent proof of that. Kevin Clash's performances as Elmo never falter, and Elmo's singing voice is as great as ever. While watching Sesame Street episodes, once the street story was over I found myself growing impatient for Elmo: The Musical to start just because I was so excited for it. This new segment is true quality excellence and I am so incredibly thrilled to say that. I haven't been this impressed by a new Sesame Street segment since... Super Grover 2.0, maybe.

Anyway... that's enough raving from me. Basically, you should really tune into Sesame Street this season. Elmo: The Musical has sprung to life in such an exciting way. I adore it and I think you will too.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

Sep 28, 2012

Full Muppets Just For Laughs Gala and Sesame Old School: Vol. 3 Features!

Something amazing happened today. The entirety of the Muppets performance at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal last month is now online. ALL OF IT. There's no more introduction needed, really. Watch, laugh, and love it. It's fantastic.

EDIT: (October 1st) The video has been removed... it's not really surprising, but unfortunate and pretty annoying. If we can find it again, we'll post it again!

In other news, the folks at TVShowsonDVD.com have revealed the cover art and bonus features for the upcoming, hugely exciting, long-overdue Sesame Street: Old School, Volume 3 (1979-1984) DVD set! The set will be out on November 6th, so check out the cover art and bonus features below!
  • Includes 5 full-length classic Sesame Street episodes:
    1. Sesame Street Goes to Puerto Rico
    2. Big Bird's First day of School
    3. Big Bird and the Birdwatchers
    4. Big Bird Goes to Camp Echo Rock
    5. Snuffy and Gordon run the NYC Marathon

  • Plus a jam-packed 110 minutes of bonus material and extra clips
    • Never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage
    • Sesame Street's most beloved and requested clip, "Goodbye-Mr. Hooper"
    • Exclusive interview with Caroll Spinney (Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch)
    • A special on-screen storybook of Oscar's How To Be a Grouch, with a sneak peek at Caroll performing Oscar!
    • Audio commentary on the Puerto Rico episode by Sonia Manzano
    • Bonus booklet bursting with extra info and special cast memories!

Sep 27, 2012

News Update: September 27, 2012

NEWS UPDATE: September 27, 2012

Cookie Monster and Grover stopped by the offices of Entertainment Weekly this week to promote Sesame Street's 43rd Season. While they were there, they were convinced to perform a medley of songs celebrating the best of summer 2012, including The Hunger Games, Doctor Who, and The Avengers. As musicals. With Cookie Monster and Grover. Watch and love!

Elmo stopped by The Look on the HelloStyleChannel on YouTube to show off his latest fashion, as seen in the new segment "Elmo: The Musical." The video is ridiculously cute and Elmo is always funny (especially when he talks about Game of Thrones and not having nuclear war codes), so enjoy!

As we mentioned awhile back, The Muppet Christmas Carol is coming to Blu-ray on November 6th and the release is packed with bonus features. One of these features is a new one called "Muppets Christmas Carol Sing-Along" and the two preview videos below, featuring The Swedish Chef, chickens, and a bunch of rats, appear to be from that feature. Enjoy!

Friend of Jim Henson Company puppets and spinning-chair sitter, Cee Lo Green, is going to have a very Muppety Christmas this year with the release of his new holiday album Cee Lo's Magic Moment, scheduled for release on October 30th (this Tuesday). As our friends at ToughPigs.com reported, the Muppets will sing the song "All I Need is Love" "on his Christmas album, the subsequent music video, and even on his live show at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas on October 10th." Appearing on the song would have been plenty, but all of this extra stuff? AWESOME. I for one cannot wait for the music video! Look out for the album to drop on Tuesday, when we can finally listen to this Muppety/Cee Lo collaboration!

Finally, and most importantly, on October 27th, The Jim Henson Legacy and The Museum of the Moving Image are hosting "A Tribute to Jerry Nelson" at the Museum in New York City at 2:00pm. The tribute is scheduled to include Bill Barretta, Fran Brill, and Dave Goelz as well as "other special guests" all in person at the show. I (Ryan Dosier) am planning to be in attendance at the event, and if you can make it out, I would highly recommend it. My friends at the Legacy have told me that it will be truly special. For more information, visit the website for the Museum of the Moving Image.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

Sep 25, 2012

Great Muppet Song Covers

Hilarie Mukavitz - One of the signs that a musician is truly talented is when they perform a song written by somebody else, and their version is either better than the original or takes the song in a surprising direction that shows it in a completely different light. For example, the Jimi Hendrix version of "All Along the Watchtower" has so eclipsed the original Bob Dylan version, that even Bob Dylan now plays it in more of a Hendrix style. A more recent example would be the Johnny Cash version of "Hurt." Nobody expected a country music legend to connect so well with a Nine Inch Nails song.

Here are seven examples of great Muppet covers. Listen to the covers and the originals on our Muppet Mindset Playlist:

1. "Time in a Bottle" - Jim Croce originally released this song on his third album "You Don't Mess Around With Jim." Croce got the inspiration when he found out his wife Ingrid was expecting their first child. A year later, after he was killed in a plane crash, it was released as a single and reached the top of the charts. The song had an added poignancy with the knowledge that Croce's time was rapidly running out when he wrote it.

The Muppet version appeared on Episode 207 of The Muppet Show. Like many Muppet covers, they took the metaphor literally. Jim Henson played a Whatnot Muppet scientist who was experimenting with making a potion to make him younger. At first, the potion works, but by the end of the song, the character is the same old man that he was in the beginning. Part of what makes this performance work so well is not only did the scientist's appearance change, but Henson modified his voice with each transformation. It also stands out among Muppet Show sketches as what could have been interpreted in a very goofy jokey manner, had just as much weight and emotion as the original song.

2. "Six String Orchestra" - This is a lesser known Harry Chapin song from his 1974 album "Verities and Balderdash." Chapin is most famous for "Cats in the Cradle" and "Taxi." The original version of "Six String Orchestra" is clearly written and performed with tongue firmly lodged in cheek. It's about a would-be musician who is totally oblivious to his utter lack of talent. His girlfriend needs alcohol in order to listen and his guitar teacher has a nervous breakdown.

The Muppet Show version, on Episode 417, is much more innocent and wistful (and with some of the more sarcastic lyrics removed). Scooter, in an especially strong performance by Richard Hunt, sweetly sings about his dreams to be a musician. Unlike the original Chapin version, it seems that he may have a chance, with a little more practice. In the first refrain, Scooter is in his bedroom, joined by the ghostly figures of the Electric Mayhem. I especially love this visual because it gives off the double effect that either Scooter is playing with musicians in his imagination, or that he is playing with the ghosts of musicians that have gone before him. In the second refrain, Scooter is actually playing on stage with the Electric Mayhem, in a rare scene where we get to see everybody's feet. It ends with Scooter back alone in his bedroom, determined "Some day I'm gonna be a star."

3. "For What It's Worth" - This Stephen Stills penned song was originally recorded by his band Buffalo Springfield in December 1966. It became most famous as a protest song. However, it was actually written about the 1966 Sunset Strip Riots. The riots had absolutely nothing to do with Vietnam, just a bunch of people annoyed at the strict 10 PM curfew in the area. (Muppet Maestros the Monkees had their own take on the Sunset Strip riots with the Mike Nesmith song "The Daily Nightly.")

The Muppets performed "For What It's Worth" on Episode 221. The setting was a group of woodland creatures, with Jerry Nelson as a possum on the lead vocal, singing their own style of protest song against hunting. The second two verses were changed to go with the new theme, and the music arrangement was less rock and a lot more pastoral. The result was one of the more memorable performances on The Muppet Show and it was later featured on The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years.

4. "Halfway Down  the Stairs" - Believe it or not, the original performance of "Halfway Down the Stairs" was not by a little green frog, but by future host of The Muppet Show, Gene Kelly. In the mid 1940's Gene Kelly recorded some albums for children, including a series of songs based on poems by A.A. Milne. The Gene Kelly version isn't bad, after all this is a man whose most famous movies were musicals. However, I found it just didn't grab me as much as the performance of Jerry Nelson as Robin, which made it to the top 10 on the music charts in England. To do a cover of a cover, Jim Henson as Rowlf later performed the song on "Ol' Brown Ears Is Back."

5. "I'm Looking Through You" - The original version from the Beatles Album "Rubber Soul" is a rare example of what I call "Angry McCartney." Happy go-lucky Paul tended to write more of the upbeat lyrics like the verses of "We Can Work It Out," "And I Love Her," while anger and depression tended to be more John Lennon's turf. However, by 1965 his writing was starting to get more interesting. It was Paul who suggested that "Norwegian Wood" should end with the main character burning the whole place down. He was also having some issues with Jane Asher, his girlfriend at the time, because she dared to do inconsiderate things like have a life and a career of her own. "I'm Looking Through You" was a way of venting his frustrations.

However, while the song has a very catchy tune and arrangement... the lyrics don't make much sense if you try to analyze them. I think the Muppet version actually makes more sense. The song was featured in a UK spot in Episode 119. The song was performed by three ghosts flying around the backstage of the Muppet Theater.

6. "Yes We Have No Bananas" - This was a very appropriate song for The Muppet Show as the show was so rooted in vaudeville and the music hall. Originally written in 1922 for the Broadway show "Make It Snappy," the song has been covered countless times. It was featured on The Muppet Show three times. The first was in Episode 208 as Marvin Suggs took a break from his Muppaphone and had his All-Food Glee Club sing it. Episode 402 had the Swedish Chef perform what I'm guessing is the only mock-Swedish rendition of the song. It made one more brief cameo in the Jean-Pierre Rampal Episode 510 when they accidentally gave Rampal fruit intead of a flute to play.

7. "You Mustn't Be Discouraged" - Most songs that the Muppets covered were pretty well known. They tended to use popular songs from the 1970's and previous eras. However, now and then they'd come up with something really obscure. I wouldn't have heard of this song if it weren't for The Muppet Show. The song was originally written for the 1964 Broadway Musical "Fade Out--Fade In". Carol Burnett and Tiger Haynes were doing a spoof of Shirley Temple and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. The original version is entertaining, but doesn't hold up well to repeat listening. Burnett's Shirley Temple impression gets really old really fast.

The Muppet Show version in Episode 522 with Dave Goelz as Beauregard and Buddy Rich is a lot more pleasant on the ears. It also brought this pleasant surprise: Buddy Rich could SING! Usually, unless you're listening to The Monkees or the Carpenters... the drummer doesn't get a lot of lead vocals. Buddy Rich does just as well as other Muppet Show hosts who were better known for their singing. Plus, of course, the wicked humor in the song is a perfect fit for the Muppets.

Obviously I'm leaving quite a few great examples out of Muppet covers. I could do a series on just Floyd. So I will ask you, fellow Muppet Music Maniacs... what are YOUR favorite Muppet covers?

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

Sep 24, 2012

An Open Letter to The Walt Disney Company

To Whom it May Concern within The Walt Disney Company,

In its prime, The Muppet Show was the most popular television program on TV. It aired in over 100 countries in various languages and featured 120 of the biggest celebrity guest stars of the day joining the show to goof around with Kermit the Frog and the other Muppets. The Muppet Show ran from 1976-1981 and currently only three of the five seasons of this groundbreaking show have been released on DVD. The box set for Season 3 of the show was released in 2008, over four years ago. To say that this delay is inexcusable would be harsh, but it is extremely odd.

Last year, of course, the new feature film, The Muppets, returned Kermit and company to prominence on the big screen. Incredibly, part of the main focus of the film was The Muppet Show. Knowing this, wouldn't it have made sense to release at least one of the remaining seasons of The Muppet Show on DVD as a way of promoting the film and exposing the "uninitiated" to this show that is so central to the film? I understand that you wanted people in the theater rather than at home watching DVDs, but I have to assume that watching The Muppet Show would have only increased the audience's desire to see what the Muppets are up to nowadays.

I also understand that there are numerous issues with musical rights on the show. I am sure that the cost of some of these songs in the episodes are pretty crazy... but I can also almost guarantee that the Muppets will make that money back. Thanks to The Muppets, the love for these characters has not been this large in many, many years, thus the time has never been better to release the show that made them household names on DVD. Music rights aside, there is really no good reason not to release Seasons 4 and 5 of The Muppet Show on DVD. It has been almost five years since Season 3 was released, and if the releases do not continue soon, people will forget that the first three seasons have been released at all.

Maybe you're waiting for the next Muppet movie to start another marketing blitz and release Season 4. I don't even pretend to understand the goings-on inside a massive conglomerate such as The Walt Disney Company... but I would like to point out that the market for this show and these characters is ready for classic material like never before. Muppet fans are chomping at the bit to get more and more Muppet stuff after having their spirits reinvigorated by The Muppets last year. I truly believe that by holding back The Muppet Show on DVD, you're missing an enormous opportunity to not only make some money, but expose more and more people to the work of Jim Henson and his troupe of performers that made the Muppets what they are today.

I adore Disney. In fact, the only thing I love more than Disney is the Muppets. Therefore, I know that Disney is incredible at releasing classic material while still promoting and celebrating new material. It is high time to show that same balance with the Muppets. Release The Muppet Show Seasons 4 and 5 on DVD and acknowledge this ground-breaking history of what came before. Acknowledge the origin while celebrating the fact that these characters continue to shine brilliantly today. Muppet fans will respect Disney even more if they show this sort of love to classic Muppet material. (Honestly, Muppet fans would be happy just to see these episodes released officially on DVD.)

The general public will appreciate this release as well. In Season 4 of The Muppet Show alone, guest stars such as the stars of Star Wars, John Denver, Liza Minelli, Alan Arkin, and more will make people want to buy the set. The popularity of these huge celebrities will only add to the popularity of the Muppets and create more interest in The Muppet Show and the DVD set. It's a major missed opportunity to not release this as soon as possible.

It's not like The Muppet Show Season 4 DVD set has been totally forgotten by Disney. In fact, at the D23 Expo in 2009, it was announced that the set would be released "soon." That was three years ago and nothing has been said about the release since. I, and I'm sure all other Muppet fans agree with me, think that it's high time to pay up on that promise and release Season 4 of The Muppet Show on DVD for the world to enjoy.

Change.org has a petition urging The Walt Disney Company to release Seasons 4 and 5 of The Muppet Show on DVD. I urge all Muppet fans to sign this and I urge The Walt Disney Company to read the names and responses from Muppet fans who desperately want to own the entirety of this historical and hilarious show on DVD.

Thank you, Walt Disney Company, for all you do for the Muppets and for reading this letter. I sincerely hope that you will continue to do right by the Muppets by finally releasing a DVD set that has been almost five years in the making. It is high time to let the world see The Muppet Show Season 4. Honor the past while celebrating the future of the Muppets.

Ryan Dosier
To Muppet Fans:
It's time to finally show Disney that we mean business about wanting the rest of The Muppet Show on DVD. Sign the petition from Change.org, and we'll prove to them that we will buy these DVDs. I'll do whatever I can to make sure the right people see the petition.
~ Ryan Dosier

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

Sep 23, 2012

Previewing Sesame Street's 43rd Season

Tomorrow, Monday, September 24th, marks the premiere of Sesame Street's record-breaking 43rd season on PBS! This season, Elmo debuts a new segment, Elmo: The Musical, which looks incredibly fun and fantastic. Today we're spotlighting six videos from the upcoming season, including a brand new song from Train, Elmo, and Count von Count (perhaps Jerry Nelson's final musical performance on the show), another jab at the "Veggie Monster" controversy with Mario Lopez, Eric Stonestreet and Abby demonstrate "remember," Halle Berry, Elmo, and friends define "nibble," and two wonderful previews of Elmo: The Musical! Enjoy the videos and set your recording devices for brand new Sesame Street in Season 43!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

Sep 22, 2012

Muppet Retro Reviews: Big Bird in China/Japan

Today marks the debut of a brand new series of articles Muppet Retro Reviews! In this series we will review classic Muppet material dating before the year 2000. If you would like to review a Muppet project for this series, email us at muppetmindset@gmail.com!

Kyle Mahoney - There are many Sesame Street specials, more than I could possibly remember, but two that recently popped into my head were Big Bird in China and Big Bird in Japan. These two specials from the 80's threw Big Bird, accompanied by Barkley, into these two foreign countries. So I will be doing double duty by reviewing both of these specials.

Big Bird in China
While walking through Chinatown, Big Bird learns of the legendary Chinese bird, the Phoenix. Wanting to create a better friendship between American and China, Big Bird decides to find the Phoenix and travels to China and brings Barkley. To find the Phoenix they must travel to four different landmarks and at each landmark they must find the Monkey King and get a clue that will eventually lead them to the Phoenix. While hopelessly searching for The Great Wall of China ("There must be a zillion walls in China!"), they meet a young girl named Xiao Foo who decides to help them by leading them to the landmarks and translating the Monkey King's clues. After many misadventures, they finally reach the home of the Phoenix. Big Bird explains to the Phoenix that he wanted to learn all about China from her, but he learned so much just by trying to find her, which was her exact intent.

Some of the many things that the viewer learn in this special are some basic Chinese words and phrases, some different styles of Chinese dancing, and the legend of the Phoenix. How the folklore of China is Big Bird's main reason for heading to China really helps progress the story. Surprisingly Big Bird becomes very frustrated with the constant shenanigans of the Monkey King and even says "Barkley, sick 'em" and soon after threatens the king by saying "THAT'S IT! Put up your dukes I'm gonna..." He becomes exasperated very easily with the Monkey King's cryptic clues and the viewer (at least this one) became exasperated with Big Bird's constant doubt of the entire venture.

But the reason for Big Bird's doubt could be to have the viewer encourage him, which is what Xiao Foo does--she reassures him that everything will end well. In regards to Xiao Foo, I can't help but wonder where are her parents? And how does she know exactly where all of these landmarks are at such a young age? A very brief side story to Big Bird's adventure is Telly and Oscar literally digging their way to China, and upon getting there Oscar declares "Yeah well... it doesn't look like much to me, let's go home."

The special includes a few original songs which are cute, but really don't move the story along with the exception of "Ni Hao," as Xiao Foo teaches Big Bird how to say "Hello," "I Love You," and his own name! Other songs include "In China!" in which the Sesame gang helps sing Big Bird off, "Song of the Monkey King" which just talks about how crazy and tricky the Monkey King is, and lastly "The Phoenix Song," a song that the Phoenix sang in her legend to convince evil spirits that China was not hers, but theirs too.

All in all, the special does what it needs to do, teach the viewer about the culture of China, through humor and storytelling. Though it only shows more suburban and rural areas of China as opposed to city life, more of the ancient and deep rooted ancestries are explored. Big Bird in China was a great way for Sesame Street to truly start to branch off into other countries.

Big Bird in Japan
In 1989, Big Bird and Barkley traveled to the land of the rising sun. While in Tokyo, the two are left by their tour group, who are leaving for Kyoto on the 15th. Big Bird becomes extremely worried and extremely homesick. Suddenly, a young woman appears and tells Big Bird that she overheard his problem and also needs to be in Kyoto by the 15th. Big Bird soon learns that his new friend shares the same name as the fabled Bamboo Princess: Kaguya-Hime. By the end of the special Kaguya-Hime parts ways with Barkley and Big Bird; who now claims "I'm homesick for Japan, and I haven't even left yet!" Big Bird later realizes the possibility that his friend IS the Bamboo Princess and rushes off to see her one last time, but is too late. As he and Barkley relax on the plane Big Bird thinks back and realizes how silly he was being thinking that the Bamboo Princess was real.

While Big Bird is traveling with Kaguya-Hime she teaches him many things, such as simple Japanese phrases (similar to what Xiao Foo did in China), the tradition of bowing to show respect, and what a Shinkansen or Bullet Train is. In this special, Big Bird is driven by needs of survival rather than just wanting to meet part of the native folklore. One thing in regards to the folklore that I like is that Big Bird doesn't go looking for it, he just gets wrapped up into it. Also, in this special Big Bird is much more positive about being in Japan and believes he'll get home, as opposed to his constantly irritated state in China.

This special also features new original songs that do provide a better use for the story. "Ichi Ni San" teaches Big Bird and the viewer how to count to three, say good morning, thank you, and goodbye. "We're Off to Kyoto" is a sillier song about how excited they are about going to Kyoto which features one of the greatest lyrics in mankind: Big Bird sings "I've got feathers, he's got fleas" and Kaguya-Hime responds "I speak Japanese." Other songs include "Moon Moon" in which Kaguya-Hime laments about being the Bamboo Princess and having to return to the moon, and "Homesick," where Big Bird sings about missing home. An important scene is when Big Bird is dragged into a school and is shown the play of the Bamboo Princess. The story is narrated by Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid) which tells of the moon giving birth to a child and placing her in a golden stalk of bamboo. After growing up the now young woman must leave Japan and return to the moon.

Personally I prefer Big Bird in Japan to Big Bird in China due to its stronger character development, not only for Big Bird, but for his sidekick. Not that China is a bad special, I just feel like Japan is structured better. Both are incredibly educational if you ever want to teach young children about these amazing countries. It's great to immerse children in different cultures and Big Bird is a great way to introduction to the world around us.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

Sep 21, 2012

Colleagues of Jerry Nelson Remember the Legend

Today we feature a very special article from three of Jerry Nelson's very close colleagues. First is a beautiful eulogy written for us by Joseph Bailey, writer for The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and many more things including last year's spectacular book Memoirs of a Muppets Writer. Today, we are honored to host Joe's memories of his friend Jerry Nelson. At the end of the article we feature memories from our good friends Muppet writer Jim Lewis, writer for Muppets Tonight and countless other things, as well as Muppeteer Peter Linz. I asked Jim and Peter three questions about Jerry for them to answer. We all hope these memories of the legendary Jerry Nelson bring you a smile or laugh--as Jerry would have wanted.
Jerry Nelson - The Puppeteer's Puppeteer
by Muppet writer Joseph Bailey

Jerry Nelson was a good friend of mine for almost 40 years. For 20 of those years, Jerry was my co-conspirator in that sublime, benign anarchy that was Jim Henson's Muppets. If you strung together all the material I wrote and Jerry performed it would fill many, many hours, if not days. Most of it broke down into two categories:

The first was material I had sweated over, somehow gotten past my boss, and hoped for the best in the studio. Jerry, in true Muppet fashion, would always find a way to make it work. Second were those very rare occasions with ideas that I felt were spot on and then honed to perfection, only to watch Jerry make them more perfect in performance.

But, I don't have to remind anyone how talented Jerry was. Thousands of examples exist on video. So, let me tell a little of what went into Jerry's performances.

Firstly, I'm sure Jerry would want to be remembered as an actor, for that was really his craft. Puppeteers are usually referred to as "performers" or "entertainers." But the truth is, they're really actors. Granted, they work in the theatre of the very, very absurd. But all theatre is an illusion and you can't find better illusionists than puppeteers.

Spencer Tracy was once asked by a young actor what was the secret of acting. "Just don't let them catch you doing it," Tracy replied. The reason Jerry's characters were so believable and so much fun was that you never caught him "acting." And, lest you think humor takes a back seat to "drama," when the great classic actor, Edmond Booth, was on his death bed, he was asked if dying was hard, he replied, "No. Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." Jerry Nelson made comedy look easy.

I've said that writing for the Muppets was like handing them a loaded blunderbuss and putting them in the vicinity of a barn door. They always hit it although not necessarily on the side I expected. So, if there's a shortage of barn doors in this world, an awful lot of them are Jerry Nelson's fault.

Jerry was also a tremendous vocal talent. He could sing on key in all of his dozens of voices. After performing a traditional English music hall song as a cockney busker Muppet, Jerry got a prolonged ovation from the English studio crew for the authenticity of his cockney accent. He was that good. 

Besides being a singer and musician, Jerry was also a composer. Even I didn't know this until Jerry produced a CD of his own musical material in 2010. It's called "Truro Daydreams," after the small Cape Cod town he loved so well. It is truly the poetry of Jerry Nelson.

Although he never used this talent with the Muppets, Jerry was also an accomplished marionetteer (if there is such a word.) At a party at Caroll Spinney's, I watched Jerry pick up a marionette that Caroll had acquired in his travels. The puppet was a simple silk handkerchief with five rings. There was a ring stuffed on each corner suggesting hands and feet. One in the middle of one side created a "head." Absentmindedly, Jerry took the controls and manipulated the little character with amazing grace and fluidity.

Since the Muppets never used marionettes, I asked him where he had learned the art. Jerry told me his first puppet job was working with Bil Baird. At his audition, Baird gave him a gangster marionette armed with a tommy gun. Jerry made the puppet aim the gun directly at Baird and say, "Awright, Baird! I think you'd better hire this kid!" Jerry got the job.

Now, let me tell you a little about Jerry Nelson the man. Jerry was warm, friendly, caring and eminently approachable. If it weren't for Jerry and Richard Hunt, I'm not sure I would have survived my first few weeks working on The Muppet Show in London. I knew nothing of the city, which is a jumbled maze of streets, all of which seemed to have the same name. But Jerry and Richard would pick me up in Richard's rusting Ford Cortina and carry me off to the best steaks, coldest beer, and coolest jazz in town.

Jerry also never took fame and celebrity seriously. No matter what, he remained the kid from Oklahoma. One night, the Muppets were at a party in the penthouse suite at ATV headquarters in London. ATV was the English company that produced The Muppet Show. Jerry had made a record of the A.A. Milne poem, "Halfway Down the Stairs," as Kermit's nephew, Robin the Frog. The record had gone platinum and Lord Lew Grade, who owned ATV, threw the party to celebrate.

At that particular time, we had just arrived in England and were working full time in the studio and running around trying to find a place to live. So, we had no personal time at all. After six or seven extremely laudatory speeches about Jerry's incredible talent, he turned to me and said, "If I'm such a big international recording star, how come I've been wearing the same pair of socks for three days?"

On a flight from London to New York, Jerry was seated next to the famous actor, Al Pacino. After they introduced themselves, they got into a conversation about show business and fame. Pacino said he liked being famous and how it had made his life easier. Jerry agreed, but countered by saying that he could play guitar and sing all night in any beer joint in Hoboken and never worry about being recognized by aggressive fans. When the plane landed, Pacino was mobbed by passengers and crew for autographs and photos. Jerry told me, "I grabbed my bag from the over-head, patted him on the shoulder, said, 'See you later, Al,' and walked off the plane."

There is a story of Jerry spending hours entertaining the young daughter of a studio hand who was suffering from double pneumonia. Sadly, Jerry had a lot of experience entertaining sick children. That's because Jerry had a daughter, Christine, who suffered from cystic fibrosis. She died at 21 in 1981. Jerry loved her so much I'm sure he would want me to tell you about her. Jerry told me about the night Christine died. It was one of those moments in life you never forget.

I knew Christine and she was truly Jerry's daughter. She was bright and beautiful and very funny. Because of her illness, Christine spent many stints in the hospital. But, when I went to visit her, instead of the standard hospital gown, she would be flitting around the ward in purple jogging shorts.

She also had a gag that she would pull whenever there was a new nurse on the floor. Christine had a stash of apple juice. She would fill urine sample bottles with it. When the nurse came to collect a urine sample, Christine would look at it critically and say, "I don't like the looks of that. I think I'll run it through again." Then, to the horror of the new nurse, she would knock back the sample in one gulp.

So now, I like to think that Christine and Jerry are together again with Jim and Richard and the rest of the gang in some ethereal Truro. It's a little known fact, but there is an official Muppet Theory of Death. It goes like this: When a Muppet person dies, he is met on the Other Side by the late puppet designer Don Sahlin, who presents him or her with a rubber chicken. (Okay, it's weird. But it beats the hell out of eternal damnation.) I'm sure Jerry has his rubber chicken and has already found a voice for it.
For Jerry / from Muppet writer Jim Lewis

1.) What is one moment or memory with Jerry Nelson that you will never forget?Jerry sitting on the couch at Jerry Juhl's house announcing "Party's started!" Which is how I felt every time I caught sight of Jerry smiling that "I know something and it sure is strange" smile of his.

2.) How has Jerry influenced your work and your life?
Jerry was honest. He wore his heart on his sleeve. And lucky for us he could make his sleeve talk and sing. That incredible voice. That chuckle. The way he made you feel that we're "so damn lucky to be able to do this for a living." He made you want to join the fun, which is what I've been trying to do ever since.

3.) If you had to define Jerry Nelson in five words or less, what words would you use?
I'm here to have fun.
from Muppeteer Peter Linz
1.) What is one moment or memory with Jerry Nelson that you will never forget?
My first or second season on Sesame Street, I was right-handing for the Count. I was new and inexperienced and apparently doing too much with the right hand. Suddenly, fiercely and without warning, the Count slapped his right hand with his left. It was a valuable lesson in right-handing that I'll never forget!

2.) How has Jerry influenced your work and your life?

Jerry was the star of my all-time favorite Jim Henson production, "Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas" which I must have watched dozens of times when it first came out. I will forever strive to live up to the incredible example of his character work. And that VOICE!

3.) If you had to define Jerry Nelson in five words or less, what words would you use?
Cool. Musical, Far-Out, Kind, Deep
All of our thanks to Joe Bailey, Jim Lewis, and Peter Linz for sharing their memories of their friend Jerry.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

Sep 20, 2012

News Update: September 20, 2012

NEWS UPDATE: September 20, 2012

Yesterday morning, Good Morning America played host to a very special group of friends: the Muppets of Sesame Street! Yes, the whole gang, Big Bird, Elmo, Oscar, Grover, Cookie Monster, Abby Cadabby, Rosita, Murray, and Bert, all stopped in to take over the show. Poor Bert was locked out of the studio for the entire show, but everyone else got to have a lot of fun with the (not-as-fun) GMA hosts. You can watch the entire episode (I think, not even I want to sit through all of that again) on this website, but if you don't feel like that, enjoy this big group rewrite of the "Sesame Street Theme" tailored for GMA right here!

This week is very big for Sesame Street appearances on other TV shows, with the 43rd season of the show debuting on Monday, September 24th. We'll have a full breakdown of all the appearances this week below, but one that happened last night was Elmo appearing, again, on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Elmo and Jimmy are always hysterical together, and last night's appearance was no exception. Enjoy!

As for other Sesame appearances this week, read the list below. Special thanks to our friends at ToughPigs.com for collecting all of these!
  • TODAY: Elmo on The Talk
  • TODAY: Elmo and Grover on EXTRA! with Mario Lopez
  • Tomorrow: Big Bird and Roscoe Orman (Gordon) on The Wendy Williams Show
  • Tomorrow: Elmo on The Chew
  • Tomorrow: Elmo on E! News 
Elmo and friends aren't the only ones appearing on TV this week, as Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy featured prominently in the Barbara Walters 20/20 special: "The Best in TV." The duo both made it into the top 5 non-human characters of all-time, with Piggy at number five and Kermit at number one. The special featured brand new interviews with both Kermit and Piggy, so check out the video below and enjoy!

In sadder news, friend of the blog Muppeteer Michael Earl is in need of our help, Muppet fans. Michael was recently diagnosed with cancer. Friends of Michael have started a fund for his treatment on YouCaring.com. Here's the official "About" section from the site... "Our beloved friend Michael Earl was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. Michael is currently doing everything he can to find the best treatment available to him and will be taking a leave of absence from Puppet School to concentrate on getting well--but he could use our help. So many of us have been touched by Michael in some way. In our youth, many of us watched him perform on Sesame Street as Mr. Snuffleupagus and Forgetful Jones. Then, we saw his amazing puppetry skills in Muppet movies and several TV shows. Now, Michael is a great friend and mentor to many, and has shared his love of puppetry with thousands of followers. His students are forever changed, inspired by his unbelievable talent. Now we can all be inspired by his strength and courage as he takes on the fight against cancer. For those of us who have been given so much by Michael, we finally have a chance to give back. Please consider donating to Michael's fund so that he can focus all his energy on getting well and not on expenses. Any amount will help and be immensely appreciated!" If you can, please consider donating to help out our friend Michael Earl!

To end this on a lighter note, once again we present the brand new music video from the Ben Folds Five featuring THE FRAGGLES!!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

Sep 19, 2012

Weekly Human Wednesdays: The Man from Timepiece

Today's article, as with all the articles in the Weekly Human Wednesdays series, is written by Kyle Mahoney.


Performed by...
Jim Henson (1964)

Only appearance...
Jim Henson's Time Piece (1964)

Best known role(s)...
Secretary ogler, Tarzan impersonator, elephant painter

A wife (played by Enid Cafritz)

Memorable quote...

The man is... we're not too sure. We at least know that he's the star of Jim Henson's 1964 experimental short film Time Piece. In that film, we can tell that he's a guy who's in a hospital who has a drum for a heartbeat. He has a wife who makes him a lovely dinner, and he enjoys walking through the city in various outfits. He also enjoys a good run on various outfits.

On a normal day he will swing on a vine like Tarzan, go out to dinner naked only to appear as his own main course. Then he'll shoot the Mona Lisa and go to jail. He will then escape and run away putting on various disguises along the way such as a tuxedo. If he has a spare moment he will grab an elephant and paint it pink. When he's done he'll head over to a diving board and begin soaring on a contraption similar to Daedalus' creation in the Greek Myth of Icarus. Sadly, he'll get shot down by every kind of weapon people can find. And all that is left of his day is to be flushed down the toilet.

The Man drives the... story? Time Piece is really confusing (as most experimental films are), so it's hard to say why exactly he's necessary... but without him, there wouldn't be a Time Piece at all. Basically, this response is just as confusing as the actual film... so enjoy this picture of Jim Henson's head in a toilet.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com
The Muppet Whatnot Workshop-Only Available at FAO.com
The Muppet Whatnot Workshop-Only Available at FAO.combanner