1 The Muppet Mindset: November 2013

Nov 29, 2013

Review: Lady Gaga & the Muppets' Holiday Spectacular

Ryan Dosier - Last night on ABC, the Muppets co-starred in a new television special with Lady Gaga, erroneously billed as Lady Gaga & the Muppets' Holiday Spectacular, since there was very little holiday-related and less than half of the special featured Muppets. This 90 minute special left me completely baffled and more than a little ambivalent towards what I just watched. Overall, it was a big heap of brightly colored, pop-flavored confusion with some truly solid Muppet bits thrown in haphazardly.

I was truly pleased with almost every bit featuring a Muppet in the show. 90% of the sketches and jokes landed and the special gave a chance for some characters recently shoved to the side to shine bright. Bobo, Rizzo, Gonzo, Pepe, Swedish Chef, Dr. Honeydew, Big Mean Carl, and the Electric Mayhem (including Lips) all had wonderfully fun and funny moments--a lot more than any of them had in recent productions. Bobo's dancing scene with Kristen Bell might have been the most genuine and funny moment in the special.

The Muppet moments before every commercial break were another welcome addition. They all felt very natural and they were all a lot of fun. It was especially wonderful to see the team of Gonzo and Rizzo reunited, that alone gave these bits a sense of purpose. Adding in The Leprechaun Brothers (Beaker, Swedish Chef, and Animal)? Stroke of genius. Throwing in the Electric Mayhem was just icing on the cake. The band has really gelled with their new performers, and for once Zoot got two of the best jokes in the special. His line about cleaning his spit valve had me in stitches.

The sketch (sort of sketch, I guess) in Lady Gaga's dressing room was very funny and I don't understand why the whole special wasn't similar to this--Muppets and Gaga trying to put on a show. Kristen Bell's puppet idea was hilarious. Bunsen's Bubble Wrap Dress tested out on Beaker was pitch perfect. And it's always nice to hear from Lew. Later on, I really dug Kermit's duet with Lady Gaga and Miss Piggy's solo number. In Piggy's number it was especially nice to see her not diva-out on the backup singers and instead just let them do their thing... behind her. It was very refreshing and Eric Jacobson was in top form. Oh, and Statler and Waldorf kept the funny when there was none to be found.

But everything else in this special was severely confusing. None of it was bad, necessarily, but I just did not understand what Lady Gaga was trying to get across here. What part of this was a Holiday Spectacular? Who was the target audience for this when it aired at 9:30pm? Why not include the Muppets in every single part of the special that you can? Why bring in huge talents like Elton John and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and not let the Muppets participate? I know this was first and foremost a Lady Gaga special, but when you invite the Muppets and you put their name in the title you'd think they'd get used more.

I think mostly I'm just perturbed and confused by the marketing of this special. We were led to believe that the Muppets played an equal part in this amalgam of confusion, when that was just not at all true. There are two ways that I think my feelings on this special could have improved: one, remove "the Muppets" from the title and just call them special guest stars--which they basically were already; two, throw random dancing or backup singing Muppets in the background of every Lady Gaga solo. That alone would have solved so many of the issues in this special. Look how much better Gaga's duet with Kermit was than any of her other performances. Look how much better the "Applause" finale was just because Muppets were aimlessly dancing.

From the very opening of the special, it had an extremely thrown together feel. Poor Kristen Bell was the highlight of the special but she was tossed in there with no purpose. Kudos to her for running with it and making the most of her confusing screen time. There was no through-line to this at all. Was it a concert? A Muppet show? Why were the Muppets there? Why were the Muppets auditioning other Muppets for a sketch we never see? Why, why, why? I have to stop asking because I'm just confusing myself even more.

All in all, this special was harmless enough. It didn't make the Muppets do things they wouldn't normally do. In fact, it played to their strengths and their characters extremely well (veteran writer Jim Lewis is probably to thank for that). The Muppets and the Muppet performers were excellent. The Leprechaun Brothers should've had their own special. The Muppet bloopers at the end were dynamite, of course. Auditioning Muppets were very funny... None of it was inherently bad, the Muppet parts were good, Gaga is a talented performer (actor... not so much), but the special was just extremely... meh?

In closing, I think this fact speaks volumes about the special: #MuppetsThanksgiving was trending on Twitter last night and nothing about Lady Gaga was. Doesn't that just say it all?

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

Nov 28, 2013

What I'm Thankful For, 2013

Ryan Dosier - Every time Thanksgiving rolls around, I start to reminisce about what I'm thankful for. Practically every time I think about that, it makes sense to post about it here because a lot of what I'm thankful for involves singing and dancing puppets. Silly, no? Anyway... below is a list of things I'm thankful for this year.
Muppets Most Wanted - The forthcoming Muppet movie only has one real trailer and it already looks like an amazing, exciting blast. I'm so thrilled to be a part of this fandom at yet another exciting juncture. It feels like just yesterday we were freaking out about The Muppets... I'm thankful that Disney has enough faith in the Muppets to make another movie. I'm thankful that James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller stayed on to direct and write. I'm thankful that the movie will have Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, and Ricky Gervais--three insanely awesome people. I'm thankful that the entire hugely talented and amazing Muppet team is exploding onto the big screen again in March.

Sesame Street - The always consistently awesome Sesame Street continued that in their 44th season. The new segment "Cookie's Crumby Pictures" really showcased the full ferocity of Sesame's parody abilities in fantastic ways. "The Hungry Games: Catching Fur" parody will surely go down as a Sesame classic. I also loved the special street story honoring Jerry Nelson, some new "Elmo: The Musical" segments, two new Guy Smiley sketches, and plenty of other things. Plus, a major, major shoutout to the amazing Ryan Dillon, who has saved Elmo and made the transition to a new performer not only easy, but simply amazing. And kudos to our spectacular friend Matt Vogel who has done the same with Count von Count.

The Muppet Performers - There aren't enough words for these outstanding people who perform our favorite characters. This year I got to visit them in their element--on the set of Muppets Most Wanted. I'm thankful for Peter Linz, my indescribably amazing friend who has truly made my year in many ways, but the biggest of all was inviting me onto the set. I'm thankful for Bill Barretta and his family who have shown me nothing but pure friendship and kindness for three years straight. I'm thankful for Matt Vogel who is hilarious, generous, and brilliant--I've listened to the latest album from his band The Mighty Weaklings more times than I can count. I'm thankful for Dave Goelz for doing an interview with me this year that is truly one of the things I'm proudest of. I'm thankful for David Rudman for not congratulating me on graduating (long story) and for eating a cookie. I'm thankful for Eric Jacobson inviting me to lunch (long story) and for calling me a stalker. I'm thankful for Steve Whitmire being a joy and a friend every time I see him... and for helping Kermit the Frog say my name.

Whoopi Goldberg and Ricky Gervais - Both of these huge names interacted with me on Twitter this year, and I think that's just amazing.

Jim Henson: The Biography - This new book covering every inch of Jim Henson's life was a true Muppet miracle. What Brian Jay Jones brought to the Muppet fandom with this book can never be adequately expressed. He explored and explained and expressed Jim's life so purely and so simply (and yet so not simply at all) in 500 pages of wonderful, wonderful storytelling. The biography is never boring, always informative, and always interesting. I'm so thankful that this book exists. If you haven't read it, you're severely missing out.

Muppet fans - Every year I'm more and more thankful for this wonderfully weird group of people who support the Muppets and support our efforts here at The Muppet Mindset. It's a joy interacting with people who are so knowledgable, passionate, and fun. Specifically I have to thank Mitchell Stein, Jamie Carroll, Chris Stulz, Ryan Roe, Dave Hulteen, Arianne Gallagher, Kyle Mahoney, Joel Swanson, Julia Gaskill, Michael Wermuth, all of my Muppet friends on Tumblr, Abigail Maughan, Michael Baldasare, and Shane Keating. Plus, The British Correspondent. Oh, and Joe Hennes, I guess. And the great, glorious, grandiose Jarrod Fairclough.

Everybody Else - I'm thankful for John Tartaglia, who is one of the most purely talented people I know, and because he did an awesome interview with us. I'm thankful my friend Joe Bailey, who has given me so many tips I'll always treasure. I'm also beyond thankful for some folks at Disney who include Debbie McClellan, Raymond Persi, Kevin Frawley, Darrell Borquez, John Bernstein, Jessica Bardwil, and Tracy Gilbert. Plus Brian Jay Jones, Cristina Barretta, Gene Barretta, Nathan Danforth, Bonnie Erickson, David Rosenberg, Dave LaMattina, Matt Wilkie, and Rachel Herrick, for reasons they're well aware of. Also everyone at The Jim Henson Company, who keep Jim Henson's legacy alive and well.

Well now this is starting to sound like a "The Author Wishes to Thank..." sections of an autobiography, so I should probably wrap it up. So last but not least, I'm thankful for all of you. Anyone who reads this site, anyone who contributes, anyone who likes our stuff on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram... wherever you are, however you've found us, I'm thankful for you.

Wishing everyone a very, very happy Thanksgiving with your family, friends, strangers at Wal-Mart, or wherever you may be!

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

Nov 27, 2013

Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Wander McMooch

Today's article was written by our wonderful contributor Abigail Maughan.


Performed by...
Bob Stutt

First Appearance...
Fraggle Rock Episode 216: Junior Sells the Farm (1987)

Most Recent Appearance...
Mopatop's Shop Episode 223: Rude Dude (2000)

Best Known Role...
Villainous, but not entirely undefeatable, toad creature

Wander McMooch is an evil, greedy frog-like creature who tormented many a character on Fraggle Rock. He is devious and creepy, but is easily beaten: he is terrified of Fraggles.

In his first appearance on the show, Episode 216, "Junior Sells the Farm," McMooch pops into the Gorgs' front yard and tricks Junior Gorg into selling him their castle (which isn't difficult). Once Junior realizes his error, he enlists in the aid of Mokey and Red Fraggle. After they devise a plan that ultimately fails, McMooch lets it slip that he has Fraggle-phobia. Junior responds to this by shoving the Fraggles in McMooch's face, and the villain runs away in terror.

McMooch's only other appearance on the show came in Episode 307, "Home is Where the Trash Is." His evil deeds involve capturing and enslaving the runaway Philo and Gunge and taking them to his strange, swamp-like lair, where he threatens them some more until the Fraggle Five show up to rescue McMooch's prisoners. Here it appears that his previously seen full-on phobia of Fraggles has now simply diminished to mild irritation towards them. He reveals that he despises Fraggles because of their lovability, so Philo and Gunge proceed to disgust him by showering him with affection. Their plan works and they are released.

There is a continuity error on the show regarding Wander McMooch’s size. In his first appearance, he is waist-high to Junior Gorg and the Fraggles, Philo, and Gunge are teeny-tiny to him. When he appears again, he has shrunk quite a bit and is now the same size as the Fraggles.

Wander McMooch reappeared in The Muppet Christmas Carol as one of Nephew Fred’s party guests, and again as one of Blind Pew's pirates in Muppet Treasure Island, both times with fellow Fraggle Rock denizen Brool the Minstrel. He made a brief appearance in episode 223 of Mopatop's Shop.

Aside from joining Sidebottom and the Mean Genie as some of the few legitimate villains on the show, Wander McMooch also provides our first and really only look at the world outside the Gorgs’ garden. He inspires many questions. Who is he and where did he come from? How many other species are there outside the Rock? He has a light on his scooter, so how did he acquire electricity? Exactly how big is this strange world of the Fraggles? All things that we will never know. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

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

Nov 26, 2013

Muppets Most Wanted Theatrical Trailer Breakdown, Part 2

Ryan Dosier - Last week the first theatrical trailer for Muppets Most Wanted premiered--and it turned out that three different trailers were released at once. I've already broken down two of the trailers so today I'm here to finish the job with the third trailer. This is the UK trailer, and I am only including screenshots from this trailer that weren't seen in the first two. Also, huge thanks and shoutout to Muppet Wiki, who got hi-def screenshots of all three trailers before I could blink! I'll be using their screenshots here. Let's get started, shall we?
I know I've said it a bunch of times, but the puppetry in this movie already astounds me. These shots of a hooded Constantine leaping across foggy buildings are absolutely stunning.
The triumphant return of the Muppet Newsman--at his news desk! I don't remember the last time we saw that. The classic set from The Muppet Show is expertly recreated here. Kudos, design team!
That's one reference to The Shawshank Redemption! Think we'll see more? I just love this shot.
I didn't mention it last time, but I'm really digging Walter's new wardrobe for this movie. So many sweaters!!
If you've ever dreamed about a moonwalking frog... Muppets Most Wanted will be a dream come true.
I really should be keeping track of Piggy's outfits just in this trailer. I think she's going to end up wearing more clothes than any other film before!
Where is Constantine? That's obviously some large and impressive vault.
Constantine sure is a fan of blowing things up. Methinks he and Crazy Harry will get along well. Amazing, amazing shot here.
Aww, look at Kermit in his Russian garb. Ain't he cute?
If you look very closely here, you can see Annie Sue's yellow afro in between Dominic and Constantine. Also... LINK!
And if you look closely here you can see Mildred Huxtetter between Constantine and Link! This is Mildred's first appearance since Muppets Tonight! FrogFan76 must be convulsing from excitement!
There's nothing especially notable in this shot, other than Dominic's outstanding line, "The comedy capitol of the world: Berlin, Germany!"
Floyd gets a line in the trailer! Huzzah! Plus, Kermit is here, so this has to be before Constantine takes over.
This was the only cameo shown to not be seen in the other trailers. I had no idea who it was, but someone on Muppet Wiki's Facebook claims it's Randa Nelson, who I've never, ever heard of.
This shot is awesome. Constantine is clearly a force to be reckoned with.
More awesome helicopter stuff! Here we see Kermit being carried off by himself. Someone grab him!!
 Is Kermit in handcuffs?! He must have been apprehended by Sam and Jean-Pierre Napoleon!
Okay, this is absolutely terrifying.
"Kermit, you were just like James Bond out there!"
I really dig these Russian clothes on Kermit.
And winter clothes for Fozzie, Walter, and Animal!! Are they the Kermit rescue squad?

Well there you have it, another breakdown! I am bursting with excitement for this movie. You can rewatch the UK trailer below!

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

Nov 25, 2013

The Great Muppet Survey: Daniel Marando

Answers from Daniel Marando

1) Who are your three favourite characters from The Muppet Show, Muppets Tonight, The Jim Henson Hour, the Muppet movies, etc. and why?
Miss Piggy, Sweetums and Kermit. The Pig is certainly one that is and will always be a favourite of mine, not just because of her visual/physical appeal but she is such a layered character and strives for whatever her desires are regardless of anything/one else! Sweetums is scary, adorable and just the epitome of a Muppet Monster – I love that. Last but not least, Kermit. The every frog, the face of the franchise, and certainly archetypal of what I believe makes people human – but he’s a frog!

2) Who are your three favourite characters from Sesame Street and why?
Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Snuffy. Big Bird as he is probably one of the most frequent Sesame characters that visit the Muppet Universe (The Muppet Show, The Muppet Movie, various television specials), PLUS his voice is so darn cute. Cookie Monster cause… COOKIES are Awesome! And Snuffy has gorgeous eyelashes – MaxFactor eat your heart out!

3) Who are your three favourite characters from Fraggle Rock and why?
Firstly I love Red Fraggle because I was always fascinated with her hair as a kid, what a great design. Wembely is a close second because he is just so likable. And last but not least, Junior Gorg because although he was scary to me, I always enjoyed episodes that included him and the other Gorgs.

4) What is your favourite television program starring any of Jim Henson's creations (e.g. The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, Dinosaurs, etc.) and why?
The Muppet Show is by far my favourite Henson program. It was my first insight into comedy, dance, song, celebrity, variety – it covered so many bases for me. And now as a music theatre performer I do believe that The Muppet Show inspired me to follow these aspirations.

5) What is your favourite Muppet movie and why?
The Muppet Movie. The ultimate road trip film! What better way to drive across the USA than meeting a hoard of talking, singing, dancing animals that all share the same dream of stardom? Great songs, well-rounded characters, chase scenes and an appropriate villain -- it has everything!

6) What is your favourite Muppet/Sesame/Fraggle song and why?
Just ONE? Wow – I suppose if I had to choose one it would have to "The Rainbow Connection." This song epitomizes 'the dream' that all The Muppets share and its message is all encompassing of everyone's desire to strive for the seemingly unattainable. Honourable mentions include: "The Muppet Show Theme," "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday," "Piggy's Fantasy" (I love grandiose), "Together Again," "Bless Us All," just to name a few --- What a cruel question!

7) If you could have dinner with any living Muppet performer who would you choose and why?
I’d really love to speak with Frank Oz. Although he’d scare me to death, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to discuss all things Muppet with the closest living collaborator of Jim. With his directing expertise and me being an actor, it would further induce conversation on character, story, script, etc.

8) If you could tell Jim Henson one thing, what would it be?
Thank you for being an inspiration to me, and the many millions of people that are in awe of you, not only as a creator but also as a person.

9) If the President called you and asked to discuss Muppet projects, what would you tell him was the "Greatest Muppet Moment of All Time"?
Wow! The President is calling an Australian to answer this question? Well, I guess I’d have to say, “Mr (or Mrs) President, to me I believe the greatest Muppet moment of all time is the when The Muppets celebrated their big screen debut in the television special, The Muppets Go Hollywood. The special includes stars galore, musical numbers, grand entrances (Piggy) and in the end after the party has ended, The Muppets themselves are left to clean the venue --- True Muppet Hilarity!

10) What's the name of that song?
Wont you tell me what’s ‘A Nice Girl Like Me’, doing in a place that never closes?!

11) If a judge ruled that Grover had to be your personal assistant for a month, what jobs would you have him do?
Sing "Fuzzy and Blue" to me once a day at any given moment.

12) In your opinion, what is the worst Muppet production ever made?
This would definitely have to be The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, which is so hilarious to me because out of my THREE favourite films of all time, The Muppet Movie and The Wizard of Oz are TWO of them. I suppose if you’re going to make any sort of Wizard remake it has to have an edge (nothing could ever compete with the original 1939 film), but they really missed the mark on this abomination.

13) Who is one celebrity you would love to see cameo in the next Muppet movie?
Based off the guests they had on The Muppet Show, I'd have to say Kristin Chenoweth. I know she was Miss Noodle on Elmo’s World but I think she’d fit into the Muppet World perfectly – She’s cute, funny, talented and SHORT! I could see some hilarious diva off moments between her and the pig!

14) If you could take a picture with any Muppet, who would you choose and how would you pose?
Miss Piggy would be a top photo op, posing in classic ‘Muppet-Face’ poses OR Sweetums bear hugging me off the ground.

15) What is your favourite piece of Muppet merchandise that you own? (Feel free to include a picture!)
It’s hard to choose just one piece. But I love my Master Replicas, Muppet Busts and Palisades collections. Sadly I live in an apartment and a lot of my collection is boxed up in storage until the day I get my own place and create a ‘Muppet Room’ for it all to be displayed. So at the moment I have an IKEA cabinet housing some of my knick-knack Muppet items. My favourite part of the collection is probably my Muppet Film Sheet Music Songbooks.

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