1 The Muppet Mindset: April 2014

Apr 30, 2014

Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: The Elvises

Today's article was written by our frequent contributor Kyle Mahoney.


Performed by...

First appearance...
Muppet Classic Theater (1994)

Most recent appearance...
It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002)

“Thank you, thank you very much. I’d like to thank the both of you.”

“Don’t make me use my karate on you.”

Ben Franklin: I have just discovered electricity!
Elvis: Rockin’ news! Now we can play these electric guitars!

The Elvises are a group of guys who may or may not be Elvis Presley. They all look and sound and act like him, but last time we at The Muppet Mindset checked, there was only one Elvis Presley. But this doesn’t stop these guys.

The Elvises first appeared with the Muppets in Muppet Classic Theater. Due to Rizzo mishearing Gonzo state the title of the next story of "The Elves and the Shoemaker" as "The Elvises and the Shoemaker," when the titular magical creatures come to help Kermit and Robin’s shoe shop, they appear as a group of Elvises (much to Gonzo’s surprise). As in the original story the Elves make a bunch of amazing shoes for the cobbler, but since these are Elvises, they not only sang a rockin’ tune, they created a whole mess of Blue Suede Shoes. In thanks for their help, Kermit and Robin made the Elvises white sequin jump suits and, according to Rizzo, they went to Las Vegas where they play "The Big Room" at The Palace.

After their stint in Las Vegas, the Elvises returned in 1996 for the Muppets Tonight recurring segment "Great Moments in Elvis History" where amazing moments in history are retold the way god intended them… with Elvises. These moments include The Signing of the Declaration of Independence, The King and his Round Table, Elvis of Arabia, Tarzan of Graceland, Sir Elvis Newton, and the death of Elvis Ceasar.

In their last onscreen appearance, The Elvises were featured in the full version of "Moulin Scrooge" in It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. There, they briefly sing "Jingle Bells," interrupting Miss Piggy’s big "Santa Baby" number.

One thing that makes the Elvises special is that they are solely based on a human and yet they are recurring which doesn’t happen often in the Muppets. Although they don’t do much, they are a funny group of impersonators who I wish would pop up again.

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

Apr 28, 2014

I AM BIG BIRD Film Review

Our friend Gordon Yarley was lucky enough to attend the World Premiere of I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story at the Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto last night. Below is his review of the extraordinary documentary about an extraordinary man.
Gordon Yarley - Who is the man in the big yellow bird? The man responsible for bringing joy to millions world-wide, young and old, is known as Caroll Spinney, the very talented performer of both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for 45 years. A few years back we got the wonderful Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey about Kevin Clash, and it received high praise from critics and fans. This documentary based around Caroll Spinney’s life, seemed only natural (and overdue).

While multiple books have been written on the subject of Sesame Street, a book cannot contain video footage of the history. The sheer joy of seeing what is now referred to as Classic Sesame Street footage, both aired, and private behind the scenes made the sold out screening of this a wonderful documentary on the life and work of Caroll Spinney a truly incredible experience.

The one theme that ran throughout the movie was that of love, you could tell that Caroll has a lot of love to give, first to his work, and then to his friends, but mostly to his beloved wife, Debra. They both attended the screening and it was the first time they’d seen the movie in its entirety and they were very moved by it--as was the rest of the audience.

I Am Big Bird, is truly a remarkable movie. Looking at this from a fan’s perspective it was truly wonderful to see the behind the scenes rehearsal footage, as well as private parties and functions attended by the Muppet and Sesame Street families. The private footage was shot by Caroll and Debra over the years and it proved invaluable in helping to flesh out this wonderfully charming sweet man, who had nothing but praise for his friends and coworkers from Sesame Street.

One word of warning, make sure you have tissues nearby as there are multiple times where you will tear up, and it isn’t because of onions from Oscar's trash can. The inclusion of footage from Sesame Street with the death of Mr. Hooper where you see the power of Caroll’s performance as Big Bird truly goes down in history as a very memorable television moment. They also show Caroll performing Big Bird at Jim Henson’s funeral. The movie also touches on Caroll's past with an abusive father and shows how much he learned from his mother, who helped get him started on the path to puppeteery.

It is from the many interviews from fellow performers that you truly get to know what a kind, sweet man Caroll Spinney is, and how his past experiences have shaped the characters he performs today. While he may have trained Matt Vogel as a successor to Big Bird when he eventually steps down, it is clear that Caroll has no sign of stopping and as long as he can perform Big Bird and Oscar, he will.

One of the highlights of the evening for this writer was a talk back after the movie, where you could tell how touched Caroll and Debra were from all the love in the room. It was delightful to witness the charming sweet man talk about his life, his love and his career. Then he brought out Oscar--not Big Bird, since he requires a first class seat and Oscar can be put in the overhead storage. Watching Oscar performed live was truly a remarkable moment, one that won’t be forgotten.

Is this documentary worthy to own? Absolutely. Muppet fan or not, it is a very well made movie about the life and work of a remarkable man. Is there rewatchability? Yes. Though blown up on a big screen some of the older footage from television or the home movies understandably showed its age, it should be fine on a television watching at home. It was also extremely nice to see the actual Muppet performers themselves interviewed in the film. There's plenty of on-screen interviews from many of the primary Sesame Street performers.

Word of note, there is some language used in the movie and certain sections that might not be appropriate for small children. Understandably, this is first and foremost an adult-aimed documentary. Despite this, however, everything shown in the film truly shows how utterly wonderful Caroll and Debra are as people and as a family, and everyone should strive to live life like them and show love towards everyone. I would have appreciated if dates could have been pointed out, as the film jumped back and forth quite a lot at times and it might be a bit hard for non-obsessed fans to follow along.

For the minor faults mentioned above, they don’t detract away from the charm and heart threaded throughout and I Am Big Bird is a wonderful documentary. There were many scenes, interviews, and home videos that had to be cut, and I hope that they will include more on the upcoming DVD release.

Overall I enjoyed that the documentary didn’t white wash any subjects and took a real, honest look at Caroll's life and legacy. Not only do I feel genuinely changed by watching it, but I feel happier for having grown up with Big Bird and Oscar on my television screen as a child. Caroll Spinney is quite a remarkable man and I Am Big Bird is a remarkable documentary.

Five Stars out of Five. Or Five Feathers out of Five Feathers.

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

Apr 26, 2014

"Doozers" Series Review

Dan Sanchez - After all these years the Doozers are back in high-tech CG form thanks to The Jim Henson Company, DHX MEDIA, and Hulu. Doozers is the first original programming Hulu has created for their Hulu Kids brand and on Friday they released the first seven of 52 episodes with plans to release three more new episodes every third Friday moving forward.

Today, I sat down with my 13 month-old daughter, a Fraggle Rock fan in her own right, to watch these seven episodes. Within the first seconds of the program we were whisked away to a Smurfs-like eco-friendly environment known as Doozer Creek, via a theme song that is vaguely reminiscent of the original Fraggle Rock tune in both beat and chord structure (sing the original Fraggle Rock theme along with this and you won’t miss a beat). FYI: check out the corresponding “Doozer Creek” app for your smart phone, you won’t regret it.

This new series, aimed at preschoolers, focuses on a group of four bright young Doozers known as the Pod Squad; Spike, Daisy Wheel, Flex, and Molly Bolt (nice to see they are still naming Doozers after tools, machinery and such). Each episode, just shy of 12 minutes, follows the “Squad” through daily lessons, adventures and design challenges at home, school, and even while at play. Along the way, the Pod Squad demonstrates problem solving skills, team work, the use of their imagination, some ingenuity, and positive communication all while still having fun.

Yes, I said it, fun. These Doozers aren’t the no nonsense 6” green creatures of our youth. They aren’t fixated with building geometric Doozer Stick (though they're called Radish Sticks in this series) architecture to feed Fraggles; no, this new batch of Doozers have progressed. They are inspired by nature and the world around them utilizing such in their designs and constructions. Also, the Doozers don’t solely build and design anymore; they’ve expanded their ambitions and have become bakers, doctors, professors, artists,
and much more. Some Doozers even wear clothes!

The Doozers have also stepped up their tech knowhow and have a seemingly innate aptitude for IT. The Pod Squad are outfitted with newer imaginative tech more relatable to today’s digital world and the contemporary youth. For instance, Molly Bolt and Spike each utilize touch screen devices, the whole squad wears wrist communicators, Flex has a mulit-functional “Doo-Driver,” Daisy has a ladybug inspired jet pack and a pair on “Animal-oculars” that give her the sight of various types of animals. I guess they somehow figured out how to hydroelectrically power all their handheld devices over the past couple decades.

The artists and animators did an astounding job bringing these characters to life. The style is smooth and engaging without being too “dumbed-down” for its intended pre-school audience. My daughter was immediately immersed in this colorfully charming universe and was dancing along to all the music the whole time we watched.

The interstitial montage segments within each episode features memorable and upbeat music that you and your kids will be singing as you work from here on out. And, as with all Henson experiences, the show includes some fun for the adults too; i.e. The Doozers shop at the “Doozer Depot” for supplies, tools and other mechanisms are integrated into the Doozer’s clothing (Prof. Gimbal’s tie is a monkey wrench), there is also some fun everyday-life moments in each episode (watch for a great “wasn’t me” moment between Daisy Wheel, Flex, and Spike in Episode 3 - Detective Doozers).

My daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed Doozers and are eager to see more. At the end of each episode the Pod Squad chants, “There’s nothing to it when you do, do, do it,” and by golly The Jim Henson Company has done it again. So, if you’re a parent, if you liked Fraggle Rock, The Smurfs, or even Bob the Builder; Doozers is right up your alley, or should I say down at your rock; Fraggle Rock.

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

Apr 25, 2014

I Am Big Bird Reviews Are In

I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story will have its world premiere this Sunday at the Canadian International Film Hot Docs Festival. Reviews of the Copper Pot Pictures documentary are already filtering in, and there isn't a bad one in the bunch. Check out some of the great reviews below!

DorkShelf Review by Andrew Parker
"Aside from being a remarkably well crafted and guileless tearjerker, Walker and LaMattina have also created a brilliantly comprehensive biography of one of the Muppets’ most unsung heroes, combining rare home video footage shot by Spinney and his wife and in-depth and insightful interviews with those who know him best. Nothing is left untouched regardless of how negative or “un-Sesame” it might appear. It’s the beautiful, sometimes melancholic, and always heart tugging story of a man who wanted nothing more than to make people happy. I started crying mere minutes into the film and didn’t stop for the entire running time. Bring multiple boxes of tissues. This is not an exaggeration or suggestion."

SceneCreek Review by Anthony Marcusa
Spinney, it’s explained by friends, colleagues, and his wife, is in fact Big Bird, from the way in which he enjoys simple pleasures in life to his almost na├»ve look at the world. What’s perhaps most interesting, aside from the complicated inner workings it takes to actually wield the massive yellow costume, is how everyone seems to be in agreement about just how peculiar and refreshing Spinney really is.

The Globe and Mail Article/Review by Dave McGinn
"This idea was really, in its basic form, 'Hey, it's really cool one guy’s been doing this for so long,' " says Dave LaMattina, who co-directed the documentary. But after meeting Spinney and delving into his life story, LaMattina and his partner, Chad Walker, knew they had a story that was much richer and more nuanced than that novel fact.

The Star Review by Bruce DeMara
The film will remind audiences of the important role Big Bird (and the man in the yellow suit) played in shaping both culture, children’s education and even politics.

Pretty Clever Films Review by Brandy Dean
These sorts of docs always have the potential for a being a big of a drag. After all, Carol Spinney is just a man and sometimes people are just boring. But do not fear. It turns out that Carol Spinney is just as much bird – if not more – than man. You already love Big Bird, but after watching I Am Bird Bird, you’ll fall in love with the man who brings him to life as well.

I don't know about you, Muppet fans, but I'm so completely thrilled to see this film. We'll keep you posted about when and where you can see I Am Big Bird as soon as we have more info!

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

Apr 24, 2014

Sesame Street Season 44 Reviews, Part 5

Shane Keating - So, here we are, at the very end of the season. It’s been fun going over the show week by week, so let’s take a look the last six episodes of the season.

"Jack’s Big Jump" and "Three Cheers for Us" were both repeats from previous seasons, so there’s nothing new to say about them really.

"The Pogo Games" was another good Telly episode, with appearances by Baby Bear and Gina. The coach character didn’t do much for me, however, despite how well Tyler Bunch played him. They could’ve easily made the story about Telly losing pride during the game without him. Just his presence in the story felt off to me.

"The Wedding Planner" was quite humorous, as all the Elmo vs. Rocco episodes are. It even got quite touching at the end, especially the song Zoe and Elmo sang as they carried the rocks down the aisle. Leave it to the Muppets to make something so silly as two rocks getting married and make it an actually sweet moment. Also, Herry Monster made a cameo, so hooray! Bob was there as well, and I wish they gave him a line or two at least. He comes in only a couple times a season it appears and he doesn’t even get to speak; what a shame.

"Lights! Camera! Bert!" was the episode I was looking most forward too, after the Jerry Nelson tribute, and it did not disappoint. It brilliantly built upon one of the standard Ernie and Bert sketch premises and made it feel like an extended sketch, while also telling a story too. Steve and Eric’s chemistry is almost as good as Jim and Frank’s and they shine in this episode. Sadly, this is the last street story featuring Kevin as Elmo (actually doing Elmo in-studio). I am getting a tad tired of the whole “repeating the same song throughout the episode” system they’ve been employing lately (though Bert’s reprise at the end was catchy).

And then we have our season finale, "Every Plant There Ever Was." Some of the stories lately have kind-of situated themselves to one specific location of the street (this one, the garden) and it feels off in a way. Still, this episode was nice with an odd cast combination (Luis, Chris, Zoe and Stinky), a funny accountant joke and an “Oklahoma” reference that made me laugh. What an age we live in where Stinky gets two street stories about him in one season, especially when he’s more of a secondary character.

We got some more animated and film inserts, mostly letter and number ones (including a remake of the 1993 “Jump” song), but there was a particularly cute cartoon of a mouse growing a strawberry. As usual, there some more new Word of the Day scenes. The one with Forest Whitaker was a highlight, as it featured the Count surprisingly (performed by Matt Vogel). Since they usually sent Vogel to LA for these among the other Muppeteers, maybe the Count will appear in more next season. There was another new “Murray Has a Little Lamb” tune-in as well, visiting African Dance school. I like it more when the Murray bumpers have a plot to them and I hope they make more like these for future episodes.

There was a few new Muppet inserts as well, each feeling very “old-school.” One involved Abby showing Cookie Monster subtraction with cookies; you can pretty much infer where the bit goes from there. Another great bit had guest Tyler Perry teach Elmo about different kinds of math. It’s one of the last Kevin as Elmo bits we’ll be seeing, so it’s special in that regard. My favorite one involved Grover and Rosita talking about triangles and the sigh of Grover in triangle form is wonderful. I also love how they’ve been bringing back the classic brick wall for these bits; it’s been a staple of the show since the beginning.

My favorite bit from this section has to be Pentatonix’s Sesame Street number song medley. They made some really great song choices to classic favorites (“Five People in My Family”) to not as well known ones (“Three”). What’s also great is that half of the songs were pulled from the old “Numbers!” album and that all the songs (save for Pinball Number Count) were all written by Jeff Moss. It was just a great bit all around and the group has phenomenal singing chops.

So, that about does it for this season. It was very good overall, with great new stories, songs and a new cast member. Everything had a very classic feeling to it. I’ll see you soon to go over the season as a whole as we get ready for their announcements for the big 45th anniversary season during the summer. See you soon!

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

Apr 23, 2014

Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Nigel the Conductor

Written by Michael Wermuth.


Performed by...
Jim Henson (1975)
John Lovelady (1976-1977)

First appearance...
The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence (1975)

Most recent appearance...
Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

Best known role...
Orchestra conductor; rejected host of The Muppet Show

Nigel was originally intended to be the host of The Muppet Show. He was the main character in The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence pilot, where he interacted with Sam the Eagle and Floyd Pepper in various meeting room scenes, playing games and telling each contestant in the Seven Deadly Sins pageant where to go. However, after the pilot was taped, Jim Henson had decided that Nigel was too wimpy a host, and when The Muppet Show became a series, Kermit became host and Nigel was demoted to orchestra conductor.

Nigel appeared throughout the run of the show, but he only had a handful of speaking roles on the show, all during the first season. His most notable speaking role came in episode 102, when he talked Zoot into doing the “Sax and Violence” number (by threatening to get a new sax player). In episode 123, it was revealed that Nigel had written the theme song, which the band wanted to quit over (he always thought of it as a hip tune).

In addition to conducting, Nigel often participated in group numbers, sometimes played instruments, and on two occasions showed off his whistling skills (for the songs “Big Noise from Winnetka” and “Sam’s Song”). After the show ended, Nigel occasionally appeared in the background. After being absent for a couple of decades, Nigel came back to conduct the orchestra in The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted, and also appeared in OK Go’s music video of "The Muppet Show Theme."

The Muppet Show may not have needed Nigel to be the host (Kermit pretty much proved that), but the orchestra does need a conductor, and that’s where Nigel comes in. It takes a level head to keep control over the Muppet orchestra, and Nigel does it very well.

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

Apr 22, 2014

We Need More Female Muppets

Ryan Dosier - The world of the Muppets (in this case, specifically the world inhabited by Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the gang from The Muppet Show and the subsequent films and series) is filled to the brim with characters of virtually every ilk. You have pigs, bears, chickens, monsters, rats, Frackles, dogs, whatevers, and things. Yet, despite all of this diversity, there is a distinct lack of female representation among the core group. Today I'm writing about why thats not okay, and to offer some ideas on how to fix it.

It's so strange to me that there has never truly been an honest attempt to introduce another primary female character into the Muppet gang. Yes, you have Camilla the Chicken, Janice, and of course Miss Piggy, but there have been virtually no other prominent Muppet female characters in almost 40 years. Attempts to introduce new ladies fell through with Annie Sue Pig, Miss Mousey, Mildred Huxtetter, Gladys the cafeteria lady, Wanda, Hilda, Vicki from The Jim Henson Hour, Spamela Hamderson, Miss Poogy, and Emily Bear.

Another big problem is that the three semi-prominent female characters that the Muppets currently us are all performed by men. Of course this in no way means that Matt Vogel (Camilla), David Rudman (Janice), and Eric Jacobson (Miss Piggy) are anything short of insanely talented and magnificent with the characters--because they are--it just means that for a long time female Muppet performers have been unable to bring a character with lasting impact to life. That's not for lack of trying, because Louise Gold, Fran Brill, Eren Ozker, and Leslie Carrara-Rudolph have all performed characters that could have gone the distance, but never connected with an audience.

The biggest and most frustrating problem here is that it seems like it would be so easy for the Muppet creative team to bring in a prominent female character. It's not like there's a lack of hugely talented female puppeteers (see: Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Julianne Buescher, Alice Dinnean, etc.), and there are certainly voids that could be filled by female characters (Miss Piggy's best friend, Fozzie's female counterpart, a young girl with big dreams like Walter, etc.). There's really only one reason not to add a new female character: lack of productions.

Yes, the Muppets are back and making big-time feature films, but that really isn't the best platform for introducing new characters (although Walter and Constantine both proved that very wrong). The greatest platform for this would be a new Muppet television show... but who knows if that will happen. But there really should be a concentrated effort to introduce a new female Muppet in the near future. The number of female Muppet fans--both young and young at heart--is staggering and absolutely as important as the male fanbase (maybe even moreso). Muppet fans deserve more female representation.

The most obvious fix for this issue would be to introduce, in officially official capacity, Skeeter. For those who don't know, Skeeter is Scooter's twin sister in Muppet Babies but never made the jump to actual Muppet canon. She was a featured player in The Muppet Show Comic Book: Family Reunion series with an impeccable redesign by Amy Mebberson (see right). I can think of virtually no good reason not to bring Skeeter in looking exactly like this, performed by Leslie Carrara-Rudolph or Karen Prell or one of the other ultra-talented female Muppet performers. Skeeter would automatically be a huge hit, playing off of nostalgia from kids who watched Muppet Babies as much as I did.

So there are just a few rambles about why more female Muppets are needed and how it could easily be done. Come on, Disney, give us more ladies to cheer for, sing along with, and love. The Muppets have always been about inclusiveness, and adding more female Muppet characters is just the first step in becoming all-inclusive again.

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

Apr 21, 2014

Muppet Retro Reviews: The Muppet Revue

Michael Wermuth - "The Muppet Revue" is one of ten compilation videos released by Playhouse Video in 1985 spotlighting The Muppet Show, and is one of only three in the collection to not be tied to a single theme, instead highlighting a variety of the best that The Muppet Show has to offer. Like the other two videos that aren’t themed around anything, this one is hosted by Kermit and Fozzie as they clean up the theater’s attic and come across various props from the show, bringing back old memories, including appearances by guest stars Linda Ronstadt (“Blue Bayou”), Paul Williams (“A Sad Song”), Harry Belafonte (“Turn the World Around”), and Rita Moreno (“Fever”).

This video contains an excellent choice of clips, many of which are often featured in other Muppet retrospectives. We get Kermit’s two best-known Muppet Show numbers “Happy Feet” and “Bein’ Green,” Miss Piggy’s “I Get Around” and “Staying Alive,” three great Swedish Chef sketches, Marvin Suggs and the Muppaphone’s rendition of “Lady of Spain,” Gonzo’s motorcycle act, Sam the Eagle’s speech on nudity, the time Miss Piggy weighed down the Swinetrek, the time Bunsen invented the gorilla detector, the classic “Mahna Mahna,”  and so much more.

And at times, this video sort of feels like an informercial or pitch for the show (which had already ended its run a few years before the video was released). Kermit’s first introduction to a guest star clip has him informing the viewers, "We not only have a lot of songs and silliness, but also great guest stars”. Between clips of Bobby Benson’s Baby Band and Geri and the Attrics, Kermit says that “We not only have stuff for the kids, we also offend the old folks!” At another point, Kermit says “We on The Muppet Show are concerned with all animal causes. On the other hand, Sam Eagle is concerned with all kinds of things.” After Fozzie comments on how weird the “Mahna Mahna” number is, Kermit tells him to think of all the normal stuff they have, like Muppet Labs (“That’s normal?”).

While all ten of the compilation videos represent the very best of The Muppet Show, this one does a super job in clip selections, featuring many of the best-known clips. It also does the best in representing the whole series. It includes clips from every major recurring segment except for Veterinarian’s Hospital, and has clips with every essential character except for Robin, Dr. Teeth, Beaker, and Sweetums. If you need to convince somebody to become a Muppet fan but can only spend one hour doing so, have them watch this video!

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