But if I had undying, unconditional love for The Muppets then I wouldn't have a blog post to write today, so this is perhaps a good thing.
Incidentally, this will be one of those posts where I diss something a bit and then come around at the end to admitting that I really like it after all, despite my earlier disrespect.
And, yes, I know that I said that I liked them right at the start and so I don’t need to do it again at the end. Just… bear with me, I’m making this up as I go.
I think there’s a touch of The Emperor’s New Clothes about The Muppets now. We’re all so keen to be part of the nostalgia/cuteness bandwagon that we’ve lost sight of the wrinkles, the sagging, the hairy arse of it all.
The Muppets are most famous for the TV shows and I’ve got no gripe with them. I was there from 76 to 81, watching each episode as it came on, wondering who the guest would be, laughing along and enjoying them. They were good. I also really loved the Muppets on Sesame Street, long before the Muppet Show appeared, I watched it much later into my teens that I probably should have but my alphabet skills were second to none.
I have more of a problem with the movies. People wet themselves over the movies and I don’t really see why. I find them flaccid and obvious and pumped up with utterly-forgettable show tunes. I include the much-revered Muppet Christmas Carol in this. God, people nearly die of ecstasy every Christmas when this rolls around yet again. Have they actually watched it? Can anyone remember a single note of the songs it is irrigated with? Does Michael Caine not completely sleepwalk through his phoned-in performance? I watched this again last December, surfing on a wave of twitter optimism and joy. I wasn’t wrong though, it takes a perfectly diverting story and renders it ordinary and plain. Sorry. And this is by far the best of the films, in my opinion. I’m excluding the most recent one from this little rant. I will come to that.
My main issue with the whole Muppets thing is this reverential air that has grown around them. People remember them as being better than they were, I reckon. Yes they were good, so that makes things less clear-cut but I think, in our endless quest to find things from bygone years to yahoo about, we sometimes elevate things to a stature somewhat higher than that which they deserve. And we have come to revere the back story of the Muppets rather than the product itself. We love, now, to see Jim with his arm up Kermit’s arse as they gaze lovingly into each others eyes/buttons. We are nostalgic about the nostalgia rather than the thing. Does that even make any sense? I don’t know.
Okay, I’ve come to it now so let’s change gear. The new film is good. I like it a lot, actually. It’s clever because it’s hit the zeitgeist as I have tried to describe it in the paragraph above. It is nostalgic, yes, but it is not nostalgic for The Muppets, it is nostalgic for the nostalgia of the Muppets. It does also have the requisite bloody awful show tunes but there’s not as many as pads out the earlier films so… forgiven.
People love The Muppets for things that The Muppets just hijacked from other places. ‘Ma na Ma na, for instance. That was around for ages before the Muppets did their cover of it (and Animal did not sing it so forget about that). In fact, it goes back to 1968 and some dodgy Swedish sex mocumentary (where, again Animal did not perform). The use of this song in the new film is perhaps the best illustration of the point I am trying to make. It is funny, moving and nostalgic about nostalgia… but not necessarily about Muppets.
The best thing that came out of the movie series, by far, the thing that actually moves me quite a bit, is the only good song to ever emerge: The Rainbow Connection, written by Kenneth Ascher and Paul Williams. It’s a lovely song and lyrically brilliant referencing, as it does ‘Wizard of Oz’ and then ‘Pinocchio’. The image of the little frog playing his banjo in the swamp and the lyrics ‘Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices, I’ve heard them call my name… I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it, there’s something that I’m supposed to be…”. This combination is a powerful metaphor for a creative struggle that I think exists within many of us. The drive to go out into the world and be our best. It’s just brilliant and it never fails to touch me.
So you see friends, as promised, I do like the Muppets after all.
Another three minutes of your life wasted.