Sesame Saturday: Magic, Tragic Big Bird

This is Part One of a two-part series celebrating Caroll Spinney’s two most famous characters on the occasion of his retirement.

There’s something magical and miraculous about the mundanity of Big Bird. He does things that other birds do, such as eating birdseed and preening his feathers. He also does things that kids do, like roller skating or playing hide-and-seek. 

Unlike most Muppets, there’s no need for Big Bird to hide behind a low wall or a counter or inside a giant bathtub. There are no telltale cables trailing off him, and he is unfettered by marionette strings and arm rods. Big Bird walks freely among us, as an equal.

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Fraggle Friday: “Do It Anyway”

I watched this video originally when it first came out in 2012. At that time, I hadn’t seen any Fraggle Rock, except for that one episode that I happened to catch at a friend’s house approximately 25 years prior, and I wasn’t a particular fan of Ben Folds Five either. So when I read on the Muppet fan sites that the Fraggles and Ben Folds Five had made a music video, I was initially underwhelmed: “Oh, two entities with which I am vaguely familiar sang a song together. Neat.”

Then I watched the video and it completely blew me away. I wasn’t expecting to be so affected by it. Whether it was the music or the Fraggles or the combination of the two that touched my heart, I still don’t know.

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Muppets Meet the Classics: Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm…A Mini-Review

Remember my review of Phantom of the Opera, the first book in the Muppets Meet the Classics series? Two weeks ago, I received a comment on the review from Erik Forrest Jackson, the author of the book. This was both very flattering and very nerve-wracking: I never expected the author of the book to actually read my review; if I had, I would have tried to be a bit more diplomatic about what I didn’t like about it. But his comment was very kind, and he thanked me for the thoughtful review.

The next book in the series is to be released today. Because I was expecting another novel, I was surprised to find out that the next book in the series is Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm. If I’m being completely honest, I’m also slightly–just slightly–disappointed, if only because the Muppets have drawn so frequently from the fairy-tale well in the past.

Then again, probably the reason why the Muppets so often adapt fairy tales is that the content works so well for them. Also, based on the sample chapter that has been released–“The Frog Prince,” one of the most well-known and successful of the Muppet fairy tale adaptations–it looks as though Jackson is able to put a new spin on even the stories that the Muppets have adapted before. 

(Warning: Spoilers below)

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Torchbearers Redux

I have some more thoughts that I edited out of my post from yesterday on the grounds that it was still supposed to be a post for Matt’s birthday, and I felt some of what I wanted to say wasn’t necessarily very sensitive. Maybe it would have been okay, but I wanted to err on the side of caution.

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Sesame Saturday: The Torchbearers

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was a little boy born in Georgia on Jim Henson’s birthday in 1959, who loved Muppets so much that he was nicknamed “Kermit” in high school.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was another little boy born in Kansas on this date in 1970 with a last name that means “bird” in German, who received prophetic Sesame Street toys as Christmas gifts. 

And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the great and good Caroll Spinney took each of them under his figurative wing and served as a mentor to them both.

Matt Vogel and Steve Whitmire were each born to be torchbearers, to keep the flame alive and to light the way for others. 

I debated with myself about the appropriateness of talking about Steve on Matt’s birthday, but “Journey to Ernie,” the most prominent example of Matt playing Big Bird that I know of, also prominently features Steve, and that didn’t feel like a coincidence either, so I decided I had to honor it.

These “Journey to Ernie” segments, which teach the very important skill of deductive reasoning, are fairly clever and utterly delightful due to the talents of Matt, Steve, Joey Mazzarino and David Rudman as the Two-Headed Monster, unidentified voice actors and animators, and whoever was on right-handed Duckie duty.

Luceat lux vestra

Matt Vogel: Gnarly to the Max

Happy birthday to Matt Vogel! Yes, I know that his birthday is actually tomorrow. Today I want to celebrate him and some of his Muppet troupe characters, and tomorrow I want to say something in regard to his work on Sesame Street

When people talk about Matt Vogel, they usually talk about all the characters that were originated by other people that he has nobly endeavored to keep alive. That’s all well and good, but today I’d prefer to concentrate primarily on his original characters (with one exception, but I’ll explain when I get to it).

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Muppet Heresy: In Defense of Muppets’ Wizard of Oz

 

A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that Kermit the Frog will be performing the title role in a live stage production of The Wizard of Oz which, as I’m sure we can all agree, seems really weird and random. Why that production? Why that role? Why just Kermit and not the whole Muppet troupe? It sounds to me like somebody in a decision-making role with the Muppets has a friend who called in a favor. But I digress.

Predictably, some of the reactions to the news involved some variation on the extremely witty comment, “I hope this production is better than Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, because that really sucked!”

I’ve never understood the hatred that people level against Muppets’ Wizard of Oz. Admittedly, it’s not the best thing that the Muppets have ever done, but it’s not the worst thing either, and there’s a lot of fun to be had with it, especially if–like me–you’re primarily familiar with the story from the original novel rather than the 1939 film adaptation.

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Sesame Saturday: September Significance

September 24th is a significant date in Muppetdom. Most serious Muppet fans probably know that it’s Jim Henson’s birthday, and many know that it’s also Steve Whitmire’s birthday (which I celebrated on Monday). But there’s another reason why September 24th is significant that even the most dedicated Muppet fan may not be aware of: Jeff Moss passed away from cancer on September 24th, 1998. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his death.

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Sixty for 60: The Best of Steve Whitmire

(I know that today is also Jim Henson’s birthday, and I have something special and separate planned for him on Saturday.)

I am sure you are already aware that today, September 24th, 2018, is Steve Whitmire’s 59th birthday. It sort of sneaked up on me, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do to commemorate the occasion. I thought of showcasing some of his best work as some of his most prominent characters via YouTube video, etc. Then I thought, “Next year is his 60th birthday; maybe something like that would be more appropriate for the milestone?”

Then I realized, with Steve having worked with the Muppets for nearly 40 years, there’s a wealth of stellar material to showcase. Rather than try to confine it all to one day, why not spread it out over the course of a full year? 

Here’s my idea: from now until September 2019, I’ll showcase five examples (be they videos or whatever) of Steve’s best work on the 24th of each month. Each month will feature a specific character or unifying theme. Then the project will culminate next year on Steve’s 60th birthday with a compilation of 60 examples of his best work. 

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Twitter Interlude

I do not now, nor will I ever, understand this way of relating to one another. That being said, I love Matt for his self-deprecation. 

(Not that I didn’t love him before, but I love him even more now.)

Sesame Saturday: How Sesame Workshop Should Address the Matter of Sexuality

I want to take a moment to reiterate my reader-response-informed theory of criticism: it is neither the creator of an artistic work nor the audience that confers meaning upon it; rather, meaning is created when the intention of the author meets the interpretation of the audience. This is not to say that the creator of a work cannot have his or her own interpretation of its meaning; rather, it means that the creator’s interpretation is not the “only” correct interpretation.

I bring this up again because the matter of Bert and Ernie’s sexuality became an issue again this week. I’ve written about this extensively elsewhere. I believe that, much like Batman in The Dark Knight, Bert, Ernie, and all the other Muppets are whatever each of us, as individual viewers, need them to be.

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“Don’t You Know I’m Just Human?”

If you recall, I had mixed feelings about the possibility of entering this contest, but then it was revealed that the winner gets to pick the songs. That, the possibility of meeting Matt, and the fact that the money goes to support a good cause rather than lining Disney execs’ pockets made the prospect irresistible to me. 

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Happytime Murders: More Than Just Fluff

For those who may be concerned, the above video is 100% free of silly string.

Among people who know me well, I’m not known for having a very generous attitude toward blue humor. As a matter of fact, if you were to ask the people I went to high school with, most of them would probably say I was something of a prude. (They might not actually use the word “prude,” but they would say something to that effect.) And my poor, patient younger brother could attest to the number of times he’s shown me an R-rated movie that he really likes, hoping that we could enjoy it together, only to have me watch it like a deer in headlights, and sometimes get on my high horse about it after the fact.

All of which is just to help you to understand where I’m coming from when I say that I saw Happytime Murders recently and actually really loved it.

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Walter and Robin

Based on his appearances in the “Muppet Thought of the Week” videos on YouTube, Walter has now become one of the funniest Muppets. Does that qualify as irony?

Prior to last summer, Walter was sometimes paired with Robin the Frog (as performed by Matt Vogel) in “Thoughts of the Week” and other short videos, a pairing that works pretty well, given that they’re both characters who are supposed to be a little younger. Check ’em out:

However, since Matt started performing Kermit, performing Robin as well would have been difficult, particularly during those live shows that everyone seemed to enjoy so much. Peter Linz now describes himself (on his Twitter profile and elsewhere) as the performer for Robin, so I guess that recast is now official.

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