Welcome back to 60 for 60, a yearlong celebration of the work of Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his 60th birthday coming up in September. This month is a bit of a departure; instead of a post focusing entirely on a major character, this one features two relatively minor characters of Steve’s: Bean Bunny and Lips.
I’ve been trying to feature Steve’s characters in rough chronological order of when he started playing them. (Thus far they’ve all been original characters of Steve’s but that will change in the near future.) I’m changing up the pattern slightly because Lips was introduced in 1980 and Bean Bunny was introduced six years later, but in the late ’80s, Bean Bunny was a more prominent character, so therefore he figures more prevalently here.
Though relatively minor characters, Bean Bunny and Lips are each awesome in their own ways. Lips is a literal rock star with a cool hairdo and an air of mystery about him, while Bean Bunny is an adorable badass pacifist.
If I tried, I could probably find enough clips to devote one month each to Lips and Bean Bunny, but there are a lot more characters to get to and only six months left in this project (not counting the culmination in September).
Bean Bunny: Caroling, etc. (The Muppet Christmas Carol)
Bean Bunny’s function in the Muppets has often been to represent the “pejorative cuteness,” to use Frank Oz’s terminology, that is so counter to the Muppet ethos. In other words, they make the impossibly cute Bean Bunny suffer, and we’re supposed to think that’s funny. In Muppet Christmas Carol, however, they push this idea too far, in my opinion, making Bean Bunny a pitiful creature rather than a humorously pathetic one.
I was going to do a comparison between Bean Bunny and the caroler in the 1999 Patrick Stewart Christmas Carol as part of the 12 Days of Muppet Christmas, but I couldn’t find a good picture of the caroler, so I picked the charity collectors instead. It’s interesting to me that in both MCC and Christmas Carol ’99, the caroler sings “Good King Winceslas” at Scrooge’s door, but in the original story the caroler sings “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen.” I don’t know if that’s interesting to anyone else, but it’s interesting to me.
Bean Bunny: “Beanbo” (The Jim Henson Hour)
I’m grateful that at least part of this clip remains on YouTube so I can showcase it, but I’m sad that “Beanbo” has been taken out of context. In the full clip, Bean is showing two trailers for “an all-Bean double feature!” One is the standard, cutesy, saccharine fare that Bean Bunny was primarily associated with at the time, while the other, “Beanbo” goes against his “image!” In Bean’s own words: “I can slash and burn and still be adorable!” (That may not be the exact quote, but since the full clip is no longer on YouTube, I can’t verify it.)
Bean Bunny: “La Bamba” (The Jim Henson Hour)
I checked the Muppet Wiki to find out why Bean Bunny is singing “La Bamba” in this episode of The Jim Henson Hour, but it didn’t really explain it. I kind of don’t care; the bit is entertaining on its own.
You know, I watched The Jim Henson Hour on TV when it first aired, faithfully, patiently, waiting for it to get better. (It never did; sorry, Jim.) Strangely, I have no memory of Bean Bunny on that show at all. Most of what I remember from The Jim Henson Hour are the parts that I found disturbing and upsetting: Digit, Bootsie and Brad, “The Storyteller.” *
Lips: “Kodachrome” (Muppets’ YouTube Channel)
I had intended to use “When the Saints Go Marching In” here, but at the last moment I’ve chosen to use “Kodachrome” instead. There are a couple of reasons for this. “Kodachrome” is a significant moment in Lips’ history, as Steve related in an appearance at Dragon Con in 2015. The other reason I picked “Kodachrome” is that it was the first time I noticed Lips’ fingers move on the valves of his trumpet. He doesn’t have live hands, so it kind of freaked me out at first. Eventually I realized that he must have mechanisms to move his fingers, just as he does in his eyes. No one else ever seems to comment on his finger movement, however. Am I the only one who noticed, or am I just the only one who cares?
Lips: “Barnyard Boogie” (The Muppet Show)
I ran across this clip entirely by accident a while back, and I’m so glad I did because it features Lips singing as well as playing his trumpet. It’s soooo much better than gas station sushi.
(As a bonus, there’s also a brief shot of Rizzo looking sharp in a suit and jamming out.)
It’s fitting that this post marks the 60 for 60 halfway mark, because next month we transition into the post-Jim era. Come back on March 24th when we’ll be celebrating Steve’s work as Kermit the Frog.