Muppet Babies 2018 Review: Part 1

The original Muppet Babies series was not part of my childhood because it was on a channel that we didn’t get at my house.  However, as a teenager I had a steady babysitting job and I watched Muppet Babies with those kids a lot, so I’m passingly familiar with it.  And yet, that was twenty-some years ago, so it’s no longer in the forefront of my consciousness.

All of which is just to say that, as I review the new Muppet Babies series (or, at least, the two episodes of it that I’ve seen), I won’t be making comparisons with the original series because the original series is largely lost to me in the mists of memory.

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Bean Bunny Is a Total Badass… (not a joke)

This may be one of the most saccharine Henson specials ever. The bunnies are all extremely cutesy, the forest impossibly idyllic, and everything’s very happy, cheerful and colorful.
                  –TV Tropes on The Tale of the Bunny Picnic

Oh, sure; it’s just a harmless story about cute little bunnies!

Granted, it’s not exactly Watership Down either, but when I watched it for the first time recently, I couldn’t even finish it in one sitting because I was so upset by it. 

Sure, the bunnies are cute and the colors are bright and the music is peppy, but much like Fraggle Rock, there are some serious themes hidden underneath the candy-colored exterior. Our Hero, Bean Bunny, is constantly bullied by his big brother, Lugsy, and the dog is blatantly and brazenly abused by the farmer.  Ladies and gentlemen, Jim Henson brings you the charming story of adorable animals being tormented and mistreated…enjoy!

But eventually I went back and finished it, because I knew the payoff had to be worth it…and it was.

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Muppet Heresy That Borders on Blasphemy (not a joke)

Today I ran across this video of a fan-made simulacrum of Kermit (not to be confused with Simula-Kerm) singing “Gethsemane” from Jesus Christ Superstar.  I hesitated to post it, even–especially–on Easter Sunday, because I felt that doing so bordered on blasphemy.  I may be a heretic, but I am not a blasphemer; a subtle distinction, but one that’s extremely important to me.

But there was one particular line in the song that struck me as poignant as it relates to the Schism:

Show me there’s a reason for you wanting me to die.
You’re far too keen on ‘where’ and ‘how’…not so hot on ‘why.'”

It’s been approximately a year and a half, Disney.  Still waiting for you to show us the reason.

Dear Muppet Performers…

Dear Dave, Matt, David, Bill, Eric, and Peter:

Recently I used a quotation from Alexander Hamilton to illustrate my thoughts about Disney’s decision to cut ties with Steve Whitmire (which I refer to as the “Schism,” because I am fancy).  The quotation that I used is from a revolutionary pamphlet that Hamilton wrote as a teenager with the somewhat clunky title, A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress:

In a civil society” Hamilton wrote, “it is the duty of each particular branch to promote not only the good of the whole community, but the good of every other particular branch.  If one part endeavors to violate the rights of another, the rest ought to assist in preventing the injury.  When they do not but remain neutral, they are deficient in their duty, and may be regarded, in some measure, as accomplices.”

I wanted to let you know that that sentiment was not directed at you in any way.  It was directed squarely at the Muppet fans who remain complacent.  I want you to know that I don’t consider you to be accomplices in the Schism, nor do I consider you to have been deficient in your duty.  I understand and appreciate the difficulty, complexity, and potential volatility of your situation.

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Small Victory

If I have been instrumental in confirming or adding one friend to his country, I shall not regret the time I have devoted to that laudable purpose.
–Passage from Alexander Hamilton’s “The Farmer Refuted,” slightly reworked to fit the current context.

Sometimes when I post something that I think is going to be controversial, my conflict aversion kicks in and I actively avoid looking to see if it has garnered any response.

Therefore, even though it happened in October 2017, I just found out today that, even if I haven’t succeeded in changing any hearts or minds through this blog or my related efforts, I did manage to gain a concession from one of Steve’s most vocal critics on the Tough Pigs forum (I ordinarily wouldn’t like to use the forum’s name in an instance like this, but since I’m linking to it anyway, it seems a bit silly to be coy about it).

It may have been a small victory, but I nevertheless feel that it is significant.  It’s extremely gratifying to know that (a) all those years studying rhetoric–not to mention the student loans–have not been a complete waste and (b) my words have made a difference, no matter how small.

I believe in all of you.  Let’s go out there and keep making a difference.

 

Fraggle Friday: Fraggle Rock at 35

via Fraggle Rock at 35: The Show to Save the World | Muppet Fans Who Grew Up – Tough Pigs Muppet Fans Who Grew Up – Tough Pigs

I agree with every sentence Joe Hennes has written here, with the possible exception of the last one.

However, I also think that it is important to recognize that evil is not confined to national government, nor to the world of politics and government at large.  For all its vile, despotic tendencies, the Trump administration and its obsequious enablers in Congress do not yet have the monopoly on greed, corruption, and wanton acts of injustice in this country.

Alexander Hamilton, Jim Henson, and the Core Principles

“Hamilton had now written 60,000 words in just a couple of months.  For perspective, the book you are holding clocks in at 58,000 words and, I’m embarrassed to say, took much longer.”
                     –Jeff Wilser, “Seek the Core Principles,” Alexander Hamilton’s Guide to Life.

From November 1774 to February 1775, teenaged college student Alexander Hamilton wrote two political pamphlets defending the American Revolutionary cause.  Specifically, he was responding to pamphlets written by British loyalist Samuel Seabury.  While Wilser estimates Hamilton’s word count for the two pamphlets to be 60,000, according to my estimation, it is closer to 65,000.

I mention this because I was looking at my statistics page for this blog and found that over the course of five months, from July 31 to December 31, 2017, I wrote 66,089 words on this blog.  So I’m almost keeping pace with Alexander Hamilton, in quantity if not in quality.

I was feeling quite smug about this until I did the math and realized that–depending on whether the 60,000 or 65,000 word figure is more accurate–Hamilton still outstrips me by approximately 3000 to 4000 words a month because he created his content in a shorter amount of time.  Also, he was writing everything out in longhand and didn’t have the Internet to assist him in research.

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Twelve Days of Muppet Christmas/Epiphany 2018: “The Christmas Toy”–Allegory versus Applicability

DANNY HORN:  Hey, did I ever tell you about my theory that Mew’s death is a metaphor for AIDS? It’s 1986, and gay men are dying all over the place. The creators are TV puppet people from New York and LA, so obviously a lot of their friends are dying. So in this special, you get Mew — the despised, unfairly judged cat-toy — dying suddenly. Rugby realizes how precious Mew is… but he figures it out too late. […] Then the fantasy is that the dead loved one can be resurrected and vindicated, just through the power of love and Christmas. You can see how this was an appealing fantasy for artsy people in 1986.
KYNAN BARKER:  Did I ever tell you MY theory that sometimes a kids’ TV special is just a kids’ TV special?

–ToughPigs.com, “My Week with Another Christmas – Day Two: Doll Be Home for Christmas,”  December 24, 2003.

Today is Epiphany, so I wanted to do not only a Christmas-themed article but one with some real substance to it, and this 14-year-old conversation about The Christmas Toy is a good jumping-off point for a discussion of allegory versus applicability.

An allegory is a detailed, in-depth metaphor that represents a situation or event in the real world.  Authors who write allegory are usually not very subtle about the point they’re trying to get across.  For example, I would consider A Christmas Carol to be an allegory:  There’s not much to speculate about what the three spirits represent; it’s right there in their names.

On the other hand, a work has applicability if it can support multiple interpretations, regardless of what the author’s intention may have been.  As J.R.R. Tolkien explained it, “I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other resides in the purposed domination of the author.”  Tolkien ran up against this attitude often when Lord of the Rings fans would ask him questions about the allegorical meaning of the novels, to which he would respond that there was none, but that it was applicable to many real-life situations or events.

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Doubting the existence of the Great Bell

“WHAT?!?  The cave is…is empty!  There is no bell!  It’s all a lie!”
–Gobo Fraggle, who apparently never thought to look up to see if there was a clapper in the ceiling of the bell-shaped cavern.

In starting a Muppet blog, my goal was to try to strike a balance between the serious and the silly, as the Muppets have always done so effectively.  While I’m still proud of the content I have created, I do feel that perhaps I’ve been less than successful in that regard.

I hoped that Christmas would be a time that I could lean more toward the lighthearted side of the spectrum, back off a bit from the Schism, and temporarily beat my sword back into a ploughshare.

(Although you don’t want to try plowing this time of year; at least in this hemisphere, the ground is frozen.)

Throughout this month, I’ve been watching Muppet Christmas productions in preparation for an article series that I see now that I’m not going to have time to do properly until next year.  However, instead of being a temporary respite from the Schism, they reminded me of it all the more, especially the productions made subsequent to 1990.

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Graphic depiction of the souls of Congressional Republicans

I’ve seen Muppet Christmas Carol more times this month than in the previous 25 years combined, and I’m finally warming up to it.  Nevertheless, I was struck by the fact that, notwithstanding the lyrics of the song, the Marleys’ dialogue suggests that they haven’t quite learned their lesson yet.

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Phantom of the Opera: Everything’s better with Muppets

phantom5

 

Faust, a five-act grand opera, is by Charles Gounod with a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré.  It is loosely based on Faust, Part I, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  Goethe’s lesser-known follow-up, 2 Faust 2 Furious, focused on a man who made a deal with the diesel.”

–Erik Forrest Jackson, pushing all my geeky English-major buttons in an explanatory footnote of Muppets Meet the Classics: The Phantom of the Opera

When I opened the book and saw that the epigraph was a quote from a renowned French philosopher and a line from an old infomercial, I knew I was going to like this book.

When I started laughing hysterically at the table of contents, I knew I was going to love this book.

When I finished reading it, I wanted to go back and read the original novel again to compare the two; the mark of a good book is that it makes you want to read more.

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The ‘Phantom of the Opera’ is here…

…inside my house!

*dramatic organ music*

Remember when I entered a contest by The Muppet Mindset in which I drew a picture of Walter as Harry Potter and somehow won a copy of a free Muppet book, even though Walter looks like he only has one arm and the rampant Gryffindor lion on his Hogwarts insignia looks more like E.T.?*

Well, my 15 minutes of sketching and two months of patience have finally paid off, because today went to the mailbox (for the first time in the better part of a week) and received my Muppetized version of Phantom of the Opera!

YAY!

Before I forget, a big thank you to Jarrod Fairclough and Mitchell Stein at The Muppet Mindset for hosting fun contests and giving out free stuff, and specifically for their very generous assessment of my drawing.

Even more fortuitously, I have today, tomorrow, and most of next week off from my part-time job, so I really have nothing to do in those evenings except read.  So I’ll go start it now, and when I finish, I’ll come back and tell you what I thought about it.

In the meantime, give yourselves in to the “Music of the Night”:

______________________
*Although I am proud of one subtle Muppet reference that I put in there: the Ravenclaw crest is supposed to be a bronze eagle on a blue background, but I made the background bronze and the eagle blue as an homage to Sam the Eagle.  “Is nothing sacred?”