Assuming that nothing has changed since I cancelled my subscription last month, there are two Henson-related series original to Disney+ currently streaming. Muppets Now was originally meant to be a series of shorts but was instead expanded into a series of full-length episodes for some inexplicable reason. Earth to Ned is a Creature Shop production made in association with the Walt Disney Company. Each sounded at least vaguely interesting to begin with. Having seen them both, the former is worse than I expected, and the latter is far better.
“I had a professor one time […] and he said, ‘You know, Fred, there’s one thing that evil cannot stand, and that is forgiveness.'”
—Fred Rogers (my emphasis)
Dear John Tartaglia,
I first want to congratulate you on the recent Fraggle Rock short-form series that you and your colleagues created in response to the pandemic. Fraggle Rock is exactly the right content for this peculiar moment in history, and I appreciate you bringing it back into the public consciousness. Because re-imaginings of existing properties tend toward self-parody, I initially had some misgivings about it, but the new Fraggle content mostly seems organic and consistent with what came before.
Nevertheless, there is one aspect of the whole endeavor that rings false for me. I have heard you invoke the Trash Heap from the last episode of Fraggle Rock when she tells the Fraggles, “You cannot leave the magic.” Even if that is true, it appears that someone can be barred from the magic pre-emptively. I refer, of course, to Steve Whitmire.
I’m always impressed and a little embarrassed when I find that someone has been able to express a point in less than 10 minutes that I have spent literally hundreds of hours and thousands of words trying to explicate. Such was the case when I found this incredibly succinct, accurate, and fair-minded assessment of the Schism on YouTube a couple weeks ago (Warning: It contains NSFW language):
Apart from a few minor quibbles, I agree with everything said in this video, which does a really good job of calling out the responsible parties without being unfair to the puppeteers. But there’s one point that I really want to emphasize:
“We’ve now seen what’s come to pass. We’ve now got hindsight on this matter. Kermit the Frog no longer sounds consistent. He no longer really sounds like Kermit the Frog.”
Admittedly, not everyone agrees with this opinion. But it seems to me that most everyone who thinks Matt’s Kermit voice sounds like Kermit are people who accepted the recast with little question. The casual fans don’t seem to be buying it, which strongly suggests it is yet another example of belief affecting perception. In other words, people who believe that the recast was justified and/or who need it to be okay, are more likely to hear Kermit when Matt speaks, whereas casual fans with no preconceived notions think he sounds off. With that said, if there are casual fans who didn’t already know about the recast and don’t notice it, they are unlikely to comment on it, which means there’s no way of ensuring an accurate data pool.
Well, folks … here we go again.
I don’t think Disney purposely timed its promotion of the new streaming Muppet series on Disney+ to coincide with the anniversary of the kerfuffle over the Schism three years ago. Nevertheless, a lot of casual fans are somehow still confused over the recast, and so the story is getting rehashed again in the press, sometimes fairly accurately and other times considerably less so.
I don’t particularly know why the anniversaries that end in 0 and 5 take on extra significance. I know that I like them because I’m bad at math and they make calculations a little easier for me. But Jim Henson’s death coincided with a moment when I was starting to make the gradual transition from childhood to adulthood, and this anniversary comes at a moment that I’m about to enter a new decade and a new phase in my adult life, so that gives it personal significance for me.
Steve sat down at DragonCon with a guy named Crispy(?) for an interview. It’s a particularly good one, in my opinion. It must be the hometown advantage:
It’s really great to hear Steve be able to speak freely about Weldon and explain that whole concept.
Well, I decided to follow Mark Hamill on Twitter just in time to hear his version of the Skeksis Scientist’s voice as he plugs the Dark Crystal panel at San Diego Comic Con.
This is Part 2 of a series of at least three. Click here for Part 1.
Steve’s booth was next to Gigi Edgley’s, who was also making an appearance at OCon. I had seen that that was the plan and wondered if that was going to be awkward, given her close association with Brian Henson. But I didn’t want to ask Steve if it was awkward, because I thought that that somehow might make it more awkward. However, Steve brought up the subject of her appearance, asking me if I was familiar with her work. I told him that I’d never seen Farscape but that I had watched Creature Shop Challenge. He said that he hadn’t met her before this convention and wasn’t familiar with her work, but that he’d gotten acquainted with her over the course of the convention.
Clearly there’s no bad blood there.
Before you begin reading, I should warn you: This is an extensive, detailed, impressionistic, lengthy, and potentially incoherent account of my trip to Omaha Comic Con to meet Steve Whitmire. I’m writing it in such great detail not because I think it will be interesting to you (although I hope it will be!) but mostly to fix my own memories of it as firmly in my mind as possible.
If you want the tl;dr version, the entire experience can basically be summed up in five emojis:
I knew that meeting Steve at OCon was going to be an emotional experience. I anticipated that, as a result, I was going to have difficulty controlling my tears, that all the feels were going to turn my brain into guacamole, and that I was going to have a hard time talking to him as a result.
I tried to prepare myself beforehand to counteract these effects. I made notes about what I wanted to say, and I tried to imagine what would happen when I met him. When it happened for real, I was successful in the former regard (controlling my tears) but had less success in the latter (communicating articulately). All things considered, I think I did pretty well, because there was NO WAY I could ever have predicted or prepared for what actually happened.
If there’s one thing that Muppet fans agree on, it’s that there are variations to Kermit’s behavior/personality. Many see the differences as a negative and attribute them to the change(s) in performer. Both Steve Whitmire and the writers are frequent targets of this criticism, with fans on forums claiming that the writers and Steve alike have been too “precious” about Kermit, resulting in Kermit’s having become too soft, too bland, or too nice. I understand what they mean, and I understand that “precious” is meant to be a pejorative in this case, but personally, I think that being “too precious” with Kermit and the other Muppets is vastly preferable than treating them like old socks that can be tossed around willy-nilly, as Disney is doing now.*
However, I get the impression (and this is pure conjecture on my part) that Steve had been hearing criticisms in this vein for years and years. No more than one day before Cheryl Henson infamously weaponized the criticisms against him in a Facebook post (which, in her defense, was apparently intended to be private), he made the following statement in a blog entry: “[T]here is actually no such thing as Jim’s Kermit and Steve’s Kermit – There is only Kermit.”
In my opinion, the whole issue is a lot more complex than anyone, perhaps even Steve, is willing and/or able to fully acknowledge.
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.
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.
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.
You guys…I saw Happytime Murders last night when movie tickets were discounted, and I actually really loved it.
Maybe it was because I hadn’t seen the trailer, maybe it was because I had zero expectations of Brian Henson, or maybe it was all the bootlegged Kids in the Hall sketches I binge-watched beforehand to put me in a more receptive mindset, but I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.
I’m writing a full review but don’t know when I’ll get it finished, so I just wanted to let you know that I found it to be much better than reviews would have you believe. I laughed a lot and even cried a little, but in a good way.
As you’re probably already aware, there’s a movie coming out today called The Happytime Murders, directed by Brian Henson. I haven’t talked about the movie here, and the reason is that I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the trailer, and I make it a point not to critique things that I haven’t seen. It’s a personal quirk of mine; I call it “integrity.”
There is a certain Muppet fan site, which I will not identify by name, that regards Happytime as Serious Business, and they are Very Concerned about the movie’s R-rated content, concerns that they expressed in an extremely sanctimonious commentary on the movie* that none of them have technically “seen,” raising questions about its worthiness of the Henson name and worrying about its effect on Jim Henson’s legacy.