It’s not my birthday today, but it was my birthday when Steve was in Ontario for the Niagara Falls Comic Con, so this video of a (the?) panel discussion he did there feels like a belated birthday present.
Steve gave an interview to a local news team in Knoxville, Tennessee while he’s there for the convention. It’s a nice little interview; the hosts are very gracious, and Steve seems relaxed and happy. One of the interviewers refers to Steve “voicing” characters but later asks about the specific challenges in puppetry, so I’ll forgive it. The other interviewer asks Steve about his future plans, and he says he’s working on “a few projects” in Atlanta but doesn’t get any more specific than that.
If you’ve been missing Steve as much as I have lately, have I got a treat for you! Reader Andrew K alerted me to the existence of this three-part interview that Steve did a few days ago at the Great Philadelphia Comic Con. Approximately 45 minutes of pure gold; a really pleasant, informative conversation that didn’t get into the controversial Schism stuff at all (not that I would have minded, but I know some people are tired of it).
Well…Disney finally released the Muppet Thought of the Week video with Vogel!Kermit. You can watch it here:
Oops! Sorry, wrong video! This is the one:
But seriously, I think Matt is great…as Uncle Deadly. His Kermit, though…sheesh.
Okay, that sounds harsh. I’m sorry. I usually don’t go for the joke at the potential expense of other people’s feelings like that. I’m just feeling bitter and, well, it was right there.
But I certainly mean no disrespect toward Matt. He’s not the one I have a problem with…
…(but part of me is hoping that he’s purposely trying to be terrible as Kermit so that Disney will bring Steve back. I’m not proud of myself for hoping that, but there it is.)
I said at the beginning that if Disney insisted on this course of action and refused to be dissuaded, Matt was an excellent candidate to play Kermit because of his talent and his ethos.
But having actually heard Matt do it…I’m sure it’s NOT something that he’s doing on purpose, but Matt’s Kermit sounds too much like Constantine.
HOW CAN I TRUST A KERMIT THAT SOUNDS LIKE CONSTANTINE?!?!?!?!?
If I may paraphrase my thesis statement from my review of the first episode of the muppets. (2015), this video made me want to cry…and NOT in a good way.
And I reiterate again, this is nothing against Matt. But just as a Doozer can’t become a Fraggle, Matt cannot become Steve. It’s not a bad thing, and it’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the immutable laws of nature; they’re there for a reason. And I have my doubts as to whether a Constantine can become a Kermit…but, in fairness, I suppose it is a little soon to judge.
I remember when Muppet Christmas Carol was about to come out back in 1992. I was talking to my eldest brother about it, and he said that he couldn’t bear to watch it because, regardless of how close the voice was, he would just know that it wasn’t Jim Henson performing Kermit. And I don’t think that that was supposed to be a slight against, or a criticism of, Steve in any way (I’m not entirely sure that my brother knew specifically that it would be Steve performing him–I certainly didn’t); I just think that the wound was still too fresh.
At the time, I rather thought that my brother was cutting off his nose to spite his face in regards to the Muppets. Just because Kermit was different doesn’t mean he would be bad, and my brother might have been missing out on something great.
But now…I kind of get where my brother was coming from. I don’t know–I sincerely don’t know–if I’ll ever be able to bring myself to watch new Muppet stuff ever again. And I reiterate, yet again, that it is nothing in the world against Matt; if it be so that he is not purposely trying to be bad, I am sure he will get better over time, just as Steve did. But it’s something that he should never have been asked to do in the first place–certainly not under these circumstances.
At the risk of sounding like Sarah in Labyrinth, it’s just not fair. It’s not fair to Steve, to Matt, to Jim, to Kermit, the other Muppet performers, or to us fans. The whole thing is just so contrived, so corporate…so artificial, so unnecessary…so WRONG!!!
I’m sick of trying to be diplomatic about this; this whole thing is WRONG! It is WRONG to casually and cavalierly sever Kermit’s connection to Jim like this. It is WRONG to rip Kermit’s soul away from him!
I’d like to believe that the ideal spirit of Kermit exists somewhere on the platonic plane, so that he will continue to live no matter who’s performing him…but I’m not sure I believe that anymore. If this had been a necessary course of action, and if Steve had been allowed input into the decision, then maybe the spirit of Kermit could continue to flow on through Matt (or whomever Steve had chosen) and into the puppet. But maybe the circumstances have to be exactly right; maybe it can’t happen when the decision is made arbitrarily under false pretenses.
Neither Constantine nor Matt Vogel can give me what I want: I want Steve back as Kermit. Only Disney can give me what I want, but I don’t believe their promises are any more sincere than Constantine’s are.
“Dear Mr. Dionne:
What the f*ck are you talking about?
–Response to the 1960s equivalent of an Internet troll (quoted in Jim Henson: The Biography)
Well, last night I received my first insulting comment on this blog–and, to be honest, I was a little disappointed; it was a pretty pathetic effort. In the ’60s, when trolls actually had to put pen to paper and make an effort to insult someone, people like Jim Henson got classy insults referencing ancient Roman emperors. Now that people’s attention spans are limited to 140 characters, all the creativity has gone out of gratuitous insults. Sad!
However, in a way I’m glad it happened, because now this seems like an opportune moment to examine how Jim Henson related to bullies, both in his life and in his work.
Jim was famously averse to conflict. In Jim Henson: The Biography, Brian Jay Jones tells a story about how Jim would create an excuse to fly to London rather than get involved in a dispute within his legal department in New York. From that anecdote, I think a person could get the impression that Jim was prone to be passive in his dealings with others. But I think that impression would be false, or at least incomplete.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think that–interestingly enough–Jim was similar to Wembley Fraggle in his approach to interpersonal conflict. On Fraggle Rock, when there’s a disagreement or dispute among his friends, Wembley becomes paralyzed with indecision, not wanting to upset or disappoint any of his friends by choosing one side over the other. On the other hand, deep down inside, Wembley has the ability to stand up for himself–and it comes out when the situation is truly dire, as it did in the matter of the mean genie. Moreover, Wembley will never stand silently by while someone else is being bullied. Whether it’s the miniscule Cotterpin Doozer, the gigantic Junior Gorg,* or anyone in between, if Wembley sees somebody being victimized, he will immediately rush to his/her defense. It’s interesting to examine a previously unconsidered link between Jim Henson and Wembley because Steve Whitmire–Wembley himself–recently told a story on his blog about how Jim once stood up to some Disney lawyers on his (Steve’s) behalf.
In spite of his aversion to conflict, Jim was also known for his determination. He was capable of standing up for himself if he felt he was being mistreated. The early days of the original Disney deal were something of a love fest, but eventually the honeymoon period was over, and Jim found himself “in combat with [Disney’s] business affairs people,” as he put it. Frustrated, Jim wrote the following in a letter to Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg:
“The tone of the negotiations does not seem to me to be the way two parties should be relating to each other if they intend to go into a long term relationship. […] The kind of deal I like is one in which both parties try to arrive at a fair settlement and everyone walks away satisfied. […] My impression is that Disney is standing firm on all issues, assuming that my company is committed to this deal and thus we will eventually cave in. This is not a wise assumption.”–(quoted in Jim Henson: The Biography, my emphasis)
Oooooooh. Here’s a guy who’s willing to go toe-to-toe with two of the most powerful and influential men in show business. Cross Jim Henson at your own peril.
Another way that Jim dealt with bullies was through his work. His sketches, especially those variety-show staples that predate The Muppet Show, often featured a situation in which one character would throw its weight around by harassing another–usually smaller–character. Like in the story of David and Goliath, however, the bullying character usually–if not always–gets its comeuppance from the smaller character. Here are some examples:
Jim used this theme in a couple of sketches that he performed in Hamburg, Germany at the US Department of Agriculture’s US Food Fair in 1961. One was a sketch about an army drill team being put through their paces by a nasty drill sergeant barking out unintelligible orders; at the end, the drill team turns around and blows the sergeant away. In another sketch, a group of characters–denoted only by the puppeteers’ gloved hands–listens calmly to some soothing (read: “boring”) elevator music. Another character comes along and spices things up with some band music. The other characters attack the dissenter, beat up on him (her? it?), and destroy his radio equipment…however, things don’t end well for them. Neither of these sketches have any dialogue, which is lucky, because the following footage has no audio:
(The drill team footage starts at 00:59; the other sketch starts at 02:39.)
In “Java,” a creature that appears to be a living dryer hose does a dance number, while a smaller creature wants to join in, sort of like a younger sibling tagging alongside an older sibling, like I did when I was a little kid. Unfortunately, the larger creature is less tolerant than my older siblings were of me…to its detriment:
“You are so awful that it is truly beautiful. You’ve probably worked all your life to be perfectly awful–year after year–to be just as bad as possible, and now all of your toil and self-sacrifice has paid off! […] In fact, you are the perfect example of beautiful awfulness!” Generally speaking, my policy is not to feed internet trolls, but sometimes I’m tempted to try this on some of the trolls plaguing Steve Whitmire’s blog.
The Muppet Movie:
But perhaps the most triumphant example of standing up to bullies in all of Jim Henson’s work is the climactic “showdown” scene of The Muppet Movie. Threatened with a sadistic choice by Doc Hopper–either sell his soul to a small corporation or be gunned down where he stands–Kermit appeals to Hopper’s humanity and sense of decency:
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. But Hopper gets what’s coming to him anyway in what–to me–is the greatest and most Muppet-y moment of all time:
Not even the lousy video quality and strange, floating window-blind reflection can ruin this moment!
So…to all those who want to come onto my own blog to try to tear me down, this is your last warning: You cannot hurt me. There is nothing you can say to me that I haven’t heard before.
In the past, I have endured verbal abuse that would make the Access Hollywood bus tape sound like a scene from Downton Abbey. You think you can hurt my feelings by calling me a “moron”? Please. My classmates came up with more creative insults than that in the fourth grade.
I’m a grown woman, and I’ve put up with more than my fair share of bullying nonsense in my life. I’m not going to put up with yours. I’m not going to indulge your pettiness and cruelty. I’m not going to give you a platform from which you can attempt to build yourself up by tearing others down.
You have no power over me.
*Yes, I’m aware that, in the episode I referenced, Junior Gorg had temporarily been rendered Fraggle-sized, but the point I am trying to make is that Wembley will stick up for a victim of bullying regardless of the victim’s size, color, species, etc.