Cool Aunt

My sister has three kids, and from the time each of them were in their cradles, I’ve been giving them Muppet-themed gifts. 

About a year and a half ago, I gave them a Muppet-related Christmas trifle. My niece, who’s nine years old today, got very excited when she saw it. “I LOVE the Muppets!” she gushed. 

It was one of the proudest moments of my life. I just sat back and said to myself, “I’ve done my job.” 

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Muppet Guys Talking Livestream Event Honoring Jim Henson

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that this Saturday, May 16th, marks the 30th anniversary of Jim Henson’s death. To commemorate the occasion, the four surviving performers involved in Muppet Guys Talking are holding a livestreaming event at 4:00 p.m. ET that afternoon.

You can register for free by clicking the following link:

http://www.MuppetGuysTalking.com/jim

Once you register, you will also have the opportunity to submit questions, which I presume they will make an effort to answer during the conversation.

According to the confirmation email, those who register will receive a special viewing link via email the day before. It also says that it will be available for replay to those who register, regardless of whether or not you view the original livestream.

Registration is free, but the registration page also says that the livestream will be a COVID-19 fundraiser. Not sure how that’s supposed to work, but I guess we’ll find out on Saturday.

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Four-Year-Old Mary’s Perspective on “Elmo’s Play Date”

A few days ago, I expressed my disappointment about the recent Sesame Street special, but then I thought about it and wondered if I was being unfair. After all, I’m about ten times older than the targeted age demographic. I started thinking that maybe a better criterion by which to judge would be what I would have thought of the special if I’d watched it as a four-year-old instead of an almost 40-year-old. 

Obviously, I lost that perspective a long time ago, but the idea was so intriguing to me that I’m trying to re-approximate it. 

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Not-So-Special Special

Well, I watched “Elmo’s Play Date” last night and immediately regretted spreading the word about it. It turned out to be a gigantic disappointment. 

At least, as a middle-aged woman with no kids, it was a giant disappointment to me. But perhaps I’m being too uncharitable. Perhaps the intended purpose of the special was to distract young children for a half an hour. If so, it sounds like it was a roaring success. 

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A Special Sesame Street Special

UPDATE: Apparently, the special is airing on PBS Kids in primetime on April 14th, and then the next day, April 15th, during the usual Sesame Street timeslot for your local market. 

“Elmo’s Play Date” is a Sesame Street special set to air on Tuesday, April 14th at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT simultaneously on HBO, PBS Kids and a number of other channels and platforms. 

There are three things I want to say about this: 

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Your Favorite Jim Henson Moments?

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I had so much fun doing 60 for 60 last year for Steve’s birthday that I’ve been toying with the idea of doing something similar in honor of Jim Henson—who was, after all, the founder of the feast. The year 2020 not only marks the 30th anniversary of Jim Henson’s death (as unbelievable as that seems), but it also would have been his 84th birthday. Now, 84 is not a milestone the way we usually think of it, but it is divisible by 12. So in theory, I could do what I did for 60 in 60, only with seven pieces a month instead of five. 

Nevertheless, it’s a daunting prospect. Jim was so prolific that even with an extra two pieces a month, it would be difficult to cover everything. I could make an entire year-long tribute out of Sesame Street clips alone. Also, so much of his career happened before I was born, and there’s a lot of material that I have never even seen. 

I haven’t decided yet if this is an idea I will follow through on, but it got me wondering: What are your favorite Jim Henson moments, friends? What are the songs and skits that make you laugh or cry? What would you cite to represent the best of him and his work? Why do you gravitate toward the productions that you do? What about a specific work resonates with you?

Share your ideas in the comments, and please feel free to include video clips as well!

Adventures at GalaxyCon Minneapolis, Part 1

This is Steve’s Q&A from GalaxyCon Minneapolis, but I wasn’t there that day so I only saw it for the first time yesterday.

On November 10th, I attended GalaxyCon Minneapolis and met up with Steve again. The only reason I was able to do that is because of my brother Michael. He lives in Minneapolis and allowed me to stay with him while I was in town. If I had had to pay the price of admission plus accommodations, I would never have been able to go. I also would have paid for parking because I wouldn’t have known there was another option.

When I initially planned to go to GalaxyCon, I thought that I would simply ask Michael if I could stay with him while I was in town. But then I thought about it, and I realized that although he’s not obsessive about Muppets the way I am, he still likes them. Not only that, but he’s an enormous Star Trek fan, and there were a bunch of Star Trek actors appearing. So I thought he might enjoy coming along, and that it might be more fun if he was there, so I invited him, and I was right on both counts. Not only that, but I don’t think I would have even made it into the exhibition hall to see Steve if Michael hadn’t been there to interpret the maps of the convention center for me and lead me in the right direction.

My point is that I have Michael to thank for the entire GalaxyCon experience, and if you enjoy what I have to say about it, then you owe him your gratitude as well. (If you don’t enjoy it, well, then leave him out of it because he had nothing to do with that.)

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Meeting Steve Whitmire, Part 3: Basking in Reflected Glory

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

I took notes at the Q&A so I could talk about it in detail regardless of whether or not any video of it shows up online. I intend to do that in a separate post, but here I’d like to give just a brief overview and mention the parts that are relevant to the rest of my story.

Before I talk about Steve’s Q&A, I need to back up a bit to talk about one of his visitors from the morning. I mentioned her briefly in one of my other posts. She was the lady who was part of her church’s puppet troupe, and she brought along a Whatnot for him to sign (one of those ones that Disney marketed and sold for a while). She was accompanied by two teenage kids, but of the three of them it was pretty clear that she was the one most excited to meet Steve (not that the teenagers were entirely disinterested). Her Whatnot was one that they allowed new puppeteers in their group to practice on and learn with, so Steve not only signed it across the back of its head, he also wrote a short message of encouragement.

The autographed Whatnot was one of several puppets present at the Q&A. Scrubby was there with Ethan, and the lady and the baby were there with their Wembley, and there was also a guy there with a Kermit. I’m not sure if it was a fan-made Kermit or a toy that he’d bought, but they appear briefly in the following video alongside Steve (and Mitzi):

Also, it wasn’t a puppet per se, but there was someone there with a very detailed plush toy of Rizzo. I meant to ask the guy where he acquired such a thing, but then I didn’t get around to it.

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We Need To Talk About Piggy (Part One)

Miss Piggy is a popular character, both in the Muppet fandom and out of it. She is loved for being funny and admired for being strong. Some even regard her as a feminist icon. Nevertheless, I, for one, want nothing to do with Miss Piggy’s particular brand of feminism, nor would I mind having nothing further to do with the character herself.

I find very little, if anything, that is either funny or admirable about Miss Piggy. At best, she is a bully, and at worst, her behavior (particularly toward Kermit) is abusive. It’s a pernicious double standard that I believe needs to be called out.

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Sixty for 60: Christmas Productions

“Bless us all, that as we live / We always comfort and forgive”–The Crachit family, singing lyrics by Paul Williams in The Muppet Christmas Carol

As a non-Muppet, but no less beloved, pair of amphibians once sang, Merry Almost Christmas! And welcome back to 60 for 60, my yearlong tribute to Steve Whitmire in anticipation of his 60th birthday next year. In keeping with the season, the theme for this month is Christmas productions.

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Sixty for 60: Rizzo the Rat

In anticipation of Steve Whitmire’s 60th birthday next year, I’m celebrating his work and his characters one month at a time in this year-long series, 60 for 60. This month, the spotlight is on Steve’s first major Muppet character, Rizzo the Rat.

“I’m going to make that rat a star.”–Jim Henson

Who is Rizzo the Rat? According to TV Tropes, Rizzo is a Big Eater, a Lovable Coward, and a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, all of which seems accurate and consistent to me.

Personally, Rizzo strikes me as a savvy, street-wise opportunist with a talent for self-preservation. However, he has standards, and even though he was born in the sewers, there are depths to which he will not sink. For example, he’s not above taking advantage of his friends, but he’ll never sell them out completely, and he’ll always be there for them in the clinch. 

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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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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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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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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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