Sesame Saturday: Magic, Tragic Big Bird

This is Part One of a two-part series celebrating Caroll Spinney’s two most famous characters on the occasion of his retirement.

There’s something magical and miraculous about the mundanity of Big Bird. He does things that other birds do, such as eating birdseed and preening his feathers. He also does things that kids do, like roller skating or playing hide-and-seek. 

Unlike most Muppets, there’s no need for Big Bird to hide behind a low wall or a counter or inside a giant bathtub. There are no telltale cables trailing off him, and he is unfettered by marionette strings and arm rods. Big Bird walks freely among us, as an equal.

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Muppets Meet the Classics: Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm…A Mini-Review

Remember my review of Phantom of the Opera, the first book in the Muppets Meet the Classics series? Two weeks ago, I received a comment on the review from Erik Forrest Jackson, the author of the book. This was both very flattering and very nerve-wracking: I never expected the author of the book to actually read my review; if I had, I would have tried to be a bit more diplomatic about what I didn’t like about it. But his comment was very kind, and he thanked me for the thoughtful review.

The next book in the series is to be released today. Because I was expecting another novel, I was surprised to find out that the next book in the series is Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm. If I’m being completely honest, I’m also slightly–just slightly–disappointed, if only because the Muppets have drawn so frequently from the fairy-tale well in the past.

Then again, probably the reason why the Muppets so often adapt fairy tales is that the content works so well for them. Also, based on the sample chapter that has been released–“The Frog Prince,” one of the most well-known and successful of the Muppet fairy tale adaptations–it looks as though Jackson is able to put a new spin on even the stories that the Muppets have adapted before. 

(Warning: Spoilers below)

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Sesame Saturday: The Torchbearers

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was a little boy born in Georgia on Jim Henson’s birthday in 1959, who loved Muppets so much that he was nicknamed “Kermit” in high school.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there was another little boy born in Kansas on this date in 1970 with a last name that means “bird” in German, who received prophetic Sesame Street toys as Christmas gifts. 

And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the great and good Caroll Spinney took each of them under his figurative wing and served as a mentor to them both.

Matt Vogel and Steve Whitmire were each born to be torchbearers, to keep the flame alive and to light the way for others. 

I debated with myself about the appropriateness of talking about Steve on Matt’s birthday, but “Journey to Ernie,” the most prominent example of Matt playing Big Bird that I know of, also prominently features Steve, and that didn’t feel like a coincidence either, so I decided I had to honor it.

These “Journey to Ernie” segments, which teach the very important skill of deductive reasoning, are fairly clever and utterly delightful due to the talents of Matt, Steve, Joey Mazzarino and David Rudman as the Two-Headed Monster, unidentified voice actors and animators, and whoever was on right-handed Duckie duty.

Luceat lux vestra

Sesame Saturday: September Significance

September 24th is a significant date in Muppetdom. Most serious Muppet fans probably know that it’s Jim Henson’s birthday, and many know that it’s also Steve Whitmire’s birthday (which I celebrated on Monday). But there’s another reason why September 24th is significant that even the most dedicated Muppet fan may not be aware of: Jeff Moss passed away from cancer on September 24th, 1998. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his death.

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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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Twitter Interlude

I do not now, nor will I ever, understand this way of relating to one another. That being said, I love Matt for his self-deprecation. 

(Not that I didn’t love him before, but I love him even more now.)

Sesame Saturday: How Sesame Workshop Should Address the Matter of Sexuality

I want to take a moment to reiterate my reader-response-informed theory of criticism: it is neither the creator of an artistic work nor the audience that confers meaning upon it; rather, meaning is created when the intention of the author meets the interpretation of the audience. This is not to say that the creator of a work cannot have his or her own interpretation of its meaning; rather, it means that the creator’s interpretation is not the “only” correct interpretation.

I bring this up again because the matter of Bert and Ernie’s sexuality became an issue again this week. I’ve written about this extensively elsewhere. I believe that, much like Batman in The Dark Knight, Bert, Ernie, and all the other Muppets are whatever each of us, as individual viewers, need them to be.

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“From There to Here”

Even though I’ve been actively searching for more video of Steve’s convention appearances, I didn’t expect to find anything out of Gen Con so soon, since it just ended yesterday. And yet, even though I wasn’t looking for it specifically, I found one this morning. It’s not a Q&A this time, but it’s Steve giving an hour-long chat and telling awesome stories:

 

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Breadcrumbs

I’ve been keeping an eye out for more videos of Steve Whitmire convention appearances for two weeks now. I haven’t found any more complete panels yet, but I did find this compilation in which a little girl dressed like Harley Quinn (I think?) interviews a lot of people at the Florida Supercon, including Steve and the Spinneys.

It’s about a 23-minute video, out of which there are maybe five minutes total (probably less) in which she talks to Muppet performers. Unfortunately, these instances are spaced out throughout the entire video. If you’re like me and you don’t want to sit through the other interviews, I’ve provided timestamps and links below to the portions of the video that we’re most interested in: 

8:20
8:45 (Caroll and Deb Spinney)
9:08
17:17  (The question is, “What’s a lesson you learned later in life that you wish you would have known sooner?”)
19:56

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Sesame Saturday: “Skidamarink”

I wanted to post this video a few weeks (or possibly months) ago, but I couldn’t find it on YouTube. I tried searching for it by the name of the song, which was difficult because I didn’t know how to spell it. I’ve known this song for most of my life, but I’d never seen the title or the lyrics written out.

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Sesame Saturday: Sesame Monsters Versus Letter People–Who Sang It Best?

I was recently introduced to a Sesame song/skit that I didn’t remember seeing before, in which Cookie Monster and Herry find a letter M sitting around, (as you do), and sing a song about all the foods they like that start with M:

It reminded me of another beloved PBS puppet show that I remember fondly from my childhood, “The Letter People,” which was divided into 15-minute episodes and focused on phonics. Mr. M is featured in the first episode and sings his signature song, which also includes a litany of foods that start with the letter M, because Mr. M has a Munching Mouth, and that’s where he gets his sound:

Hmm…Cookie Monster also has a Munching Mouth. I wonder if he and Mr. M would be friends or if they wouldn’t get along because they’d be in competition with one another.

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Short but Sweet: Steve Whitmire Q&A From Fanboy Expo in Knoxville, TN

A few weeks ago I got a Google alert on a brief interview that Steve Whitmire gave to a local news station in Knoxville, TN regarding the Fanboy Expo that was going on there. I hoped that would not be all that we heard out of Knoxville and happily, it is not. 

This morning, YouTube helpfully and accurately suggested that I might like this 25-minute Q&A that Steve gave at the Fanboy Expo. This panel was recorded and posted by Joseph Scarbrough, a name I recognize from the Muppet Pundit forum, even though I don’t think I ever interacted with him there, but a big “thank you” to him on the off-chance that he’s reading this.

This panel is a little different than some of the other panels we’ve seen. It’s shorter by approximately 20 minutes, and instead of the moderator sitting up front with Steve and asking him questions that we’ve already heard a gazillion times, he stood in the audience and helped with their questions. The whole thing pretty much consists of audience questions, so in that sense, it’s a true Q&A

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Sesame Saturday: Sesame Celebrates the Fourth…Ay, yi, yi

For whatever reason, Sesame Workshop chose to mark the occasion of the Fourth of July this year with a parody of NSYNC’s “Bye, Bye, Bye”:

Okay, so let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat: This video is not good. The reference is dated, it’s not close enough to the original to be readily recognizable, Ernie sounds like Walter in spots, and what the heck is up with the gratuitous autotune?

With that said, I’m glad that they did something that steered clear of frank patriotism because, as I have observed before, it is difficult to take pride in a country where children are being put in cages, and given Sesame’s mission and ethos, it would be disingenuous of them to do so. 

I also enjoy Oscar’s contributions to the video because he’s basically saying out loud what I’m just thinking. And bless Matt Vogel’s heart, he’s in fine voice as the Count and really giving it his all. His level of commitment is admirable regardless of the overall end result.

Yeah…

Another Panel Discussion with Steve Whitmire? Must Be My Birthday!

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.

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