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Tag Archive: The Muppet Show


Review by C.J. Bunce

Thanks to Fathom Events and other film retrospectives over the years, movie audiences can revisit their first viewings of some of the best films ever made.  In that league comes The Muppet Movie, which just wrapped its 40th anniversary with two days of screenings.  Like the one-of-a-kind The Beach Boys and The Bee Gees, and the symbols of goodness everywhere: Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross, and Steve Irwin, The Muppets are a truly unique team, and Jim Henson and his $65 million box office hit The Muppet Movie reflects why they created the word “iconic” in the first place.  It says something when a retrospective anniversary screening can make the week’s Top 10 box office after 40 years.  The Muppets are as accessible and necessary as they’ve ever been.

Paul Williams’ musical score and powerful songs might be the high point of the movie, from “The Rainbow Connection,” to “Movin’ Right Along,” to Gonzo’s emotional “I’m Going to Go Back There Again.”  Or maybe it’s the magic, the forgetting we’re absorbed in characters played by actors that are a frog and a pig and a bear and a dog and whatever Gonzo is.  Or maybe it’s the behind the scenes magic.  Filming in the lagoon once used for Gilligan’s Island, Henson spent an entire day perfecting the scene with Kermit singing in a wetsuit under water, perched inside a metal tank, reaching upward to give Kermit his character.  You wouldn’t know any of it happened that way from the perfectly still water and multiple angles the song is filmed from.  Or that Kermit was operated my remote control for the Schwinn scene (but Kermit the Muppet really was riding that bicycle, no strings attached!).  Jim Henson can’t be overstated as sitting among the kings of creating the fantastical.

But even all of those great components can’t beat the storytelling.  Full of honesty and heart, Kermit’s path is a classic reluctant hero’s journey, equal to that of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Luke in Star Wars, Frodo and Bilbo in Tolkien’s stories (Fozzie is a great Samwise), Harry in J.K. Rowling’s series.  Here our green felted friend assembles a group of new friends to help him succeed by story’s end.  The Muppets had already been known to us through The Muppet Show, yet this movie succeeded in getting audiences to meet them all over again.  The story is playful, too, allowing its own script to become a plot device with the characters.

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Peter Mayhew, the actor known best for playing Chewbacca in all three Star Wars trilogies, passed away Tuesday, April 30, 2019, according to a message distributed by his family yesterday.

I was lucky to have gotten involved in the past 20 years with the convention circuit.  It allowed me to meet some interesting people, including the gentle and soft-spoken actor.  I saw him at five conventions over this time, and he was always that friendly gentleman you’d expect the man behind the furry suit to be.  My first encounter was shaking his hand at the opening of an early Planet Comicon show.  Unless you’re also 7 foot 3 inches tall, your hand was immediately lost in his King Kong-sized hand.  When I met him he was either late or early to the show and had no helper so I offered to help him set up his table.  His conversation getting ready for a line of fans eager to meet him was generous and warm.

I next saw him in that lull between the prequels and the current trilogy at San Diego Comic-Con in 2011, when nothing much was going on in the Star Wars universe and for all intents and purposes the movies were done for good.  Folks wrongly accuse San Diego Comic-Con of being too busy to have meaningful experiences with others, but I always have found the opposite true.  I spun around in one of the wide floor walkways to see Mr. Mayhew alone, leaning back in his chair, nobody around at all, just watching the attendees walk around, walking past him and not even realizing they’d passed by one of film’s greatest icons.  It seemed sad that he didn’t have the longest lines of all, but I also felt lucky to get that much more time to chat and get his autograph.  He wasn’t bothered by not being swarmed, just an older gent enjoying a day of people walking about.  But the limelight would return only three years later after George Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney and J.J. Abrams tapped Mr. Mayhew to return to the role literally billions have loved him for over the past 42 years.  And there he was again, back in the thick of it at the table read for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, only five years ago.  Over the past five years his health gradually left it more difficult for Mr. Mayhew to do appearances, but I would see him three more times, each time still showing up for fans with a smile, happy to take a photograph or sign whatever nostalgic keepsakes fans brought to share with him.

My favorite memory of Mr. Mayhew was asking him about his experience working with Jim Henson on The Muppet Show in the famous Star Wars episode that aired February 21, 1980.  He had been answering questions from the crowd at a Planet Comicon panel, questions he’d clearly answered hundreds of times before.  But he lit up when I mentioned the Muppets.  Watching the show as a nine-year-old, I found the episode to be the perfect, rare event (like the Holiday Special), with Mark Hamill being featured with R2-D2, C-3PO, and our favorite Wookiee, not just another guy in the suit but the real deal, Peter Mayhew, along with Kermit and friends.  When TV shows aired in 1980 you had your eyes glued to the screen, because the idea you’d ever be able to watch the episode again was still a pipe dream.  Mr. Mayhew said he hadn’t been asked about that episode before and it had been years since he even thought about it, but details all snapped back for him.  He remarked about the joy of working with Jim Henson and said he was amazed that the Muppets above the floor were real characters that could interact with him and Hamill as if they were as real, as if by magic, and yet he stepped back and looked down to see a dozen people underneath, intertwined and synchronized to make it all appear so seamless to the audience.  You can imagine what that giant, usually soft-spoken fellow looked like when he was excited about something.  And anyone who ever met him could attest to the twinkle in his eyes that was part of who he was, those same eyes that revealed plenty of the real Mr. Mayhew behind the Wookiee suit that made it onto film and became part of his famous character.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you had a time machine and your goal was to find someone to give a master class in storytelling–a master class in worldbuilding–and bringing an idea to reality, would there be a better choice than Jim Henson?  Henson will be forever known first for his Sesame Street character Ernie and Muppets Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, Waldorf, The Swedish Chef, and more.  The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Show are beloved by generations.  He made the unreal seem real, and fantasy as close to reality as we may ever see it.  Yet he was perhaps proudest of the creation of the first full-length, live-action motion picture where the stars were all creatures, The Dark Crystal, yet another of the unforgettable films from 1982 we’re celebrating this year here at borg.com.  The Henson family and The Jim Henson Company have opened their archive and published the remarkable story of the film from idea to the film’s release in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, available this month from Insight Editions.

Writer Caseen Gaines’ new chronicle of The Dark Crystal is not a typical “visual companion.”  The story told in the text provides a most intriguing account of Henson, a behind the scenes look at the man from his family and all those who worked with him, as he talked through the idea for a darker story while delayed on a chance cancelled flight with his daughter, as he cast a team of puppet builders, creative performance artists, artisans, costumers, and concept design artists, as he leveraged the success of The Muppet Movie, and strategically negotiated his way to gain investment dollars to make a film that stands alone in the history of fantasy film.  As daughter Cheryl Henson states in the book, “I don’t think my father ever tried to hide how something was done, because how it’s done is often as interesting as the final product”–and that proves true in The Ultimate Visual History.  She provides a foreword to the book and an introduction is provided by film creators Brian and Wendy Froud.

Gaines includes tipped-in replica memorabilia from the Jim Henson archives, which he integrates into the narrative to illustrate the five years of Henson’s concept to screen process.  Readers gain new appreciation for Henson as we witness his own hand-written notebook pages of ideas for the characters that would transform into the dualism of the Skeksis and Mystics, Brian Froud’s original concept book created to sell the idea to investors, outlines, story treatments, hand-drawn sketches, scene memos, and a concept art pitch book by Froud for a planned sequel.  Photographs document a chronological preparation of characters looking at first nothing like their final on-screen personas and the difficult process of creating the mechanics for each type of character, for Gelflings Jen and Kira, the exiled Skeksis Chamberlain, Jen’s dying Mystic master, a room full of potato-headed Podlings, the wise goddess/prophet Aughra, the majestic Landstriders, the giant beetle-like Garthim, and the cute and toothy fuzzy Fizzgig.  The new fantasy world had its roots in myths and folklore, yet Henson created something singular with all these magicians that was akin to Tolkien’s fantasy realm.

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i-am-jim-henson

Life’s like a movie… write your own ending… keep believing… keep pretending…

Throughout the past year Brad Meltzer, noted fiction and non-fiction author and television personality (and DC Comics writer for the Identity Crisis and Green Arrow series) joined former Marvel Comics artist Christopher Eliopoulos to produce the Ordinary People Change the World series of books for young readers from Dial/Penguin/Random House.  Each of these could–or should–be your child, your nephew, niece, grandchild, or other young friend’s first book.  Back in September we previewed the most recent books in the series here at borg.com, featuring Dr. Jane Goodall and President George Washington.  This month Meltzer and Eliopoulos are releasing their latest inspirational and educational book for kids, I am Jim Henson.

What is incredible about this book in the series is Eliopoulos’s success in seemingly including every Muppet you can think of one way or another, all his fuzzy and beloved characters from both Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.  From Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy to Yoda and the movies Henson created, details of Henson’s life that will interest his fans are all here.  Meltzer, writing in first person as Henson, recreates Henson’s influences and youth.  Most importantly, Henson’s love of magic, imagination, and learning, and characters who taught everyone about laughter and kindness, will inspire new generations to look at his works again, and maybe even create their own.

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Meltzer and Eliopoulos know Henson’s characters like fans do–some of the most memorable lines and images of them can be found tucked into the background and corners of each page.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Is it because the Muppets don’t age?  Because the writers know their characters so well?  You wouldn’t think the Muppets have been off the air for 17 years after watching last night’s premiere of their new sitcom, The Muppets, on ABC.  Sure, the format is fresh and new, but the core of the show–the rich characterizations of not only the main cast of Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Fozzie, but subordinate cast members like Electric Mayhem band members, too–is every bit the same as it was when the acting troupe first appeared nearly 40 years ago in 1976 on The Muppet Show.

The Muppets are back, and as laugh-out-loud funny as ever.

Credit great, punchy dialogue and situational humor appropriate for kids of all ages to the writing staff, who don’t let down fans of the original show or any of its brilliant movie incarnations.  The only travesty of The Muppets?  That the show is in a 30-minute time slot and only airs once each week.  Sigh.

This time the Muppets are seen as they are, behind the scenes in the “real world” of actors and production studio antics in Hollywood.  Kermit is still in charge of the show, but this time the show-in-a-show is not a variety show but in the late night format, with Miss Piggy as host.  Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem band sit in where you’d see The Roots on The Tonight Show, with Fozzy in Steve Higgins’ role.  The first guest star is Elizabeth Banks, who gets taken for a ride by assistant showrunner Scooter, with a comical appearance by Dancing With the Stars’ host Tom Bergeron and musical guest Imagine Dragons (we featured their Muppet tie-in video years ago here at borg.com).  The success of the humans in the show is judged as in the past–the ability to seamlessly interact with the Muppet cast, and both Banks and Bergeron have no problem blending right in.

Fozzy and Becky & family

The show is peppered with one-liners and innuendo, exactly in the style as the original 1970s series.  But in truth, the laughs are probably funnier–the kind of humor you might find in a Tina Fey show or The Office.  You know you have good comedy when guitarist Janice makes a comically timed Imagine Dragons joke and Zoot gets cut off in the middle of an A.A. meeting reference.  As humor goes, The Muppets is the real deal.

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Rowlf and Scooter

It’s been 34 years since The Muppet Show wrapped its now classic five season run back in 1976-1981, with its last episode guest starring Singing in the Rain actor Gene Kelly.  It seemed like everyone who was anyone was a guest on the show, from Vincent Price to Don Knotts, from George Burns, John Cleese and Steve Martin to Elton John, Julie Andrews, Debbie Harry, James Coburn, Roger Moore, Sylvester Stallone, Lynda Carter, Christopher Reeve, and even the cast of Star Wars.  The show won four Primetime Emmy Awards and a Grammy.

ABC just announced the full Muppets ensemble will return to Primetime Tuesday nights this Fall.  This time the show won’t be a variety show as the original with guest stars, but will follow a bit of the format from The Office TV series, a “contemporary, documentary style” and probably copy any other show they can spoof for a laugh.  It will have humans interspersed with the cast, as seen in the first trailer released in the past few hours by ABC.  The preview couldn’t be much better.

Fozzie and girlfriend

And the never aging Muppets look just like they did when we first met them: Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Rowlf, The Electric Mayhem, Scooter, Sweetums, Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, Statler and Waldorf.  Without the requirements of a two-hour movie as we saw with the recent fun movies The Muppets and The Muppets Most Wanted, the series is going to delve into the private, personal lives of the Muppets.  We can’t wait!

Check out the preview:

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Winters finds the big WWith the passing Thursday and public announcement yesterday of classic movie and TV comedian Jonathan Winters, we thought we’d post a few clips of some our favorite bits of his unique humor. In countless interviews Robin Williams counted Winters as his comedic inspiration, both men at the top of the world of improvisation.  Born in Dayton, Ohio in 1925, Winters went on to serve in the Marines in World War II.  His first TV appearance was on Chance of a Lifetime in 1954, and his 15-minute variety show The Jonathan Winters Show on October 23, 1956, sponsored by Tums for RCA on the NBC network included the first color video ever to appear on television.  That’s right, it was Jonathan Winters who brought color to the TV-viewing world. 

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Every generation who watched TV encountered Winters in some way.  He led the second generation of modern American comedic actors, following The Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy.  He was known by some as the Hefty garbage man and by others for his recurring bit as Maude Frickert.  Like many comedians in his and later generations, he released many comedy albums on LPs.  In 1961 Winters first entered the world of sci-fi TV in The Twilight Zone episode “A Game of Pool” with Jack Klugman.  He appeared in more than 50 movies and guest starred and starred on many TV shows in his 60 years as an actor, including repeated appearances in every major variety and talk show over the years. 

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