The Muppets have a long history. First created by Jim Henson in 1955 for Sam and Friends, a five minute live show for WRC-TV in Washington, DC, the Muppets have gone on to enchant the young and old alike, from Sesame Street to the big screen. The Muppet Show hit the airwaves in 1976, featuring a different cast of Muppets from Sesame Street and was aimed at an inclusive family audience. Younger viewers could watch for the brightly coloured characters, teens could get the puns and enjoy some of the guest stars, and adults could catch the multiple levels and enjoy some of the more bizarre sketches and numbers.
At the height of Muppet mania, the Muppets moved to the big screen with The Muppet Movie in 1979. The story was an origins of sorts, showing how The Muppet Show came to be. The movie was filled with running gags, bad puns, slapstick, and cameos, very much like The Muppet Show itself. The only thing missing, really, was the fourth wall. Kermit the Frog set out from his swamp home to get to Hollywood to become a major star, and picked up friends along the way.
In 1990, Jim Henson died suddenly after an illness, leaving the world the emptier with his passing. Henson Studios remained in the family, though, and went to his son, Brian. Muppet movies continued to be made, though, with the same levels of zaniness.
The popularity of the World Wide Web was not ignored by the Muppets. In 2009, Muppets Studios appeared on YouTube. Many videos were made and uploaded to the channel and quickly went viral. Bohemian Rhapsody earned a Webby. With the resurging popularity, was it time for a new Muppet movie? With Jim Henson gone and Frank Oz retiring, several big shoes had to be filled. Could the new staff treat the characters and past material respectfully without rehashing old gags?
The Muppets was released November 2011. The story picked up thirty years after The Muppet Movie, with the old gang gone their separate ways and Muppet Theater, the home of The Muppet Show in disrepair (even more than during The Muppet Show) and in danger of being torn down to be replaced by an oil rig. A faithful fan, one who never really felt really at home except around his twin brother, got to go on tour and discovered the plot. The fan decides the right thing is to try to pull the Muppets back together to stop a proper heritage site from becoming an environmental disaster.
The movie was everything a Muppet fan could ask for, even without the talent of many Muppeteers like Jim Henson and Frank Oz. The characters clicked, from Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Gonzo to new characters like Walter and the 1980s Robot. The characters were well aware that they were in a movie and broke the fourth wall like it wasn't even there. And, the ending broke the stereotype, at least before the deus ex brick Chekov's gun*. The Muppets managed to get attention from unusual directions, including being the target of the ire of a Fox News talking head.**
The selling point, at least for me, though, came while Kermit reminisced about The Muppet Show. As the Frog walked past a number of photos of him and celebrities who had been on the show, he stops at one of him and Jim Henson, letting the camera linger. The crew respected what Henson created, and, as seen time and again in this column, that is the singular key item in making a reboot a success.
Next time, a modern phenomenom***.
* A deus ex machina combined with a brick joke and a Checkov's gun.
** Apparently, working together to fight a corrupt corporate exec is too much.
*** Do do dee do do!