Sex. Sleep. Food. Drums. Pain.
These are the five words Frank Oz used to describe Animal – the Muppet so beastly, his very name evokes an entire zoological menagerie. And yet, the dangerous monster we once knew has barely been seen in the last few decades. Animal has been… tamed.
Recently I was talking with my fellow ToughPigs writer Anthony Strand. His kids have rediscovered the Muppets’ “Bohemian Rhapsody“, and they especially love the sequence where Animal sings about his “mama”. In this moment, I realized how much I dislike this verse.
Look, I have no problem with Animal pining for his mother, and I appreciate how this nonsense moment is used to cleverly avoid having the Muppets sing about killing a man in cold blood. But the Animal seen here is quiet and cuddly, soft-spoken and wistful. He’s more man than animal, and not at all who he was back in 1975.
The first time we ever laid eyes on Animal (back in The Muppet Show‘s pilot, “Sex and Violence”), he was so terrifying, Nigel kept him locked up behind a cage, embedded in the lower part of the wall like he’s been relegated to the sewers. This monster would only be released to go nuts on the drums, and then chained again for everyone’s safety.
Okay, so we probably don’t need to go back that far – I don’t think anyone wants to see a beloved main character locked up against his will. But there’s a middle-ground. What happened to the beast who unsettled audiences just by panting? The rage monster who wrestled alligators as a form of relaxation? The epitome of the ferocious drummer who played so hard, he set his drum kit on fire? Animal used to be a force of nature, and now he’s just some hairy guy who talks like a caveman.
I mean, we can probably forgo Animal’s penchant for chasing women. I think we can all agree on that.
Compare that guy to the one we’ve seen in more recent years. One of Animal’s more beloved moments has been his relationship with his pet bunny, seen in a series of short videos on Muppets.com back in 2008. Naturally, we don’t want to see Animal maul this innocent little creature, but where some fans responded positively to the cuteness of the character pairing, we were missing the risk. Animal had become such a safe character, we knew there was nothing for the bunny (or the audience) to fear, and therefore a loss of a lot of potential.
Somehow, when we weren’t looking, Animal became a human child. A man-baby. A toddler going through his “terrible twos” phase, but still coherent enough to be able to form broken sentences. And he just so happens to be really, really good at the drums.
Cut ahead to one of Animal’s most recent spotlights in Muppets Most Wanted. Not only does Animal get an uncharacteristically heavy role, but he seemed to be continuing on that path away from his animalistic origins and more of a monosyllabic humanoid. He’s not chasing women or destroying musical instruments; he’s actively solving mysteries and correctly identifying Constantine when no one else could (without the aid of Fozzie’s Subway sandwich).
So, who is Animal now? Can he still be boiled down to just five words? Are “Sex, Sleep, Food, Drums, Pain” the words we’d use? Aside from “Drums”, would any of the others even make the cut? Or is Animal doing what any child inevitably does – is he growing up?? As much as we want to see our kids stay young forever (and for our favorite characters to be trapped in amber), maybe it’s time to let go of the pain and let Animal enjoy his bunny.
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by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com