How the Muppets Got Their Scrooge Back

Published: November 29, 2002
Categories: Reviews

It’s only the day after Thanksgiving, and already I just got a really fantastic Christmas present that’s going to last me all season long.

The present is this: I get to spend every day from now until Christmas arguing with all my friends about Scooter’s voice.

Was he good enough? Did he sound enough like Scooter? Too much like Sal? Was he better than Sam’s new voice? And what about Janice? On and on and on, enough nutty Muppet-fan chatter to last us through the dark days of winter. This is gonna be great.

Cause this is the good moment, right here, and I hope everybody takes a second to look around and enjoy it. A new Muppet production like this just fills Muppet fans up with energy. It makes us bounce around and hum. It makes us want to go and trade quotes back and forth, and argue about which cameos were good and which were bad. We make lists. We count characters. We generally get down and dirty with our Muppet-fan selves, and just enjoy. From everything that I’ve heard about the company, the behind the scenes story has been extraordinarily grim this year. But apparently even a company that’s in sad shape can pull off a great Christmas party if they put their minds to it.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about what was good and bad about the movie; everybody who really cares just watched it for themselves, and everybody else can go and buy the video.

But there’s one thing that I loved about the whole deal, that I’ve just gotta bounce around and hum about: This was the first Muppet production of the post-Jim era that didn’t apologize for its own existence.

It’s been ten years since the Muppets put their heads together and started fresh with The Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s been a tough balancing act for the last decade, trying to move on with the characters while still respecting the fact that Jim and Richard were gone, and that Frank had gone off and gotten himself a new career while everyone was busy making Muppet Babies cartoons.

So they tried to shoot around Frank, making Miss Piggy a “special guest star” on Muppets Tonight and only using Fozzie and Sam in inserts. They tried to shoot around the Electric Mayhem, giving lines to Floyd and Zoot in Muppet Treasure Island and pretending that it didn’t matter that Dr Teeth and Janice didn’t speak anymore.

That all worked, for a while, but it got kind of old. Miss Piggy isn’t a special guest star; she’s a main character, and everybody knows it. We can grit our teeth and say that Clifford was good enough as the host of Muppets Tonight, but it just wasn’t the same. We knew it, they knew it, and apparently all of America knew it, too, because they collectively tuned in for the first couple episodes and then tuned out again.

So, whatever the nitpicky Muppet fans say about New Scooter, or New Janice, or whoever was recast in the Christmas Movie… wasn’t it great to really have the full cast back again? It was like they were saying, yeah, we lost Jim and Richard, and Frank is busy, and Jerry isn’t around much. But we’re the Muppets, damn it, and we’re gonna put on a big show for you. It felt like they had backbone again, like they were stepping out of the shadow of The Big Loss and just going for it.

And I haven’t even mentioned the biggest recast of all — The Muppet Theater. Wasn’t it amazing just to see the Muppets walking around the big old Muppet Theater, on film and in three dimensions? Did you catch your breath when they walked from the wings out on to the stage, when they panned from the seats to the orchestra pit to Statler and Waldorf’s balcony? It was the Muppet Theater that you always imagined when you were a kid, but that only existed in separate camera shots, now really, fully there. And here comes Miss Piggy, swooping down out of the rafters and into the audience… It was the same old Theater as you remembered, but bigger, and with better special effects.

So yeah, at the end the big bankrupt media conglomerate still owns the Muppets. And yeah, it would be nice if the big bankrupt media conglomerate would put some advertising and media muscle behind selling the Muppets to the new generation, instead of thinking about wheeling and dealing all the time.

But for two hours, on prime-time network TV, they made the Muppet Theater alive again. And for two hours, at least, dreams and magic and hope were more important than finances. Now all we need is for an angel who believes in the Muppets to come along… and I’d say the dream can keep going for, what, at least another two hours, right? Hang on, I’ll hit rewind.


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Written by Danny Horn

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