A few months ago I wrote about how the Muppets needed new songs, because Kermit had performed ‘Rainbow Connection’ around fifty thousand times in one week. It was becoming constant, and it threatened to get to a point where the song was almost the only thing Kermit or The Muppets could do. And it bothered me because there are so many other things the Muppets can and have done. It got me thinking though a lot about these characters and the limitations they can sometimes put on the franchise. Which begs the question…
Is it time to give Kermit and the gang a little rest?
Now look, I’m not saying let’s throw Kermit and Fozzie and Piggy and Gonzo and Animal and Sam Eagle and those two guys from the balcony who don’t have names out the window for good. What I’m saying is, let’s widen the bench and give new characters a chance to shine on their own.
Look back at The Muppet Show. Sure, audiences were introduced to all your favorites back in the 70’s, but the show wasn’t just about them. In almost every single episode we’d be entertained by brand new characters who would come and go, likely to never be seen again (and before any of you start commenting, I know some would be seen in audiences or years later as Thingy Things in Muppets Most Wanted). Whatnots and one-off’s populated the show giving us some of the most classic moments. Without them we’d have no Hugga Wugga, or no The Gambler, or no Time In A Bottle. There wouldn’t be stalagmites with toothaches. We’d have no Sweet Gingerbread Man, which not only had a brand new puppet, but full sized adult costumes too!
When Jim Henson created The Muppets, it was almost the puppetry troupe that went under that name, rather than the characters themselves. They would try experimental things on shows like Ed Sullivan with weird brand new puppets like The Glutton, who ate everything he could. Or they’d have a character be surprised by a talking machine, and slowly eat it (this sketch is famous for starring a proto-Cookie Monster and would later be done on The Muppet Show). Or they’d do their famous Glow Worm sketch. And while some of these contained a young Kermit the Frog, many of the characters were strange looking creatures who would never return.
So why did The Muppets stop doing this? Once The Muppet Show ended, why haven’t we seen new one-off puppets do insane things? Well, one reason is of course budget. It costs a lot of money to make a brand new puppet, especially if all you’re going to do is blow it up or throw it out once you’ve spent 8 hours shooting a silly sketch. And once The Muppet Show was off the air, Jim Henson and co. focused all their resources on either doing things with The Muppets, or chasing weird and wonderful projects like Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. Then, when Jim died and The Muppets fell into limbo for so long, no-one, not even weird German companies, felt like thowing cash at some puppet builders for the sake of a one-off. Muppets Tonight attempted it maybe once or twice, but not enough to really make much of a difference, and most of that shows budget went in to making new characters they’d hope would stick.
Another reason is that there wasn’t a medium after Jim died to do these things. Talk shows didn’t seem overly interested in having Muppets around, so where else were the Muppets going to do these short one off sketches? They’d need a show like Muppets Tonight, which they didn’t take full advantage of. Then, in the mid 00’s, we had a saving grace. A small little website called YouTube started up, and it seems like this should be perfect. After all, this all happened around the same time Disney bought The Muppets, so suddenly budget and medium became much less of an obstacle. And yet… nothing?
They’ve dipped their toes in somewhat. The live shows at the Hollywood Bowl and O2 had the song ‘Hair’ performed by a bunch of wigs, in something reminiscent of The Muppet Show. But that’s pretty much it. So I implore Disney to throw a few bucks the puppet builders way and maybe upload some new stuff to YouTube that isn’t Kermit and the gang. Give us some flower pots singing Take On Me or a letter box doing Love Shack or an alien singing All Night Long. You can even do songs that AREN’T from the 1980’s if you want! Be experimental, try weird puppet techniques, build a dolphin just to have it blow up at the end of You Can Call Me Al! I understand that Disney wants to use these characters that keep bringing us back, but would the occassional one-shot quacamole covered mole throw audiences off? I’d guarantee not. Let’s just give it a go, shall we? I’d be willing to bet the masses would love it.
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By Jarrod Fairclough – Jarrod@ToughPigs.com