A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 452 – Muppet Classic Theater

Muppet Classic Theater – May 26th, 2011

The other night when we watched The Princess and the Frog Andy realized that we didn’t have the Muppet version of the story on our list. And he knew we owned it. I was sure we did too. On VHS. We’d bought a bunch of Muppet movies and specials on VHS early on in our relationship and we knew we hadn’t gotten rid of them so why weren’t they on the list? The answer is that they’d been stashed with a pile of other VHS cassettes in the shelves under the television in the living room and then other things got stashed in front of them and well, we forgot to inventory that stuff when we made our big list. Oops. So we dug through the tapes, added a bunch of things and aren’t we glad we did?

We’ve both got an early morning tomorrow and I’ve got to go to the dentist again and it’s hot and sticky here and I had a headache and I needed something short and familiar and easy and fun. And here this was! Just waiting for a night like this. We hadn’t seen it in a long while (as evidenced by its hiding place under the television) and it wasn’t rewound! Horrors! And then the unthinkable happened: Our VCR tried to eat the tape. That horrible, terrible, hideous noise of a tape being eaten is so painfully familiar and yet we hear it so infrequently these days. Fortunately both Andy and myself have plenty of experience fixing videocassettes. In fact, I still do it at work on a fairly regular basis, babying my dwindling VHS collection for the last few people who come looking for them. So we cracked it open, untwisted the poor magnetic tape and off we went to a land of fairytales and Muppets.

I’ve always enjoyed the Muppet version of parody. The Muppets take on stories we all know all the time. Familiar styles, familiar songs, familiar stories, all told with the Muppet twist. Which means plenty of singing and flailing and horrible puns and Muppet weirdness. The Muppets have done classic stories before. They did the Frog Prince and Cinderella, of course, and they do great jobs with short pieces, as evidenced by The Muppet Show, which is essentially sketch comedy. So this is a collection of stories, quick and fun, each with a song, each familiar enough that the send-up of it isn’t going to throw anyone off. And I’ve got to say, which overall I really do like this? A couple of them stand out as a lot better than the rest.

Rizzo and Gonzo take up the job of hosting a theatrical event. The conceit is that the Muppets are putting on a show of six short stories in the theater with Rizzo and Gonzo both introducing and participating. The stories are the Three Little Pigs, King Midas, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Rumplestiltskin, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Elves and the Shoemakers. I’d have to say Three Little Pigs, Rumplestiltskin and The Elves and the Shoemakers are the standouts for me.

It’s not that I dislike the other three stories. It’s just that they don’t catch my interest and make me remember them as well. King Midas’ only real twist is introducing Miss Piggy and her love of wealth to the story. I do love Gonzo and his herd of sheep in The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and I admit I get the song “Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?” stuck in my head for no reason every so often. But I find the ending fairly weak and I’ve seen better twists on the base story. Though really, I want one of those sheep. I would snuggle it and pet it and use it as a pillow. And that leaves The Emperor’s New Clothes, which is a story I’m not terribly fond of anyhow. The song is slow and I expect more from the Muppet rats, so while Fozzie makes a great Emperor, I’m just not too into it.

The other three, on the other hand, are a ton of fun. Miss Piggy is an architectural genius in the Three Little Pigs and I absolutely adore her confidence and competence, which is so often ignored in favor of her love of clothes and money and fame. Maybe that’s one reason why King Midas doesn’t wow me when it follows a segment where she’s far more focused on building a secure house and making her foolish brothers admit that their sexist assumptions about her were horribly wrong and she’s super awesome. Anyhow, let’s move onto The Elves and the Shoemakers, which is out of order but I’m saving Rumplestiltskin. The Elves and the Shoemakers I enjoy simply for the horrible Elvis joke and the blue suede shoes. I know it’s silly and juvenile and obvious and I don’t care. I love the three Elvis elf Muppets.

And then there’s Rumplestiltskin. Obviously Gonzo plays the title role, with Piggy as the poor young maiden who promises him whatever he asks for in exchange for spinning straw into gold. There’s not much of a spin here. It’s the basic story except that Piggy admits the whole thing to her husband, the king, and the whole palace helps her try and come up with the name she needs. Which leads to the best number in the whole thing: Gotta Get That Name. It’s fast-paced, it’s catchy and it has the flaily ferret. I cannot not flail along with the ferret (who is center stage and goes wild during the chorus every time) whenever we watch this. He is exactly the sort of Muppet I love to see. Unnamed, only a bit line, yet stealing the scene. I believe Jim Henson would approve of him.

Overall I find this a lot of fun. Even if a few of the shorts don’t entertain me as much as the others, I do like them all. It’s just a matter of degree. There’s nothing revolutionary happening here, but there doesn’t need to be. Some of the moments seem to be a little slower than they should be, but others make up for it. It’s just a fun little bit of Muppet goodness that serves up some classic Muppets, some good villains and some well known stories so it’s easy to watch and easy to enjoy so long as you’re expecting just that. Oh, and Gonzo with goat legs. You should expect that too.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Muppet Classic Theater

May 26, 2011

Muppet Classic Theater

Boy does this bring back memories. Not memories of the Muppets, thought it’s always fun to see Muppets in action, but of the olden days of VHS. We put this into our VCR this evening and a horrifying crinkling sound came from within. The tape did not play, and the machine was rather stubborn about returning it to us. When the cassette came out at last it was not in very good condition. Oh, I’ve seen worse, but the tape was dangling out of the gate and all twisted up inside the cassette. We had to get out some screwdrivers and Amanda used her AV skillz to open the case up and un-twist the tape. Then, because the tape had not been rewound the last time we watched it, we stuck it in our dedicated VHS rewinder. When I first started working at Blockbuster we still had VHS tapes for rent and every morning we’d have an entire bank of these little machines running at once rewinding all the movies our customers had not bothered to rewind before returning them. Fond memories of a bygone day when a person could accidentally erase part of their movie collection by running a magnet over it or melt it by leaving it in a hot car. Nowadays you only really need to worry about scratching your DVDs – or having the hard drive your films are stored on become corrupted.

Anyhow, that’s all just the medium. I should spend some time reviewing this as a movie. We discovered this in a small cache of tapes that we had never added to our movie a day project and I had to debate for a bit about adding this to the list because it is so very short. This was a direct to video release from the early nineties, and it feels kind of light weight and inconsequential, but that’s part of the charm. This was one of the first Muppet productions after Jim Henson’s passing, and it’s still just fun to see the Muppet performers doing something light hearted and very much in the Muppet mode.

Like some of the more concept oriented Muppet Show episodes or the very earliest Muppet videos in our collection this is a distinctly Muppet take on some classic fairy tales. There are six short stories here: The Three Little Pigs, King Midas, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Rumpelstiltskin, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Elves and the Shoemaker. They’re all familiar stories, which makes them perfect territory for the kind of Muppet weirdness that I love best. The Three Little Pigs becomes a story about not underestimating somebody because she happens to be a girl (which you’d think people would already know about Miss Piggy.) Kermit is King Midas who only wants peace on earth, but his wife (Piggy again) wants gold, so it becomes a story about what is really important. The Boy Who Cried Wolf and Rumpelstiltskin are Gonzo stories full of silliness. Fozzie stars as the Emperor with the non existent new clothes. For the grand finale there’s the Shoemaker and the Elves, who are all Elvis, which makes for some fun impersonations and faux Elvis songs.

I have only seen this a couple times in the way distant past. I bought this when it first came out on VHS in 1992, and I have probably only watched it all the way through once or twice since then. So what startled me most as I watched this again tonight was how these catchy songs were so instantly familiar to me. As I put the tape in I was singing the “Gotta Get That Name” song already, and every single song in the movie has that kind of staying power. Each short has its own little song, and they are all fantastic. Gotta Get That Name in particular has an unshakable hook and Brian Henson completely steals the choreography as the spastic and unnamed ferret. I’d watch this entire tape any day just for that bit.

I’m so glad we own this and that we decided to watch it for our project. So what if it almost feels like skits from the old Muppet Show? That is exactly what I need sometimes. When Fozzie is parading around in his boxer shorts during the Emperor’s New Clothes bit I couldn’t help having an exchange that he and Kermit had early on in the Muppet Show running through my head “My god! The comedian is a bear!” “No he’s-a-not! He’s-a-wearing a neck tie!” Rimshot. Classic Muppets. And it’s always a delight.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment