Monday, November 28, 2011

Growing Up a Muppet

Have you gone to see the new Muppet Movie yet? No? Well, what the heck is wrong with you?!

Okay, so the Muppets haven't always been a surefire guarantee of quality entertainment. The standards of excellence have fluctuated over the decades, even under the direct supervision of puppet master Jim Henson, but there's always been an endearing and undeniable sweetness to the Muppets that kept them in the hearts of kids like me who refused to mature.

It all began for us with Sesame Street's educational fortification from puppet parodies of hippie pop culture and a slew of characters who displayed by example how to (or not to) behave. The inhabitants of that fanciful city block -- even Oscar the Grouch and geeky Bert -- were our friends. They accepted us the way we were and we loved them for it.

When The Muppet Show first aired in 1976, those of us who were still wishing we could fly like Super Grover or binge with Cookie Monster were ready. Kermit, the only crossover from Sesame Street, guided the way to a more adolescent sensibility while retaining the harmless charm we trusted.

I can only assume being at that perfect age to experience the Muppets' development from children's programming to family entertainment is similar to the experience of those children who recently grew up with the three primary protagonists from the "Harry Potter" books and films. There's a kinship kindled from such extreme familiarity and the overwhelming sense of connection to the characters. Just as so many teenagers (and adults) today know every last detail about the magical world created by J.K. Rowling, so do many people my age fondly recall details of a world populated by Muppets.

Released last week over the Thanksgiving holiday, the latest Muppet film recalls the very best of Kermit-led entertainment, warts and all. Drippy sentimentality, a 50-50 ratio of success for all jokes and sight gags, a slew of cameo appearances, inspired new music and characters, unnecessary plot lines that slow the movie down, references to skits and songs so ingrained in our collective subconscious that even the most jaded people in the audience find themselves humming along -- it's all there!

You see, I don't ask for perfection from my Muppets, the same way I don't ask for perfection from my children and My Lovely Wife. Expecting perfection only sets one up for disappointment because nothing is ever perfect. The only thing I expect is a non-stop, machine gun approach from which I'm assured only the possibility of enjoying myself if I overlook what falls flat and choose to focus instead on the bits and pieces that touch my heart, or my funny bone, whichever is more receptive at the applicable moment.

In an effort to either inspire a new era of Muppet entertainment or offer the Muppets the opportunity to go out in style, the makers of the new movie have given us Muppets at the top of their game. And, similar to the first movie all those years ago, the focus this time is on the Muppets themselves.

Go see The Muppet Movie. You owe it to the kid in you.

© 2011 Mark Feggeler