Thursday, January 26, 2012

 Muppets game review: Chaos at the Carnival (NES)

Oh, it's chaos alright! Miss Piggy has been captured in 8-bit hell by the evil Dr. Grump and his Grumpasaurus. After hearing the news the other Muppets inmediately decide to work together and try to rescue Piggy. The story is as standard as you can get and not very Muppet-like. The programmers could at least try  to relate the game to the show. It's not that hard. I'll prove it: 

"The mysterious Dr Grump holds a contest. Whoever can score the most points at his newly opened carnival wins $ 1.000.000. The Muppets, looking at their theatre decide they could really use the money to renovate the Muppet Theatre and head to the carnival." 

See? I only spend two minutes thinking of a storyline and it's already more Muppet-like. The gameplay could remain the same but it already feels more like a Muppet product.
However, especially with older games, it's the gameplay that counts and CATC takes an interesting approach here. Unlike many licensed games of its time CATC was not a simple case of sticking the characters into a standard platform game. Instead, they stuck the characters in 5 horrible minigames, most of them starring a different Muppet.
The games featured are:
  • Crash Car Course, a bumper ride like game starring Animal
  • Raging River ride, a wild ride in a tube starring Kermit
  • Lost in Space, a shooter starring Gonzo
  • Amazing Ice Cream Maze. a maze starring Fozzie
Completing these four games results in the final level, the Grumpasaurus cave, in which the player once again assumes control of Kermit and faces the Grumpasaurus and Dr. Grump.
It certainly looks like enough variety and with four (or five if you count the final level) minigames at least one of them is at least bound to please Muppet fans...right?

Having the extremely dubious honour of being first on the list of minigames is Kermit's River Ride in which you have to steer Kermit through a river, avoiding rocks, logs and whirlpools. It isn't that bad compared to the other games but the game sometimes causes cheap deaths since you can't go upwards. That means that when you're stuck between land and a rock you're doomed and have to wait untill you lose a life. Also pray that you won't respawn at the same spot since the game likes to do this.  The best thing that can be said about this minigame is that it gives you the chance to replenish your stock of extra lives. You'll need them later on.

Fozzie's Amazing Ice Cream Maze is second and it certainly isn't amazing. Actually, it isn't much of a maze either. Instead of having to find your way through a large labyrinth this minigame consists of a single screen 'maze' in which Fozzie has to find a bowtie, a present and a second bow tie because you know, you always could use a spare bow tie. Fozzie's efforts are however constantly twarted by a small enemy which may be Rizzo although the graphics aren't good enough to tell. Whoever he is, he seemingly walks randomly through the maze looking as bored as the player controlling Fozzie and only heads your way when you're close to him.
When you find all three items you get transported to another maze. I hope you like mazes since you have to clear about 30 to pass this minigame. The game tries to make the levels harder by increasing the enemy count in later levels  with some even featuring two Rizzo's and a deadly candy cane. The game's biggest challenge however is the extreme boringness of each level which all look a like safe for a palette swap. Not helping the game is the fact that the game doesn't always detect when you pick up an item.
Aiding you in this challenge are items like a dog bone and a group of hearts you can pick up. The bone distracts a Pluto-like dog enemy you encounter in the later levels, effectively making it useless for 80% of this minigame. The hearts don't replenish your hearts but temporarily freeze an enemy if you hit them with it because picking up hearts to restore your hearts would be, you know, logical.

Animal and bumper cars seem like a winning combination so I tried the Crash Car Course next. The objective here is to collect flags and avoid the bombs. Simple enough, especially since there is no time liimit and you can adjust your position whenever you want. Stopping and turning before every set of bombs is the way to go but like the maze before it this game is pretty tedious. You can't speed through the minigame since driving at high speeds makes it nearly impossible to dodge the bombs.

Gonzo's Lost in Space game is fourth and the space setting really fits Gonzo, perheps even more so since Muppets in Space. Your job is to steer Gonzo's space pod and shoot at incoming meteors and aliens. Shockingly enough, this minigame feels like an actual game and not like a boring chore. You can rotate the ship 360 degrees and steer it in any direction though your better off just rotating and shooting anything that comes near. The minigame plays well enough but gets incredibly hard later on with caves you have to enter making it the most frustrating of the four. A nice detail is the cameo by Camilla, which makes me wonder why they didn't feature more Muppets in the other minigames. Oh well, at least this minigame finishes with a boss fight which is the first one in the game and we're already at 80%.

After completing all the minigames it's to time to go after Dr Grump and his Grumpasaurus in the final stage. Since the object of the goal is to rescue Piggy it should come as no surprise that you'll have to control Kermit in this final level. What is a surprise though is the way he walks. I don't know who thought it was a great idea to have Kermit in a constant crouching position but it looks really awkward. Awkward as in looking like Kermit has to take a dump every second you stand still. Ignoring the animation, the final level is a boring platform game where you have to avoid bats, rocks and other generic objects and animals as you make your way to the Grumpasaurus. Aside from the horrible controls (Kermit's jumps are extremely floaty), the level isn't too hard  and soon you'll face the Grumpasaurus.

I love dinosaurs and judging by the name, the Grumpasaurus looks to be an angry dinosaur, which makes him that much more awesome. Well, today's game is brought to you by the letter D. D as in disappointment. The Grumpasaurus looks like a pink ape with a tube on his head. He's also beaten in 5 seconds.

The stage is set for the big finale. Kermit and his friends have travelled all along the carnival barely surviving the doctor's lethal games. Dr Grump, an evil genious, capable of creating life, putting everything on the line to finally end Kermit's career. He dares the green hero to step closer as he prepares his deadly bombs. 
Kermit steps closer and all the evil Dr. Grump does is walk from left to right, dropping bombs. 

This has to be one of the most disappointing boss fights I've ever encountered. You simply avoid the bombs and shoot hearts (yeah hearts) upwards. I do have to give the game credit for using hearts (love?) to defeat the final boss. There aren't many games where you have to shoot hearts to defeat an enemy, let alone the final boss. There also aren't that many games with such a lame final boss. After beating the Grumpmeister, Piggy floats down and complains 
about how long it took you to beat the game. Piggy is not the type of person who says "Oh thank you! Oh Thank you". No one says "O Thank you" twice in succession unless they're a robot.

The game was only released in the US so I've had to import the game. I was very curious how the game would play out since the NES is home to a lot of great games which are still fun to play today. This game isn't one of them. It's a typical licensed cash-in with horrible controls and it bears no relation to the source material, except for the characters used in the extremely generic levels. Notice how I didn't mention the sound? That's because the music sounds like it was composed by a blindfolded monkey with rabies. The sound effects are even more annoying.

I just spend about eight hours trying to to beat Muppets: Chaos at the Carnival, a 20 year old game that cost me about $40. I hate my life.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Muppets Blu-ray/DVD extras announced

Even though the movie hasn't been released in Europe yet, the detail on the home versions of the new Muppet movie have been released today. American Muppet fans will be able to get their hands on The Muppets on DVD/Bluray March 20 in three seperate editions; a DVD only set, a DVD/Bluray set which  includes the movie on both DVD and Blu-ray and a "Wocka Wocka' value pack which also includes a Digital Copy and a copy of the soundtrack. The extras included are:

  • The Longest Blooper Reel Ever Made (In Muppet History––We Think) - A laugh out loud look at the actors'funny gaffs and gags from behind the scenes of making Disney's "The Muppets."
  • Disney Intermission - Groundbreaking Blu-ray feature. Pausing a movie will never be this much fun, as the Muppets take over the screen every time you stop the disc! (Blu-ray and  Value Pack Only)
  • Scratching The Surface: A Hasty Examination of the Making of Disney's "The Muppets." Hosted by unit production manager monster J.G., the cast and crew take a behind the scenes look at making Muppet and movie history. (Blu-ray and Value Pack Only)
  • Explaining Evil: The Full Tex Richman Song. Rapping his way through the story of his miserable life, Tex tells audiences why he turned out to be such a rotten guy. (Blu-ray and  Value Pack Only)
  • A Little Screen Test on the way to the Read Through. This hilarious footage follows the Muppet gang as they go to their first table reading of the script. (Blu-ray and  Value Pack Only)
  • Eight Deleted Scenes (Blu-ray and  Value Pack Only)
  • Audio Commentary with Jason Segel, James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller (Blu-ray and  Value Pack Only)
  • Hidden Easter Eggs (Blu-ray and  Value Pack Only)
  • Theatrical spoof trailers (Value Pack Only)
  • The Complete Soundtrack (Value Pack Only)

If you've already got the soundtrack I think you're better off with the Bluray/DVD edition unless you really REALLY like the spoof trailers. It is too bad we don't get an extended cut as many Muppet fans had hoped for but there are some cool extra's included. The 'pause feature' sounds interesting and I'm curious as to what the deleted scenes are. (And if there will be an option to view the movie with them included) The DVD-only version looks pretty slim with only a Blooper Reel on it you might think about upgrading to Bluray since most studios nowadays give DVD's the slim treatment.

The cover of the 'Wocka Wocka Value Pack'. See if you can spot Gonzo's head.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Muppets nominated for a Academy Award

The Muppets' song Man or Muppet has been nominated for a Academy Award or Oscar as it's generally known. The song, written by Brett McKenzie has to beat a song from the Rio soundtrack called Real in Rio in order to win and finally award the Muppets with the most prestigious prize in the film industry. We'll know who wins Februari 26 because that's the date the prizes are awarded.

Thus far Man or Muppet has already won a Sierra Award and a Georgia Film Critics Association Awards. Let's hope it manages to snag up an Oscar next month.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Albert Heijn starts Muppet hand puppet promotion

Dutch Supermarket chain Albert Heijn has started a promotion where you can save 'Muppet points' in order to buy some exclusive Muppet hand puppets. For every 15 euros you spend at Albert Heijn you'll recieve one Muppet Point. Collect 6 Muppet points and you can buy a Muppet hand puppet for 1 euro. 

It's a nice promotion and while some of the puppets look pretty good, like Kermit, Fozzie and the Swedish Chef, it's unfortunate that not all of the Muppets bear the same quality as these. Gonzo and Piggy look tolerable but Animal, Statler and Waldorf look horrible and feel more like cheap bootleg puppets. Why hasn't anyone noticed that the Waldorf puppet looks cross eyed?
But hey, don't take my word for it, judge it yourself:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Muppets set to star in Little Big Planet

It has been a long time since the Muppets were last seen in video games but that's about to change. The Muppets will make their Playstation 3 debut in the Little Big Planet game next week. The Muppet premium kit will contain:

  • A Rowlf Costume
  • 5 Muppet themed levels
  • A new item, developed by Muppet Labs which will allow Sackboy (LBP's main character) to walk on walls.
  • 13 materials (used in the game to build levels)
  • 49 decorations (used in the game to build levels)
  • 4 objects (used in the game to build levels)
  • 18 audio- and music objects (used in the game to build levels)
  • 219 stickers (used in the game to build levels)
  • 7 new Playstation Trophys

The kit will be available January 25th and will costs €5,99.  Remember that you have to be in possession of the game in order to use it.

The trailer above  looks great although it clearly shows a lot more Muppet costumes than just the Rowlf one mentioned in the premium kit. Let's hope that these other costumes will be available at a low price. Otherwise, it's going to be prices to get the complete Muppets content in the game. 

Apparently, the other Muppet costumes have already been released in three so called 'costume packs' last month. These packs contain different Muppet costumes for your Little Big Planet character to wear.

  • Pack 1 contains Kermit, Fozzie, Bunsen and Beaker.
  • Pack 2 contains Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Statler and Waldorf
  • Pack 3 contains the members of the Electric Mayhem

Each of these packs costs €5,99. That means that for the complete Muppet set you're gonna have to shell out about 25 Euros.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Debut:              The Muppet Show season 1
Performer:       Richard Hunt (1976-1990)
                        Greg Berg        (Muppet Babies, voice only)
                        Adam Hunt      (Muppets in Space, voice only)
                        Matt Vogel       (Muppet Race Mania, voice only)
                        Brian Henson   (It's a very Mery Muppet Christmas Movie, Muppets Party Cruise)
                        Rickey Boyd    (The Muppets' Wizard of Oz)
                        David Rudman  (2008-present)

Making his debut in the first produced (not the first aired) episode of the Muppet Show, Scooter is the gofer of the Muppet Theatre. "Gofer" is an old theatrical term and basically refers to an errand boy. This in mind, it's not surprising that Scooter was involved in a lot of backstage segments during the Muppet Show's run. Besides helping out the other Muppets backstage, Scooter was also featured in numerous sketches and and performed songs like the Muppets version of Simon Smith and his Amazing Dancing Bear in the first season.

Scooter has also been a regular in the Muppet movies starting with the Muppet Movie where he
played the part of road manager of the Electric Mayhem. His roles in the Muppet movies usually pretty small but he got a bigger part and a sister in the spin-off Muppet Babies.
Muppet Babies was a animated spin-off based on a segment from the Muppets take Manhattan in which Piggy envisioned her, Kermit and the other Muppets as babies. Perhaps because of the lack of female 'main' Muppets Skeeter, Scooter's twin sister was created for this series.. After Babies, Skeeter was sporadically featured in Muppet books but did not appear in significant productions like movies or Muppets Tonight. She only just recently reappeared in the Muppet Show Comic Book.

After the death of Richard Hunt Scooter was put on a hiatus, with only the occasional cameo in Muppets specials and movies. Different Muppeteers voiced the gofer in these cameos, ranging from Richard's brother Adam Hunt to Brian Henson.

The universally panned Muppets' Wizard of Oz featured Scooter in a small role, the first time since Richard's death, playing the part of the assistent to the Wizard, puppteered and voiced by Rickey Boyd.

Scooter would get a new primary performer starting with theStudio DC: Almost Live special as David Rudman would take on the gofer role. An old friend of Richard, as well as a great Muppeteer in his own right, Richard had already taken over some of Richard's Sesame Street roles after his passing like Sully and one part of the Two Headed Monster. This new performer also allowed for Scooter to play his part in the new movie, The Muppets where he's back in his old role as stage manager.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bizarre Muppet crossovers 

Muppets and celebrities go hand in hand. The best example of this of course is the Muppet Show which featured a celebrity every week but the roles have often been reversed when Muppets were guests on another programme to provide comic relief or plug an upcoming project. To list all the programs that had a Muppet guest appearance is a seemingly impossible task but a look at the more bizarre crossovers is certainly an entertaining thought. The Muppet characters are pretty weird in nature and when mixed with 'normal' or equally bizarre shows the results can be entertaining, disappointing but certainly unexpected. Without further ado, I present three bizarre Muppet crossovers:

Batman and Superman on Sesame Street
Especially in the wake of the release of the Dark Knight a few years back it's hard to imagine the caped crusader appearing on a kids programme, much less Sesame Street. And happened. Batman appeared in animated segments in the earlier Sesame Street years teaching young viewers about topics like traffic safety. Along with Batman, his young ward Robin and arch enemy The Joker appeared in several short clips. Due to Sesame's nature however, things always ended fairly clean without Batman and the Joker actually fighting. Animated by Filmation, who later produced the The New Adventures of Batman cartoon in the same style, Batman appeared in a mere four segments but that doesn't make them any less memorable.

Fellow Justice League hero Superman also appeared on the most famous street in the world. Also animated by Funimation, Clark Kent's alter ego appeared in two segments in the first season. Maybe somewhat contradictory with the character of Sesame Street, the first segment, which aired in the Sesame Street pilot, consisted of Superman punching a giant ape down to the ground. Refering to the door-like shield Superman used to counter the giant's ape laser eyes (yeah, I know) he proudly exclaims “D”, celebrating the fourth letter of the alfabet.

The second segment features Superman naming several S-words as he flies around the world, battling spaceships and saving a sailboat from a storm before proclaiming the letter S as his favourite letter.

Sesame Street meets Star Wars
In the late seventees and early eighties Star Wars was everywhere and George Lucas made sure that his characters got as much exposure as possible. C-3PO and R2-D2, two droids (robots) that appeared in all three classic Star Wars movies, seem to get exposed the most with them appearing in things their own cartoon show, getting their won cereal and even doing public service announcements in which they urged kids not to smoke. A Muppet crossover seemd inevitable and sure enough, they appeared on The Muppet Show with Mark Hamill and Luke Skywalker, with a cameo by  Chewbacca  but this spot on the list is reserved for the Star Wars appearance on the other big Muppet project. 

Back in 1979 aliens landed on Sesame Street, in the form of C-3PO and R2-D2. Arriving in what looks like a frisbee, the droids from Star Wars interact with Big Bird and the gang while R2-D2 falls in love with a fire hydrant. In Sesame Street tradition the episode featured a song, revealing that  while C-3PO can interpret six million languages, he clearly wasn not build for singing. It's all in good fun though and C-3PO saying "Better to have loved a fire hydrant than never to have loved at all" is pretty funny. The droids starred in two episodes and filmed a song, Beep, to be used in later episodes.

The Muppets invade WWE RAW
That the Muppets would invade a plethora of shows in 2011 was expected with the new movie coming out but this crossover was unexpected even by the biggest wrestling fan. While the Muppet Show pilot featured a wrestling segment nobody knew what to expect when this news broke a few months before their Halloween appearance. Would the Muppets wrestle before a live audience? Would there only be one or two 'backstage' segments? The fact that both Muppets and pro wrestling are portrayed as real made the whole situation even more puzzling. What wrestling fans eventually got was a mix of everything and it was clear that WWE treated the Muppets with respect and integrated them in several ways in the show.  

Segments included a backstage segment where Bunsen Honeydew send out Beaker to deliver a 'Muppet Labs potion' to a weaker wrestler in order for the wrestler to win the match. . Subsequently Beaker encountered the equally red haired Sheamus, who has mockingly been called Beaker by his opponents. Talking to Beaker however, wrestler Sheamus revealed that he and Beaker are related but that Sheamus can't make it to the family reunion, effectivly saying wrestler Sheamus is a Muppet.
The most bizarre moment of the evening however was Beaker interfering in a wrestling match when he got another Muppet Labs potion and suddenly appeared next to the ring and handed over the potion to a wrestler while mimmicking that he had to drink it. On TV it looked pretty well but I'm wondering how it must have looked for the people in the arena, watching a Muppeteer under Beaker, trying to alter the ending to a wrestling match.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Muppets wins Critics Choice award

Life's a Happy Song has won the Critics Choice award for best movie song of 2011. The song, written by Bret McKenzie beat the other nominees (under which two under other songs from The
Muppets, Pictures in My Head and Man or Muppet) last night  to win the prestigious award last night. The Muppets was also nominated for best comedy but unfortunately lost to Bridesmaids. Nonetheless, a best song award is great news and may be a sign of things to come with the Academy Awards ceremony being held next month. 

Bret McKenzie, composer of the song alongside Kermit
The Critics Choice awards, or Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards  as they're officially called, are yearly awards bestowed by the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and are typically a good indication of which movies will win a prize at the Oscars. Between 1997 and 2004, the BFCA nominations predicted all but two of 35 Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, something the organisation prides itself on.

Thus far, the Muppets have never won a Academy Award or Oscar although the Rainbow Connection from the Muppet Movie did garner a nomination for the 52nd Academy Awards in 1980. It subsequently lost to "It Goes like it Goes" from Norma Rae. Things weren't all bad for Muppet fans during the ceremony though, as Kermit performed the Rainbow Connection on stage.
Fast forward to 2012 and The Muppets may be the closest to a Academy Award as they've been since 1980. We'll learn more about their chances coming Tuesday, when the Oscar nominees for this year are announced. In the meantime you can listen to this version of the song featuring both Bret and Kermit, practicing  the song:

                                      Could this song help win The Muppets win their first Oscar?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Performer ofGonzo, Dr Bunsen Honeydew, Beauregard, Waldorf (1992-present), Boober Fraggle, Uncle Traveling Matt

It is often said that Muppets take after their Muppeteers. Richard Hunt based his energetic portrayal of Scooter on himself as a kid and Jim Henson could relate himself very well to Rowlf. The same could be said about Dave Goelz, one of the few Muppeteers who started on The Muppet Show who still remains an active Muppeteer today. While he puppeteers a fair share of Muppets like professor Bunson Honeydew and Boober Fraggle his best known Muppet role has to be the daredevil plumber, Gonzo.

Just like Gonzo, Goelz also started as a bit sad, timid and felt out of place in a cast consisting of puppeteering veterans like Jim Henson and Frank Oz. This slowly changed when he got his first laugh from the rest of the cast at the end of the first season. In the second season he got his second laugh from his colleagues but felt that the always sad looking Gonzo Muppet held his performances back. Due to his droopy eyelids he could never look excited. He subsequently build a new Gonzo with an eyelid mechanism that allowed him to look excited for his daring acts.

Using this new puppet Goelz started to gain more confidence in his performing skills and shaped Gonzo more into the frantic daredevil we know today.In later seasons Goelz also started puppeteering Beauregard although the Muppet writers never found a “hook” for him, possibly due to his passive nature.
When Fraggle Rock was being developed Goelz was cast as Boober Fraggle. According to Goelz, the Fraggles were based on its performers: They looked at the performers, and picked out our flaws, and made characters out of them. They denied it... So that's how I ended up with Boober, the superstitious, paranoid character.“ Goelz was also cast as Uncle Traveling Matt and performed a host of other minor characters.

Besides his work on Muppet Productions Goelz also worked on other big Henson projects like The Dark Crystal where he played SkekUng and Fizzgig, Labyrinth where he played Sir Didymus and the ABC comedy Dinosaurs where he operated the face of Earl Sinclair as well as a variety of hand puppets.

In the nineties Goelz rose to prominence and even recieved top billing  as Muppeteer when Gonzo got bigger parts in movies like The Muppets Christmas Carol and Muppets Treasure Island. Goelz got often paired with Steve Whitmire, who performed Rizzo, a character who would form a duo with Gonzo for much of the decade. Gonzo and Whitmire are also the current performers of Statler and Waldorf, with Goelz inheriting the part of Waldorf after Jim Henson's death.
Interestingly enough Goelz is one of the few core Muppeteers that didn't have a big time character on Sesame Street, although he did play several smaller parts.

Monday, January 9, 2012

In this feature we highlight a single Muppet so that each week you can meet a new Muppet, check out it's history and maybe even learn a thing or two about him/her/it.:


Debut:        The Great Santa Clause Switch (puppet)
                  The Muppet Show Season 1 (character)

Performer: Dave Goelz

Although now mostly known for his outlandish stunts ("I shall now eat a rubber tire to the music of The Flight of the, maestro!") and his love for poultry, Gonzo first appeared as a sad, timid character who always (tried to) hit the O of the Muppet show logo at the end of the opening theme, often with unexpected results.  Although the puppet had been used earlier on The Great Santa Clause Switch, the reworked character named Gonzo made his debut in the first season of the Muppet Show. Having a perpentual sad look and a crush on Miss Piggy he certainly lacked the self confidence he gained in the later seasons. 

Starting with the second season, a new puppet was used (build by Gonzo's Muppeteer, Dave Goelz) that made him look less sad and allowed his eyelids to move, creating the enthousiastic expression Gonzo now often displays. The second season also revealed his love for chickens in a sketch where Gonzo auditoned (real) chickens for an act. His real love would be introduced in the following season in the form of Camilla, who of course, is a chicken.

Although already one of the 'core' Muppets during the Muppet Show, Gonzo got an even more prominent role in the nineties, starting with A Muppet Christmas Carol, where he played the part of Charles Dickens. Since Christmas Carol Gonzo is often paired with Rizzo as seen in  Muppets Treasure Island, the direct-to-video Muppets Classic Theater and Muppets in Space.

Gonzo's species has often been debated. Starting with The Great Muppet Caper Gonzo was named a "Whatever" after the crate he got shipped in in the movie. (Kermit got shipped in a "frog" crate while Fozzie got shipped in a "bear' crate) In the Muppet Babies spinoff, he was often classed as a weirdo however. 

Muppets from Space attempted to clear things up, by explaining he was an alien. The originally planned ending however would reveal that Gonzo wasn't an alien. The years following Muppets from Space Gonzo was labeled as an alien but in recent years he reverted to his "Whatever" species. Both Gonzo and his Muppeteer, Dave Goelz have suggested in interviews that Muppets from Space was "just a movie" and that his designation is still unknown.  In the new movie, The Muppets, Gonzo's a plumbing magnate, linking it to the first Muppet movie, in which Gonzo had a small plumbing company.
A chance for Dutch readers to win tickets for the Muppets

One of the first promotions for the upcoming release of the Muppets in the Netherlands has started. Visitors of the website of the Zutphense Koerier can win two tickets for the upcoming premiere of the Muppets in the Zutphen-based Cinemajestic theatre. 
All you have to do is answer a simple question about the movie and enter the competition.
Dutch readers can try their luck here. Good luck!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Note: because of the strict no photography policy in the museum and the unavailability of pictures of all the pieces in the museum some pictures in this article are from other museums who hosted the exhibition. The pieces displayed however are those 
currently displayed in the Museum of the Moving Image.

From July 16 2011 to March 4th 2012 the Long Island-based Museum of the Moving Image holds an exhibition dedicated to the life and works of Jim Henson. It advertises with pieces like actual Muppets used by Jim, rare photographs and a host of festivities dedicated. Is it a must see or should you be moving right along to another museum?  

Being a Muppet fan AND being in New York last month I had to see this exhibit and it didn't disappoint. First of all though, as the name implies, it is a exhibition dedicated to Jim Henson and while it divides its space pretty good between the projects he worked on don't expect to see a lot of the other Muppeteer's Muppets or works (although there are a few surprises). Just don't expect to see much of Gonzo, Fozzy or Grover and you'll be fine.

What the exhibition does have is unique material like design sketches of a lot of Muppet characters like Animal, Big Bird and Rowlf along with videos of related commercials, interviews and specials accompanying the different pieces. Some of the pre-Muppet Show Muppets are Wilkins and Wontkins from the famous Wilkins coffee commercials Jim produced during the 60's along with Sir Linit from the Linit fabric finish commercials.

Most importantly for most Muppet fans however are the actual Muppet puppets displayed at the exhibition.If you are planning to go to the museum the following bit can be considered a SPOILER so if you don't want to know in advance what Muppets to expect I'd advice you to stop reading now.

Starting the exhibition is Kermit, sitting on a log, followed shortly by King Rupert and Featherstone from the The Frog prince special. One of my favourite Muppets, Rowlf, is next, tickling the ivories. The museum did an amazing job on displaying Rowlf in such a way that you can almost hear him tickeling the ivories. I especially like the way his hears are positioned, like they are flapping in mid-air as seen during his performances.
Shedding a light on the television commercials Jim worked on, the next part of the exhibit features Wilkins, Wontkins (along with Wilkins' infamous shooting camera) and the somewhat Ernie-like Sir Linit from the lesser known but certainly not less interesting Linit commercials. The related commercials and storyboards are shown next to the characters and really put the puppets into context. Having seen several of the Wilkins commercials on the Internet it was great to see both puppets in color for the first time.
Along with acts like the Beatles, Elvis and the Rolling Stones Jim also performed on the famous Ed Sullivan show. One of his most famous performances on the show (and one of the most popular Muppet sketches ever) was Mahna Mahna and the Snowths performing "Mahna Mahna". A timeless act which has since been repeated on Sesame Street, The Muppet Show and The Muppets (2011), the museum displays the Ed Sullivan show versions of both Mahna Mahna and the 2 Snowths. 

The next piece encountered was one of the few Muppets displayed that was not a 'Jim character' but nonetheless one of the most impressive pieces on the show. Deciding that having  Kermit all by himself wasn't the way to go the exhibition proudly presents the Miss Piggy used in Muppets take Manhattan wearing the wedding dress she wore during the final scene of the film. It is truly a sight to behold. 
Shifting gears to a younger audience the most famous street in the world gets it's time to shine when the exhibition focusses on Sesame Street with a lot of sketches and the Muppets of both Ernie as well as his buddy Bert. (They couldn't just have displayed Ernie all alone now, now could they?) Holding his favourite little pal, Rubber Ducky, Ernie looks playfull as ever.
Rounding out the collection are Gobo and 
Cantus from Fraggle Rock as well as a handfull of props from the Dark Crystal. It's nice that museum found a place for these but I felt that these projects may have deserved a little more attention.

One of the most interesting non-Muppet related works shown is the bizarre but entertaining short Time Piece which was nominated for an Oscar in 1996. It's strange, funny and has to be seen to believe it. As with all other works shown in the exhibit there are lots of designs and sketches detailing how the production came to be and they really give a bit of insight at the way Henson and his collaborators approached these projects.

Overall the exhibition is very well done with the Muppets looking lively and the narration largely provided by archival footage of Jim Henson himself. Could the exhibiton use more Henson Muppets? Sure, Jim performed lots of Muppets and I would love to have seen characters like the Swedish Chef, Link Hogtrob and Waldorf. But even if they would be on display die hard Muppet fans would like to see even more.
One project that in my opinion should have given more attention is the Sam and Friends show. It could be that the museum didn't want to 'waste' space to a second Kermit or didn't think people were interested in the show but it's still a vital part of the Henson history and at least one Sam and Friends Muppet would be a appreciated.

Where the exhibition really succeeds is displaying Jim's key Muppet characters like Rowlf, Ernie and Kermit in the vibrant and happy way we remember them and providing a nice narrative of his overall work. The Muppet characters that are on display are positioned extremely well and really look and feel alive, which is a great feat considering they're puppets and don't move. The museum really hits the essence of each and every Muppet on display. Looking Ernie or Mahna Mahna straight in the eyes is an amazing experience and it would be significantly less exciting if they weren't positioned as well as they are.

The focus of the exhibition is put mostly on the Muppet characters from the three main franchises (Muppet Show, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock) so Dark Crystal and Labyrinth fans may be a bit disappointed at the amount of space dedicated to those two Henson classics.Also, as mentioned before, I did think it was too bad the exhibit didn't have ane of the Sam and Friends Muppets.

Fans hoping to buy some great merchandise during the exhibition's run may think twice about visiting the museum's little shop near the entrance. It is selling some interesting Henson goods like books and handpuppets though at the steep prices the museum sells them you're better off buying your Henson products elsewhere.
If you plan to go to the museum it would be wise to check the museum's calender to see when they have special screenings or speakers. During the run of the exhibit Henson collaborators like Frank Oz and Jim's son Brian have appeared and spoken or attended screenings.