Monday, February 27, 2012

The Muppets wins Oscar

Last night was a historic night for the Muppets franchise when after being nominated twice and losing twice (for the Rainbow Connection and The First Time it Happens respectively) the Muppets finally won the Academy Award for Best Song. Man or Muppet, sung by Walter and Gary in The Muppets beat Real in Rio from the movie Rio in order to win the Muppets their first ever Oscar, as the Academy Awards are also known. 

Written by Brett McKenzie, the main reason for the song's inclusion in the film was to have the characters resolve the problem of coming to accept their true selves. Brett himself  later revealed he drew inspiration from power ballads written by artists such as Eric Carmen and Harry Nillson while setting the song's tone. 

The Muppets also played a minor part in the hosting of the event as Miss Piggy and Kermit introduced the Cirque du Soleil performance.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Debut: The Muppet Show season 2
Performer: Richard Hunt (1977-1991)
Steve Whitmire (1992-present)

Beaker is undoubtedly one of the most popular Muppets. A great accomplishment for a Muppet who can't even speak. Making his debut in the second season of the Muppet Show as the assistent (or more like the guinea pig) of Dr. Bunson Honeydew Beaker has been on the recieving end of failed inventions like nose warmers, shrinking pills and banana sharpers.

Beaker was performed by Richard Hunt untill his death in 1991. His role was subsequently taken over by Steve Whitmire who confessed he had a little trouble performing his inherited role:"Beaker was difficult because I had no clue where it came from in Richard. I didn't know at all how Richard did this. The truth is, I still don't know where it came from. I just don't know what part of Richard it came from... What facet of his personality. I don't relate to the character the way that Richard did, so really, with Beaker, I'm doing an awful lot of just copying Richard. I wouldn't say that I've got a good handle on that character, but it's fun. It's a fun character."

His popularity in the Muppet Show didn't equal a lot of screen time in the movies though, as Beaker mostly performed in supporting roles. His part in the newest movie, The Muppets follows this tradition but at least gives him a chance to sing a Barbershop quartet version of
Nirvana's Smells like Teen Spirit alongside Sam the Eagle, Rowlf and Link Hogthrob.

However, Beaker is however part of a very special Muppets exhibit at Disneyland called Muppets Mobile Lab which consistss of a rocket-like vehicle driven by an animatronic Bunsen with Beaker sitting behind him. This vehicle drove through the park and interacted with the park's visitor's and encouraged them to take part in experiments. The amazing part of this remote controlled creation is that it can really interact with guests opposed to the standard animatronics used in the Disney Parks. A second unit, made for the Walt Disney World park is currently in production while the original will rotate between Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Resort and Hong Kong Disneyland.
Kermit and Piggy appearing at the Oscars

It's been announced today that Kermit and Miss Piggy will present an Oscar coming Sunday at this year's 84th annual Academy Awards which will mark the fifth time the Muppets make an appearance at the film gala. 
The Muppets themselves are nominated for best song with Man or Muppet from The Muppets. Will this be the year the Muppets finally win the prestigious prize?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Muppets Soundtrack review

Wow, this cd contains 30 songs. That is a LOT, especially for a soundtrack cd. Well, things are not as they seem; half of the tracks on the CD are 'dialogue tracks' that contain snippets of dialogue from the movie related to the tracks.
Still, even when you eliminate the dialogue tracks you've got 14 tracks left and of course quality is more important than quantity. Let's take a look at each track. Note: although I try to keep them as minimal as possible, it's unavoidable that this review contains some minor movie spoilers.

The Muppet Show Theme – The Muppets
What can I say about this legendary theme other than that it's a new recording meaning that the sound quality is a lot better than the quality of the old theme as we know it? The arrangement is the same and of course some of the voices sound a bit different due to the new generation of Muppeteers but overall it sounds as close to the original as you can get.

Life's a Happy Song – Jason Segal, Walter and Amy Adams
The first original song on the soundtrack hits all the right notes. It's simple, optimistic and just bursts with energy. It defines the Muppet's outlook on life and can stand toe to toe with other Muppet movie classics like the Rainbow Connection and Hey a Movie. Sung by Walter, Gary and Mary it lays the foundation of their storyline and just like in the movie, it's the perfect song to wake up. This is the song you will hum for days after listening to it.

Pictures in my Head – Kermit
Amidst all the happy and crazy songs on this soundtrack Pictures in my head stands out as a poignant, sad song. Kermit hasn't seen the other Muppets in years and it hurts. If there's one song that defines the Muppets as more than twodimensional puppets it's this one. It beautifully demonstrates how we can relate to these characters because we all had friends who got out of sight during our lives. The perfect supplement to Life's a Happy Song.

Me and Julio by the school yard – Paul Simon
This really sounded like a road trip song to me so I was kinda surprised it wasn't used as such in the movie. It's a really relaxing song with a heavy emphasis on akoustic guitar which is a plus for me, being a guitarist. Written by the great Paul Simon, it isn't a song you would associate with the Muppets and it may not fit in with the other songs but it's a great song on it's own.

The Rainbow Connection – The Moopets

Why are there such great deals on our hotel rooms?” starts the first line of the Moopets version of the magical song from the first Muppet movie. Clearly, this isn't a lovely tribute. The Moopets version tries to advertise the Hotel they're playing at with hilarious results. It's so bad it's good. Singing off key and trying to plug as many features of the hotel as they can Fozzie and the Moopets deliver one of the worst but funniest covers of The Rainbow Connection. It's short and it's sweet.

We Build This City – Starship
A rock song that is as eighties as can be. If that's a good or bad thing is up to you. Personally I love eighties rock and I like the song although I would have preferred a Muppets cover. A Electric Mayhem cover would be amazing and fit the movie much better.

Me Party – Amy Adams and miss Piggy
This disco-styled duet between Amy Adams and Miss Piggy is a bit on the short side lasting barely 90 seconds. As mentioned in the movie review, it doesn't really benefit from being a duet since there's no interaction between the two. It's a missed opportunity since Amy Adams and Miss Piggy both have great singing voices. The song itself (arrangement/composition) is pretty good. I just wish there was more of it.

Let's Talk About Me – Chris Cooper
Tex Richman has a song too and it's a rap song of all things. Chris Cooper can rap pretty well and the song's lyrics are cleverly written (“I got so much gold I gold plate my gold”). The chorus is catchy as can be and it even features an opera styled bridge that explains why Richman hates the Muppet which was cut from the movie.

Man or Muppet – Jason and Walter
Is this song meant to be serious or not? It doesn't really matter as it walks a delicate balance between comedy and drama and it is one of the best songs of the soundtrack. Walter and Jason share a duet in the same style as Piggy and Adams in Me Party. It works much better here though since Walter and Jason sing about their personal problems instead of singing interchangable lyrics. When they join voices at the last refrain it ends the song with a bang.

Smells like Teen Spirit – Sam the Eagle, RowlfLink Hogthrob and Beaker
The Muppets have always been known for their covers. The first episode of the Muppet show started with Mahna Mahna, a cover itself and that trend has been continuing to this day. The Muppets features an amazing cover of grunge band Nirvana's Smells like Teen Spirit sung in a Barbershop quartet style by Sam the Eagle, Rowlf, Beaker and Link Hogthrob. It's certainly one of the most original takes on the 1991 classic and it's definitely one of the best covers the Muppets have done, ranking up with the Bohemian Rhapsody cover and maybe even surpassing it. The voices supplement each other marvelously and in a smart twist, the profane lyrics are 'sung' (or rather 'meeped' by Beaker) effectively eliminating them without making it sound the song's been censored.

Forget You – Camilla and the chickens
Another cover but this is one of a more recent song, Cee-Lo Green's Forget You. Sung entirely in chicken by Camilla and the chickens it's a nice and funny inclusion but the lack of words does make it a bit repetive. There's really not much more to say about this one since the arrangement is basically the same as the original.

The Rainbow Connection – The Muppets
This version of arguably the best Muppet movie song in history does a nice job of recreating the song's magic without sounding like a repeat. Starting out as a solo Kermit song, morphing into a duet between Kermit and Piggy, the song slowly adds more Muppets singing without losing the gentility of the song. Accompanied by a beautiful string arrangement and later in the song the Electric Mayhem, the Rainbow Connection has never sounded as good as it has here. The fact that the whole main cast sings along makes the 'Muppety' feeling of the song that much stronger. While the song is somewhat abbrevated in the actual movie, the soundtrack features the complete song.

The Whistling Caruso – Walter
A whistling solo by Walter which is impressive considering most Muppets don't have lips. The song itself is 'nice' but it doesn't stand out like the rest of the songs. You'll like it the first few times you hear it but the novelty of a whistling song wears out soon.

Life's a Happy Song (finale) – Entire Cast
A reprise of Life's a Happy Song, sung by the entire cast. The inclusion of more singing Muppets, including some unexpected ones, makes this a great ending to the film and soundtrack. The lyrics are somewhat altered and the different cast makes this more than just a repeat of the first song. Personally I like it even better than the original, even though it's a bit shorter.

Mahna Mahna – Mahna Mahna and the Snowths
The legendary Mahna Mahna song has been used a lot in the promotion for the movie so it's no big surprise it's featured on the soundtrack. The original song is remastered in a great stereo mix that makes it sound like the Mahna Mahna Muppet is walking all over the place. It's still as catchy as it was in the 60's and it's nice to hear Jim Henson himself featured on the soundtrack.

A song featured in the movie that was left out on the Soundtrack is AC/DC's Back in Black, of which an instrumental version is used in the montage. I can see how some of the more profane lyrics can pose a problem but it's inclusion would have been nice since it's a great song.

Overall the soundtrack is great, but not perfect. The original songs mostly stand out and are worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as other great Muppet movie songs from the past while the covers pay a nice tribute without sounding like a copy and paste job. There are some comedy songs that sound nice the first few times but prove to be skippable during the long run. That shouldn't ruin your listening experience though since most of the songs stand remain fresh and exciting for a long least it's understandable to see why.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Miss Piggy to host BAFTA's

It's been announced that one of the hosts at the BAFTA awards will be none other than Miss Piggy, who will interview stars at the red carpet. According to Piggy meeting her will be the highlight of the careers of actors like Brad Pitt and Gary Oldman.

The BAFTA's or British Academy of Film and Television Awards are Britain's most import film prizes and will be awarded coming Sunday. It's too bad The Muppets isn't nominated for a BAFTA but with Piggy partially hosting we can be sure that the movie will get plenty of attention.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Muppet merch slowly getting into stores

If you're in the Netherlands. More and more stores are beginning to sell Muppet products. The Blokker stores have started selling some interesting new products like puppets, dvd's and puzzles. The DVD's are released as Muppet Classic Collection DVD's but it's unknown if they contain some new features or if they are simply double dips.

Some of the better looking products are:

All Muppet products kan be seen here. Of course, you can also visit one of the stores if you're nearby.

Update: The DVD's are simply double dips.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Muppets movie review
After 12 years, the Muppets are finally back in theatres. Was it worth the wait or are we better off just remembering the Muppets the way they were?

"The Muppets? Great show back then. What? They still excist?" While it's true that The Muppet Show and subsequent movies were big hits even the biggest Muppet fan can't deny that the Muppets started to fade away from the public eye since Jim Henson's death. Their last theatrical movie, Muppets in Space was a box office disappointment and their last telefilm Muppets' Wizard of Oz was even worse recieved. This year however, (or last year if live in the United States) Disney is poised to bring the felt faced creatures back into the spotlight with a new movie simply called The Muppets. With a title like that you might think the movie's a reboot of the franchise but on the contrary; the movie is a sequel of some sorts to all previous Muppet productions. However, Disney is aware of the fact that a whole generarion grew up with the Muppets and there's a whole new generation who barely even heard of the franchise. They set out to make a movie that's both for the older fans and the fans-to-be but did Disney succeed?

Walter and Gary
In this movie we meet the newest Muppet, Walter. Walter is the world's biggest Muppet fan and together with his brother Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary's girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) travel to the Muppet Studios to finally see where all the magic happened. The studio hasn't been used in years however and looks like a wreck. It gets worse when Walter sneaks into Kermit's old office and accidentally overhears Waldorf and Statler talking to the rich oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). Richman plans to level the Muppet Studios in order to drill for oil. The only way he can be stopped is by raising ten million dollars in order to repurchase the studios. Walter, Gary and Mary look for Kermit and tell him the bad news. Our froggy hero decides to try and raise the money with a big Muppet Telethon but the problem is he hasn't seen the gang in a long time so he, along with his new friends, try to bring the Muppets back together and raise the money needed.

Judging by this summary you might mistake the story for generic, boring and predictable but the story is actually pretty smart written with the underlying question if the Muppets are still relevant in 2012 woven in through the film. The movie acknowledges the slump the franchise has been in head on and uses this to its advantage. The Muppets  tries to prove that there is room for the clean, crazy humor that the brand is known for. This time they don't try to stay hip by jumping on a currently coolbandwagon o like they did in Muppets' Wizard of Oz. They simply do what they do best; making us laugh in a same way they did when we first met them in the seventies.

It's great to see the cast finally Together Again.
One of the reasons the franchise has been in a slump is the deaths of prominent Muppeteers like Jim Henson and Richard Hunt as well as the semi-retirement of Muppeteers like Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson. Subsequent productions ommitted a lot of their Muppets or relegated them to smaller roles and cameos.
These Muppet productions thus felt a little incomplete since the strength of the franchise lies in the big cast of characters and when certain characters that were popular on the Muppet Show simply don't appear or only have cameo roles it shows. 
The Muppets is a comeback of sorts for a lot of characters that were notably missed through the years like Dr. Teeth, Rowlf and Scooter and a slew of lesser known characters like Link Hogthrob and Wayne & Wanda. The cast of the Muppets is finally complete again and it's firing on all cylinders. It just wouldn't feel like a proper Muppet Telethon without Scooter warning acts that there are "15 seconds to curtain" or Rowlf playing the piano. The Muppeteers taking over these roles are doing a great job.

The stronger cast of Muppets also eliminates the need for a big human lead like earlier movies attempted. Jason Segal and Amy Adams perfectly supplement the movie without taking up too much screen time. They feel completely natural in the Muppet world and it shows they had a great time making the movie.

With the lead parts hanging on the shoulders of the Muppets it's  pretty hard to tell an convincing story that also appeals to mature fans.  It does work though and the reason the Muppet characters work on screen is because they're three dimensional, they're like us. They're not perfect. They laugh, get angry but also get hurt . Kermit hasn't seen his friends and Piggy in a long time and when he's singing about it and is hurting inside,we're hurting inside because even though they're puppets they experience the same feelings we've experienced. Don't get me wrong, the Muppets is far from a somber movie but it does have some truly touching moments and that makes the movie that much stronger. For a movie about felt covered lifestock to touch people it has to be truly special. And it is.

Link AND Rowlf? In 2012? Singing Nirvana?
Muppet movies have always been accompanied by great music and The Muppets proudly continues this tradition. The original songs, written by Bret McKenzie of Flights of the Concords fame are great and perfectly fit the feeling of the movie. Life's a Happy Song is an upbeat song, reflecting the Muppets positive outlook on life while Pictures in my Head is an poignant song, describing Kermits feelings on the split up of the Muppets. Accompanying Bret's songs are some song parodies like an amazing cover of Nirvana's Smells like Teen Spirit by Rowlf, Sam the Eagle, Beaker and Link Hogtrob in a Barbershop quartet style  Cleverly, they let Beaker sing (or rather, 'meep') the more profane parts of the lyrics, effectively eliminating those parts. Several Muppet classics are reprised with this movie containing both a (intentionally) horrible and a truly fantastic version of The Rainbow Connection. A review of the offical soundtrack will be up very soon, with a more in depth look at the songs.

The Muppets is fantastic return to form for the Muppets but is there really nothing wrong with it? Well, a strange choice is the cutting of a part of Tex Richman's rap. The soundtrack version contains an operatic part which explains why Richman hates the Muppets. The movie cut the rap short, omitting this part and making his 'maniacal laugh' comments a bit more random. It works as random humour but it's strange that they cut it just to shave of a minute of the movie. The entire song will be an extra on the Blu-ray release. 

Tex Richman's rap skills are better than you might expect.
Too bad they're cut short.
If they cut that bit to save time, they should have cut the Me party song. It is a nice song but doesn't really add anything to the movie. I'm also puzzled to see why they made this song a cutaway duet between Mary and Miss Piggy.  Adding another character to the song was unneccesary and made it feel like a filler song, added just so that Amy Adams and Piggy could sing a duet. 
A general complaint about Muppet movies is that Muppet X's part is too small with Muppet Y hogging to much of the spotlight. This was especially the case with the post-Henson movies and isn't really resolvable with such a big cast. If you say, give Scooter more screentime Sam the Eagle-fans would complain about Scooter hogging up valuable screen time and vice versa. I would have liked to see more of Gonzo but as it is, screentime is pretty evenly divided.

Overall The Muppets is a great movie and even better if you're a Muppet fan. The Muppets are back in full force and haven't been this funny in years. The movie is funny, poignant, exciting and you're guaranteed to leave the theatre without a big smile and humming the catchy Life's a Happy Song.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dutch Premiere of the The Muppets
If there ever was a place to host a Muppet premiere it would be at the Tuschinski Theatre in Amsterdam. Build in 1921, the inside could easily be mistaken for the Muppet Theatre with it's lucious style and old fashoned interior. Well guess what? There was a Muppet premiere and it was held at the Tuschinski Theatre and Muppet Madness was there as well.

The Muppets is not an ordinairy movie and a ordinary premiere would just not suit the style and craziness of the Muppets. Luckily, The Walt Disney Company Benelux knew this as well and did everything to make the premiere feel Muppety.

Tuschinski was decked out in green for the occasion.
The mood was already set long before you even go near the theatre as the sounds of songs like “Mahna Mahna” and “The Muppet Show Theme' were heard loud and clear from the theatre. It not only set a suitable mood but also attracted a lot of curious people, wondering what was about to happen. Strangely enough though, the music heard was from the original version of the movie while the premiere celebrated and showed the Dutch dubbed version of the movie. Somewhat stranger was the fact that the Dutch tram car lines rode about a metre from the green carpet with every approaching tram being accompanied by a warning from the Tuschinksi staff in order to minimize accidents. Luckily, the trams were put on hold for the hour the premiere lasted.

When getting closer to the theatre, the most notable change from regular premieres became clear; instead of having the usual red carpet Disney rolled out the green carpet for this movie. There also were a lot of Muppet hand puppets in circulation who later appeared in the promotion held by Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn. Disney really tried their best to make this premiere feel as Muppet as can be and they succeeded. However, a green carpet is nice, but a bit empty without stars.

Celebrity galore at The Muppets premiere
Soon enough though the Dutch celebrities appeared, accompanied by a big brass band, who of course played Muppet songs. The celebs mostly dressed in 'Kermit green', the dress code issued, but all looked excited at the prospect of a new Muppet movie. Amongst those who appeared were The Voice winner Ben Saunders, Disney XD host Sita, radio disc jockey Gerard Ekdom and musical star Linda Wagenmakers.

However, Muppet Madness was mostly looking forward to the arrival of the voice cast, with Kermit's Dutch voice actor, Wim. T. Schippers in particular. Mr Schippers is not only one of the most notable writers, actors and producers of several highly acclaimed televison series but also in our opinion a Sesamstraat (Dutch version of Sesame Street) Legend for having voiced Muppets like Kermit, Ernie, the Count and others since 1976. This means he has voiced Kermit for a longer time than Jim Henson did. Casting him for The Muppets was the most obvious choice since the Dutch people know and love his Kermit, even though it sounds a lot different from Henson and Whitmire's softer Kermit.

Wim T. Schippers, the Dutch Kermit
Mr Schippers revealed to Muppet Madness that it was an obvious choice from him to use a different voice for his Kermit when compared to his Ernie. While his Ernie remains fairly close to the original Henson Ernie, he figured that it would be easier for children to distinguish Ernie and Kermit when they have different voices.
This however made his part in The Muppets somewhat tougher due to his Kermit being 'louder' and Kermit having some more reserved moments in the movie.

The Swedish Chef alongside
the Dutch chef
One other inspired casting choice was casting Dutch master chef Joop Braakhekke as The Swedish Chef. If dubbing wasn't hard enough, how does someone approach the dubbing of a already hard to understand Swedish Chef? Mr Braakhekke told us that chefs like him and the Swedish chef are curious by nature and use an universal language. After posing for some group pictures the Dutch Muppet stars entered the theatre to go and watch The Muppets while we went on our way knowing that finally the Muppets have returned to the Netherlands. 

Thoughts on the movie? We'll have an in-depth review soon so please come back to learn what did and didn't work in the Muppets' grand return.