Think “The Muppets” are selling out? Think again.

Think “The Muppets” are selling out?  Think again. (photo)

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The Muppets sure are busy these days. Their new movie — their first in twelve years — opens in theaters on Thanksgiving and Jim Henson’s famous creations have been popping up everywhere to promote it. They’ve made a billion parody trailers, a cover album of their old hits, and cranked out tons on TV cameos including, most strangely, an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw. In the wake of this marketing, I’ve started to see articles online and hear rumblings from friends and other critics that this behavior represents conduct unbecoming of The Muppets. That somehow the Muppets should be better than pimping their movie on pro wrestling.

That’s ridiculous. It is impossible for The Muppets to sell out. Why? Because the Muppets have been appearing in advertisements a lot longer than they’ve been appearing in movies.

From the earliest days of his company, Jim Henson boosted the income he made working in television by producing commercials. Although the word “commercial” doesn’t appear once in the Muppets’ Wikipedia page, their work in television ads throughout the 1950s and 60s were important both to the growth of Henson’s company and the growth of his characters.

Before he was the Muppets’ resident piano player, for example, Rowlf the Dog was a pitchman for Purina dog food. He was specifically created for the company’s ads starting in 1962.

Rowlf wasn’t the only Muppet to get his start in commercials and transition into a featured character on television. See if you recognize this iconic Muppet in one of his first appearances, hawking potato chips before he developed a taste for sweets.

Many of Henson’s vintage commercials are shameless, and it definitely feels a little strange to watch a beloved childhood icon extolling the virtues of Esskay thick-cut bacon. But Henson’s ads were also very mature for their time, both in form and content, and they sported a cutting edge sense of humor. For example, watch this inspired ad for La Choy canned chow mein, featuring the adorably clumsy La Choy Dragon. The background gag with the store clerk and the fire extinguisher looks like something that would feel right at home in a 2011 commercial — and this spot is almost 50 years old.

While we often think of vintage marketing as quaint and dated, Henson’s commercials remain fresh and sometimes shockingly subversive. Check out this one for Ideal Toys’ Muppet puppets for kids. Listen particularly to the incredibly dark lyrics of the song the puppets sing. If this commercial aired today, it — and maybe the entire Muppet brand — would be banned instantly.

Bear these ads in mind the next time you kvetch that the Muppets have gotten away from their core values. In fact, every time Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the rest of the gang cleverly shill for Alamo Rent-a-Car or MasterCard they’re just getting a little bit closer to their roots.

Do you think The Muppets have sold out? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter. And for more on Jim Henson’s commercial work, check out the fabulous Jim Henson’s Fantastic World exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image through January 16.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was written, produced, directed and narrated by Robert Evans. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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