Shelf Life: “The Muppet Movie” (1979)

Shelf Life: “The Muppet Movie” (1979) (photo)

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Last week, “The Muppets” arrived in theaters, and even though I’ve been a lifelong fan of Kermit and company, I was genuinely surprised by how emotionally involved I became in the film while watching it at a recent press screening. But it dawned on me soon afterward that it’s possible it’s been so long since I’ve actually watched the original Muppets content – either via “The Muppet Show” of the theatrical films – that perhaps the reason for my newfound appreciation was simply the dimming of my memories of it. As such, it seemed like a good time to go back and watch “The Muppet Movie,” James Frawley’s epic saga about Kermit’s journey from a Florida swamp to the movie studios of Hollywood, California.

After more than 20 years, is the (rainbow) connection to The Muppet Movie as strong as ever, or as moviegoers have we kept movin’ right along?

The Facts

Released on June 22, 1979, “The Muppet Movie” was a huge hit almost immediately, earning more than $65 million domestically in theaters (which today would translate to more than $205 million) against its $28 million budget, according to Wikipedia. Currently “The Muppet Movie” sits at 90 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, thanks to four negative reviews of the film against its 35 positive ones. It was the first Muppet film, and it produced nine follow-up theatrical and telefilms, including the 2011 movie, “The Muppets.”

What Still Works

As a brilliant feat of meta-storytelling, “The Muppet Movie” is hilarious, and hilariously self-aware, without sacrificing genuine, affecting sentiment. The opening shots of Kermit, sitting on a log in what looks like a real swamp, strumming a guitar and singing the now-iconic “Rainbow Connection,” offer a powerful expansion of the world Jim Henson created on the small screen, and there’s an immediate emotional substance created by connecting the characters to the “real” world, even if they remain charmingly puppet-ish.

The story ranks even today as one of the movies’ great “getting a crew together” films as it somehow manages to introduce almost every core character in the Muppet universe in a unique, memorable, and most of all balanced way. Kermit, Fozzie and Piggy are as always at the epicenter of the action, but Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Gonzo and so any others show up in substantial roles in the film, showing that Henson and co.’s affection extended well into the supporting players – or at the very least, their respect for audiences’ appetite for them did.

Finally, the humor still feels fresh, fun and engaging, even when the characters dole out some of the corniest puns and entendres you’ve ever heard. My personal favorite gag in the film is when Sweetums (the big, oversized monster who chases them all of the way to Hollywood) smacks a fly, creating a decimal point on the price tag of a car at a used lot where Milton Berle is trying to hustle Kermit and Fozzie, but there are countless other goofs like that, which are not overly complex or self-referential or aggressively clever, and yet work completely effectively to wring laughs from the audience.

What Doesn’t Work

Not a whole lot. I think the film’s simple idealism slightly lacks a deeper emotional engagement; the idea of sharing a dream is beautiful, sweet and fun, but I feel like it doesn’t quite have the same palpable connection that some of the other films offer. But as a whole, the characters are interesting and multidimensional and you do care about them, not the least of which because viewers get to see them literally from head to toe for the first time in Muppet history.

The Verdict

“The Muppet Movie” still works, and it works wonderfully. There’s humor, heart, and intelligence, all keenly observed in ways that are accessible without being overly simplistic. If this were the first time anyone had ever seen the Muppets, it would have been an historic introduction, but as their first big-screen adventure, it established an empire. And most amazingly, it operates with just as much life and energy now as it did in 1979, making “The Muppet Movie” rare among even family entertainment as a film that feels truly timeless – and best of all, its appeal is ageless.

Leave your own memories of “The Muppets Movie” in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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