The New York Times Talks "The Muppets"

Ryan Dosier – As well all know, The Muppets, the new theatrical effort from Disney, Jason Segel, Nick Stoller, and, well, the Muppets is due in theaters in the United States on November 23rd, 2011. As most of us also know, the Muppets have been owned by The Walt Disney Company since 2004, and in the past seven years the characters have gone through all sorts of turmoil being bandied around Disney departments. It was finally last year that we Muppet fans could finally breathe a sigh of relief as all reports of filming The Muppets, a huge, star-studded, Muppetational, big-screen feature film were extremely positive and showed that maybe, just maybe, the people directing the Muppets finally knew what they were doing.

I still firmly believe this to be the case–but I’m easily convinced. The New York Times, with a new article entitled “Disney Reviving Muppets Franchise With Movie This Fall,” needs a little bit more convincing, so they decided to take a look at the Muppets’ history; both prior to and during Disney ownership. The article is interesting (as surely most New York Times articles are) but, as our good friends over at ToughPigs pointed out, it doesn’t really say too much that we didn’t already know as obsessed Muppet fans.

The article talks about how the Muppets haven’t had a financially successful film effort since The Muppet Movie, which we all know just isn’t true, as our friend James Carroll was kind enough to break down for us:


The Muppet Movie: $ 65,200,000 / $ 208,068,526
The Great Muppet Caper: $ 31,206,251 / $ 89,914,414
The Muppets Take Manhattan: $ 25,534,703 / $ 60,872,908
The Muppet Christmas Carol: $ 27,281,507 / $ 52,656,595
Muppet Treasure Island:   $ 34,327,391 / $ 62,208,688
Muppets From Space:  $ 16,625,807 /  $ 26,215,101
TOTAL: $ 200,175,659 / $ 499,936,232
(based on 2011 over-all average ticket price of $8.01)

Yes, even by today’s lofty standards a half-billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at. (Who would sneeze on half a billion dollars anyway?!) True, as the article says, the collective Muppet movies are no Toy Story 3 money-making wise, but there are only eight other movies ever made that are. It’s incredibly hard to justify this comparison… and even harder to call any of these films (except maybe Muppets From Space) flops. But I guess that’s why I’m not a writer for The New York Times.

The article also confirms cameo appearances from Ricky Gervais, Emily Blunt, Zach Galifianakis, Jack Black, Whoopi Goldberg, James Carville, Neil Patrick Harris, Judd Hirsch (new!), and Selena Gomez all adding up to “about two dozen or so” celebrity cameos in the movie, which is both good and shocking–but hopefully awesome

But despite its (quite a few) faults, I still found this article to be a very interesting read with some bright spots here and there to provide more optimism for this upcoming project. This optimism comes in many forms… be it quotes from the movie’s producers and Lisa Henson or just the fact that The New York Times is writing about the Muppets at all… there is a sense of cautious but extremely hopeful optimism with this piece. In fact, the first two paragraphs were enough to make me thrilled all over again:

KERMIT THE FROG, perched on a log inside a soundstage here a few weeks ago, was pouring on the charm. None of those smart-mouthed, skewering asides. No prickly dismissals of Miss Piggy’s unwanted love. 

The Green One was simply strumming his banjo in a digitally engineered rainstorm, crooning the words of his dreamy signature song — “someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection ” — as if his professional life depended on it.

So many things scream greatness from this. The fact that the writer acknowledges Kermit’s recent somewhat out of character behaviors (skewering asides, dismissals of Miss Piggy) and shows off the charming frog we all know and love is wonderful. The imagery of Kermit strumming his banjo and playing “Rainbow Connection” in a rainstorm is beautiful (in my mind)… just a frog waiting for his rainbow connection to come around. Awesome. And finally, these two paragraphs brilliantly set the stage for discussion of just what is at stake with this upcoming movie: Kermit the Frog’s professional life and livelihood.

No, it wouldn’t be accurate to say that this movies failure would mean it would be the last we would ever see of Kermit… but it would be accurate to say that this movie’s success will determine how much and in what capacity we see Kermit and friends in the future. A big box-office success would allow for future feature film endeavors by the Muppets along with merchandising, television programing, and goodness knows what else from the Disney team. So, needless to say, there’s quite a bit at stake on November 23rd and the weeks following it.

This obviously begs the question… Will The Muppets be a success? Well, if you ask Leslie B. Stern (referred to as “a Disney stalwart…given oversight for rejuvenating the Muppets), Todd Lieberman (producer of The Muppets), David Hoberman (another producer), or Lisa Henson (daughter of Jim Henson and CEO of The Jim Henson Company), the answer seems to be a resounding, albeit semi-cautious, yes. The quotes from these individuals are what make me the most excited, hopeful, and confident about the quality of this movie. Here are a few of the best ones, which we’ll discuss:

“You have to walk a careful line between respectful and reverential. Make it feel contemporary, but do it in a way that preserves what made these characters so engaging and endearing in the first place.” ~ Leslie B. Stern

From the sound of it, The Muppets is looking at the characters in the exact opposite way that critical and financial failures such as Muppets From Space did. These engaging and endearing characters are finally being respected and revered, all while being brought into contemporary times–which is exactly what The Muppet Movie did. Jerry Juhl’s script did not toy with the characters, but at the same time brought them into the world, making them all the more real to their audience. This is what a good Muppet feature does, and according to Mr. Stern this is what The Muppets will do.

“People started to forget that the Muppets were never designed as children’s entertainment.” ~ Paul Lieberman

The fact that the Muppets are finally being treated as adult-geared characters once again for the first time in years (Pepe being the only notable exception) by one of the film’s main producers, I think, is a wonderful testament to how Disney is viewing the characters. Not exclusively as children’s entertainment, but once again as something the whole world can enjoy. If this film connects with everyone even half as much as Toy Story 3 did, then we’re in for a magnificent treat.

“This is the first Muppet production of any size that is really being spearheaded by fans instead of hard-core Muppet professionals.” ~ Lisa Henson

This is one of the more interesting quotes, I think. Not only because the writer of this article bothered to talk to Lisa Henson (I don’t get it either), but because Lisa Henson states outright that it’s the first project made by fans–by people like us (albeit people like us with a lot more money than us). Later on in the article it also says, “Ms. Henson said the family, at long last, likes the direction Disney is going. ‘We hoped they would be willing to make a really expensive, major-movie-star Muppet movie,’ she said.” Knowing that the Henson family is finally satisfied–and knowing that they share my satisfaction–is good enough for me.

“We are aware of the responsibility here. We are appealing to everyone, young and old.” ~ David Hoberman

I really just wanted to end with this quote… because I think it’s the best commentary on Disney’s approach to this film and these characters. They know there is a huge responsibility here to carry on a legacy… they understand the Muppets’ wide-reaching appeal… and they are appealing to everyone. Based on this quote the producers of this film, and presumably everyone working on The Muppets are hoping to please old fans (read: us) while cultivating new ones (read: everyone else) by making a movie that respects, reveres, and breathes new life into a 56-year-old frog, his funny friends, and their over-arching appeal to the masses.

Well… there it is. So The New York Times may not know too much about the Muppets… but Disney–or at least the producers of the film being made my Disney–sure seem to know what they’re doing at this point. I sure as shoot hope I’m right!

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier,

One thought on “The New York Times Talks "The Muppets"

  1. I've got my fingers, toes, flippers, tail and unidentifiable alien extremities crossed. I'm taking my sister and my nephew and I have high hopes that it will be good.

    I don't want to have high hopes that it will be great because there is just a tiny part of me that fears being disappointed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s