Ryan Dosier – Today is the third and final day of our coverage of events from the 2011 Disney D23 Expo, wherein I’ll give you my thoughts and opinions on everything I saw (and didn’t see) at The Ultimate Disney Fan Event. However, I’d like to start out by making a little shout out to someone who made my trip even more extraordinary than I could’ve hoped.
Raymond Persi is a huge Muppet fan, a funny guy, and a great host. He also happens to be a story artist at Walt Disney Animation Studios. I was elated when Raymond emailed me a week before the Expo and asked if I would like to tour the Studios as a sort of thanks for The Muppet Mindset. Of course I said yes (and many other excited words of agreement), so on the Monday after the Expo, Raymond showed me around the historic Burbank lot where I got to see the buildings that Walt Disney built including the original Animation, Shorts, and Ink and Paint buildings. I also got to tour the Television Animation department where they make shows like Phineas and Ferb (even getting to draw on one of the animator’s computers), see the outside of the Walt Disney Archives, and tour most of the Animation building where I got to see head of Pixar and Disney animation John Lassetter’s office (which had at least one Kermit in it). Can you say incredible? There was even a standee for The Muppets on display in one of the main buildings at the Studio, outshining the Walt Disney Archives display ten-fold (at least to me). I really can’t thank Raymond enough for his kindness and willingness to share. I learned and experienced so much on that hour-and-a-half tour, and I can really never thank him enough!
But you’re not here for that (unless you’re Raymond… in which case you’re probably still not even here for that). You’re here to read my thoughts about everything Muppety at the D23 Expo (or because Google brought you here after you searched for “rambling Muppet nerd”). Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that my thoughts are almost entirely positive.
Let’s start with the clips shown from The Muppets and the presence of Kermit, Piggy, Rowlf, and Jason Segel during the two biggest presentations. I’ve read quite a few discouraging comments about how the Muppets’ presence at D23 was a lot larger back in 2009 (where they famously arrived onstage on a steamboat), well that may be true, but it is also true that the presence of almost every Disney property was larger at the Expo in 2009. I think that only the Cars property had a presence larger/as large as two years ago. That said, having Muppets there at all was huge. Finding anything from Winnie the Pooh was practically impossible. The same could be said for popular Disney properties like The Little Mermaid and even most Disney Channel things were relegated to one day in one small location.
The Muppets dominated the Expo this year, although it may not have been readily apparent. Kermit and Rowlf (along with Brian and Lisa Henson and Leslie Carrara-Rudolph) were the extreme highlight of the Disney Legends Ceremony. The applause and emotion from the crowd upon seeing Kermit and his banjo exploded. Not even Regis Philbin or a live Disney Princess voices concert could compete with getting to sing “Rainbow Connection” with Kermit the Frog. Rest assured, Disney knew what they were doing. Kermit and Rowlf closed out the Ceremony. They were the final act… because nothing could follow that, and Disney knew it.
The same could be said for the Walt Disney Studios presentation. The presentation may have led off with Pixar and ended with The Avengers from Marvel, but everyone I talked to–or overheard talking–said that seeing the Muppets and clips from The Muppets, which were specifically given the coveted last spot in the live-action Disney productions section, was the highlight. Even Entertainment Weekly considered it the most important portion! The only two celebrities in the Studios presentation to get calls of “I love you (insert name here)!” were Kermit and Jason Segel (and maybe Scarlet Johnasson… though I admit my eyes were doing more work than my ears when she came onstage). When Kermit mentioned to Jason that he was “a regular” at D23, he received cheers and whistles. It was extraordinary seeing the Frog work the crowd and the crowd be worked so wonderfully.
Then came the clips for The Muppets. I know that what I type here won’t do the clips justice… because I don’t really know what to say that could. Instead, I think I’ll just ramble about what was there. First off, the new Muppet in the room: Walter. He was amazing. Better than I could’ve expected. His eagerness to be thrown over Kermit’s fence just for a chance to meet his hero spoke miles to me. His reminding the Muppets that they do things with music was incredible. He represents you, and me, and all Muppet fans who stick around no matter the weather. He was passionate and dedicated and he passed out when Kermit the Frog stood before him. If that doesn’t say obsessed Muppet fan, I don’t know what does.
Jason Segel and Amy Adams were both excellent. They didn’t steal the scenes from the Muppets, they weren’t over-acting, under-acting, poorly reacting or anything of the sort. They worked off of Kermit and Walter and the others like pros, which was incredibly refreshing considering our last leading-lady was Ashanti. I couldn’t really figure out too much about their characters or if there was a side-plot for them based on the clips, but whenever they were around the Muppets they both just seemed to light up. Jason’s character, Gary, calls Kermit “sir” in the scene where they sit in his house. I don’t know if that was scripted or ad-libbed but I think it was my favorite moment with Jason. He was just so innocent and in awe of the Frog… as we all should be.
The Muppets completely stole the show the entire time. Whether it was 80’s Robot cracking up the audience or Floyd firing in a quick joke or Walter begging to be thrown at the electrified fence again, this was always the Muppets’ movie. I think that was what was so magical about these clips. Not since The Muppets Take Manhattan have I felt so strongly that the movie truly belonged to the Muppets–and that’s just based on about 15 minutes of footage. The montage paired with “We Built This City” is going to be a highlight of the movie simply because it’s just a bunch of Muppets being funny. It’s not a bunch of Muppets being funny in the background while Michael Caine dances awkwardly. It’s a bunch of Muppets being funny in the forefront for seven minutes straight. It’s Fozzie being silly, it’s rats skating on toothbrushes, it’s Rowlf tearing away rotted floor boards, it’s Beauregard’s eternal sweep. It’s a Muppet movie and I am here to tell you right here and now that there should be absolutely no doubt or concern about whose movie this is. As if the title didn’t already tell you that.
This next comment can be quoted and used for me or against me after the movie comes out, but based on just these two clips I saw, the Muppets have never been more fun, funny, sharp, and just plain Muppety (in my opinion) since the days of Jim Henson. I don’t know if this was the writing, the fresh attitude and approach, the nostalgia, or just the rampant Muppet energy over taking the set as they embarked on their first feature film in 12 years… but, to paraphrase Eric Jacobson, if the whole movie is half as good as the two all too brief but undeniably magical clips shown at D23, then we are in for quite a ride. There were so many inside jokes, so much incredible visual and spoken humor, so many gorgeous looking and sounding Muppets… It really is the one we’ve been waiting for, Muppet fans. And in 88 days I think we’ll all find out why.
There is honestly nothing bad I can think to say about the clips… other than I just want to see the whole movie. But it’s worth the wait for this. Remember these times, people. Because no matter what the outcome of the movie is… this is the best time to be one of us: a Muppet fan.
So what if the D23 Expo wasn’t showing off every single Muppet product we’ll see on store shelves in three months? What it did was to get those of us who saw the clips–and even the thousands (millions?) who didn’t, but read about them online–even more excited for the movie that Disney (and you and I) needs to launch the Muppets back into the big time. Will it work? Who knows. But I know that I certainly can’t wait to find out what the future holds. Bring on November!