Today’s article was written by frequent contributor Maxwell Jessop with additions by Ryan Dosier.
The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence (1975)
Most recent appearance…
Muppets Most Wanted (2014)
Best known role…
Crazed drummer for Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem; can be described with five words: Sex, sleep, food, drums, and pain
Floyd Pepper and Bunny
“That… my kinda… wo-man!”
“EAT DRUMS! EAT DRUMS!”
WHO IS ANIMAL?
Animal is the wild drummer for The Muppet Show house band, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem who is well-known for his fierce attitude and loud drumming. He speaks in short, yelled phrases that are often repeated for full effect. Although he has been heard speaking more complete sentences when in a more restrained mood, these instances or unsurprisingly few and far between.
Unlike the other Electric Mayhem members, who were based on famous musicians, Animal has no specific inspiration. However, it is popular legend that Keith Moon, drummer from The Who, was the reference source for him. Others have cited Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac. Despite this, Jim Henson’s original sketch does not suggest Animal is derived from an existing musician.
Animal first appeared in The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence pilot where, when he wasn’t jamming with Floyd Pepper and the others in the band, he was chained and restrained in a basement cell. Following this pilot, Animal and the rest of the Electric Mayhem transitioned to regulars on The Muppet Show itself. There, he became a main character and gained soaring popularity.
Aside from his performances with the Electric Mayhem, Animal performed a number of drum solos, starred in a few backstage plots, and interacted with many guests. Stars ranging from Rita Moreno, Kaye Ballard, Lou Rawls, Harry Belafonte, James Coburn, Buddy Rich, Carol Burnett, and numerous others were the target of Animal’s affections, drumming competitiveness, exuberance, and sex-drive.
Once the Muppets moved to the big screen, Animal’s roles (and physical size, on one occasion) increased. Animal’s most famous movie moment occurred in The Muppet Movie when he saved the day by scaring off Doc Hopper after eating Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s Insta-Grow Pills. In The Great Muppet Caper, Animal laments his inability to see the Monet exhibit at the National Gallery. He defends the Muppets and saves Camilla the Chicken from the “BAD MAN!” by attacking Martin Price in The Muppets Take Manhattan.
After Jim Henson died in 1990, and Frank Oz began to take a lesser role in the Muppet world, Animal’s roles became smaller and smaller. In The Muppet Christmas Carol his sole role was silencing a rowdy crowd at Fozziwig’s Christmas party, while in Muppet Treasure Island he shouts about “PO-LI-TICS!” and never getting involved in them. Animal returned to slight prominence in Muppets from Space, joining Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and Pepe to rescue Gonzo and Rizzo from C.O.V.N.E.T. by charming a security guard, played by Kathy Griffin, after running off from the group.
Animal is one of the most popular and recognizable Muppet characters today. He graces more merchandise than any other character, even Kermit. More Animal t-shirts, boxer shorts, pajama pants, and hats are put in stores nowadays thanks to his uber-popularity. The character is so beloved, in fact, that Animal was the mascot for the 1998 US Olympic Snowboarding team.
In recent productions Animal has taken an equal share of starring and background roles. In It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie his main scene was a brief shouting rendition of “Drummer Boy,” and was only seen smashing Scooter’s laptop in A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa. With the rise of the Muppet viral videos on YouTube, Animal seemed a natural choice for hilarity in the short-form. He was paired with Beaker and The Swedish Chef for “Habanera” and “Ringing of the Bells,” but Animal helped the Muppets win, and accepted, the Webby Award for “Bohemian Rhapsody” with his insistent cries of “Mamma” at the beginning of the song.
Animal appeared prominently both in The Muppets film and the promotion leading up to it. Kermit and the gang discover Animal at a Santa Barbara celebrity anger management clinic where he has learned to be “In… control…” of his raucous tendencies. It was discovered that the trigger to his anger issues were due to drumming. Animal resists and even fears the drums after this, and removes a crucial part from the Muppets and their musical capabilities. Luckily, by the grand finale of the The Muppet Telethon, Animal takes up drumming again.
In Muppets Most Wanted, Animal once again plays a crucial role. He is one of the only Muppets to realize that Constantine, the World’s Number One Criminal, is in fact not Kermit the Frog. When Constantine arrives, Animal bites his arm and shouts “BAD FROG! BAD FROG!” Later, after Walter and Fozzie realize who Constantine is, Animal saves their lives by tackling Constantine from above. He joins Walter and Fozzie on their quest to save Kermit from a gulag prison, stop the wedding of Miss Piggy and Constantine, and save the day.
ANIMAL’S FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Animal’s origins and family have seldom been mentioned, let alone seen (probably because most people are too afraid to ask and find out the truth). The sole exception came in the children’s book “The Case of the Missing Mother” in which Animal’s mother, LaVerne, is introduced and seen. The book shows that LaVerne is also a skilled drummer, implying that drumming prowess is inherited from the mother’s side.
While most of the Muppet gang are Animal’s friends, he shares a close relationship with Floyd Pepper, the bass player for the Electric Mayhem. Floyd serves as Animal’s keeper and controls his wild behavior, reining him in (or chaining him in) with shouts of “Animal! Down! Back! Sit! Stay!” Animal and Floyd shared a duet of “Wild Thing” on the album Kermit: Unpigged. Floyd even accompanied Animal to the 2009 Webby Awards Ceremony to help accept their award, presenting the five word acceptance speech, “Another Webby bites the dust!” after Animal devours the award. It was also Floyd that reached out to Animal to take up the drums again in The Muppets.
Animal also has an unrestrained love for bunny rabbits, first revealed in “The Muppets on The Muppets” interview segment. This love was taken to a new level when a bunny, simply named Bunny, was seen as Animal’s pet and favorite thing starting in 2008 in Muppets.com videos. Animal and Bunny shared a pad in numerous sketches, where the rabbit seemed more than happy to put up with Animal’s over-affectionate attitude in exchange or pizza and a place to live.
Some of Animal’s most memorable moments are his exciting and over the top drum solos on The Muppet Show. Most notably, “Wild Thing” in Episode 202, where he rabidly sings and drums away to the popular song (which was surprisingly not written for specifically as a vehicle for Animal to perform) until Janice and a pig drag him off with over-sized butterfly nets. “Jam,” later called “Sweet Tooth Jam,” was an example of Animal’s manic moves completely overwhelming the rest of the Electric Mayhem and the song itself. Animal’s rabid chants of “JAM!! JAM!!” were enough to completely derail the song from its intended tempo.
Animal also engaged in a number of drum battles with celebrities. Of course, these are very memorable, even though Animal usually loses. His drum engagements with Harry Belafonte and Buddy Rich are prime examples of Animal’s ability to lose control… and energy. The entire backstage plot of Episode 505: James Coburn should be mentioned here as well. In the episode, Animal befriends guest star James Coburn, who teaches him meditation and Zen. They later show off their peacefulness in the finale, “A Salute to Japan.”
WHY DO THE MUPPETS NEED ANIMAL?
Animal is loud. Animal is rude. Animal is crude. Animal is pure Id. Animal is uncontrollable. But Animal is an irreplaceable and crucial member of the Muppets. Animal represents the part of all of us that just wants to be wild and go crazy! Sure, they have Gonzo, Lew Zealand, and Crazy Harry, but Animal adds on to that mayhem and makes it even more fun. Animal destroys everything, eats everything, is over-excited for everything… but he is just as important to Kermit’s dream as any of the other Muppets (although Animal would probably dream of “shouting, drumming, and making people happy”). He pushes it to its furthest extreme, testing its limits to near breaking points.
One need only watch The Muppets to see how Animal is more than a one-dimensional maniac. He has issues, just like we all do, and the world tries to force him to conform. That’s why Animal belongs with the Muppets… where he can be the wild, insane, uncontrollable force that he is deep down. In turn, that’s why the Muppets need Animal, because he reminds them all that just losing control every once in awhile can have fantastic results.
Plus, The Electric Mayhem would be nothing without their fierce drummer. Floyd wouldn’t have nearly as good upper body strength without holding back Animal’s chain daily. Zoot would always be asleep without Animal’s shouting to wake him up. And the entire band couldn’t keep time or rhythm without the drums backing them up. Though he may go on to be a popular force in his own right, Animal is, first and foremost, a drummer for Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.
In the end, Animal has just what the Muppets need: music and fun. He can’t be replaced… and anyone who tried to replace him probably wouldn’t wake up the morning after.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org