Frankly, The Muppets Need Frank

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Jarrod Fairclough – Recently I suggested that Disney should hand the keys to The Muppets over to the performers for a moment, to see what these creative minds could conjure up when left alone with no constraints.  It’s a statement I still stand by, however with the recent premiere of the new documentary Muppet Guys Talking, it’s had me thinking about one thing that could possibly help the characters return to their glory days.  Frank Oz.

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For close to 40 years, Frank was a guiding light in the Muppet universe, until he departed to become a director, helming such favorites as The Score and Death At A Funeral.  Since then the Muppets went through a reasonably quiet patch, until Jason Segal’s 2011 film The Muppets launched the characters back in to the public eye.  That film received rave reviews from fans and critics alike.  But one person wasn’t crazy about it – Frank.  Though he was initially asked to be a part of it, Frank felt the original script didn’t respect the characters, later saying the finished film was fun but a little too safe.  Of Muppets Most Wanted he seemed a little more upbeat, saying the film had very funny scenes and the purity of certain characters remained.

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However, Frank recently revealed he did NOT enjoy the recent ABC series, explaining that within 15 minutes he had turned it off.  Though I’ve spoken out before about this sort of viewer, I can almost understand it from Frank’s point of view, and there was one quote in his interview with Variety where, regarding the puppeteers, he said:
They did the very best they could. But essentially, they were working with scripts that other people wrote. They had to do it the way it was. If it was given more air and they trusted the performers, as we had air, it would have come alive more. Those abilities, to riff and be smart enough, weren’t appreciated.

That right there needs to be printed on a giant banner and hung outside the Disney Studios in Burbank.  Back in the olden days the characters got to where they were because the performers had so much input.  It’s why new characters like Pepe and Bobo have worked – because Bill Barretta was given the capacity to control their creation in an environment where performers were listened to.  That’s not to say that the ABC series didn’t allow creative input from these guys; As I stood mere feet away on Episode 11 of The Muppets, Eric Jacobson and Steve Whitmire worked with director Randall Einhorn to condense a scene down, and later I watched the entire team pitch gags (for a shot that was ultimately cut from the episode).  But there was only so much they could do as they worked under Bill Prady, Kristin Newman and the various writers.

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See, the issue with an ageing franchise is that eventually all the classic writers are going to run out, replaced with people who grew up as fans, and while that isn’t always a negative thing, it can sometimes cloud their judgement when they work.  It’s one of the main issues that plagues The Simpsons as it airs its 28th season.  Yet for some strange reason Disney doesn’t seem willing to let the classic creative team like Kirk Thatcher or Jim Lewis take the helm aside from the occasional YouTube short.  What could it hurt to let Frank and the guys have a turn making something small to prove themselves?

Of course, this raises the million dollar question – Would Frank even want to do it?  Well, personally, I wholeheartedly believe that he would jump at the possibility of working with these guys again.  He constantly refers to the performers as his family, and the characters as a part of him.  He has specified on more than one occasion that he’d like to direct something, and he sees that as the most likely avenue of a return to The Muppets.

No, the right people probably aren’t going to read this, but if they are, let me implore you on behalf of all us fans to please give Frank Oz a go at the helm.  He can only do a good job, and with his recent nostalgia and desire to return, it’s prime time*.

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*Also, if he decides to perform, please find some brand new awesome characters for Eric to perform…

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