Jarrod Fairclough – Before I start this spoiler free review, I’m going to drop a spoiler. Don’t worry, I won’t reveal who shot Mr Burns or anything (it was Maggie), but there’s one thing I have to spoil before I can even think to review the rest of it free from any specific information. So, you’ve been warned;
Spoiler Alert – Muppet Guys Talking is fantastic.
When Frank Oz announced he had shot a documentary with Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, Bill Barretta and the late Jerry Nelson about creating the various Muppet characters, we were all shocked. It seemed for a long time that Frank had sought to distance himself from his years with the franchise, and so the idea that he would revisit it in such a public way was a huge surprise to us. But watching this documentary, it’s easy to see why this entire thing exists in the first place – these guys love each other, and love what they do.
Although the documentary only runs for 65 minutes, by the end of the film we’ve learnt a hell of a lot. We’ve learnt what flaws drive Dave Goelz’s characters. We’ve learnt where Mr Johnson came from inside Jerry Nelson. We’ve learnt the origins of Howard Tubman from Bill Barretta. We’ve learnt how Fran Brill maintained her femininity despite being seen as ‘one of the guys’. We’ve learnt just how Frank sees Fozzie’s place within The Muppets. And we’ve learnt that all of them, every single one, loves and idolizes still, Jim Henson.
That’s one thing that both did and did not surprise me while watching Muppet Guys Talking, and that’s how much they all still think of Jim as the boss. Though he left us in May of 1990, it’s plain to see just the impact this man had on those around him, even Bill, who tells a story about the one time he did meet the man he would later take over from. On more than one occassion, Frank, whether intentionally or not, talks about Jim in the present tense, and I think it’s because, as evident throughout the documentary, Jim is still such a presence in their lives. There’s some great stories about Jim shared, and at one point or another, 4 of the 5 do their best Jim impression when quoting a little bit of wisdom or a one liner Jim dropped on them at some stage. It feels like Jim is in the room with them, laughing along, and it only makes the production better.
There’s also a hell of a comraderie between these 5 that only comes from years of working so closely with each other, or as Frank calls it, ‘nose and armpit close’. During a quick coffee break in filming, that playfulness doesn’t go away, but there’s also a few ‘off camera’ (but still filmed) moments of real love and affection, which I’ll go in to more in my spoiler filled review on Friday. These guys can laugh and riff with each other in ways that many ensembles just cannot. They tease each other, and they support each other, often in the same breath. At one point during my note taking, I wrote in huge capital letters, then underlined, “SO DAMN FUN AND PLAYFUL!”. That’s what this documentary is. It’s fun and playful. Even when talking about those who are no longer with us, it never gets morose or sad. It also isn’t afraid to get a little off track, whether its everyone chanting at Frank or someone forgetting where they were going with their point. You would think that having such a short running time these moments would be unnecessary, but, as you’ll see, they only add to that fun playfulness.
There’s some great, simple, visual work through the film, which upon first glance seems almost like it was a place holder, but actually allows the stories going on around it to be the main feature. Frank and producer Victoria Labalme have stylized the film so that it’s easy to watch, which is expotentially valuable to the goings on around it. There’s very little new behind the scenes footage, and if you’re as big a fan as I, you’ll likely have seen most of it in different places. But, in the small places its used, it’s there to enhance whatever story is being told, which are often hilarious. I genuinely cannot tell you how many times I laughed during Muppet Guys Talking, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to continue this review without just saying everything.
And so I’ll stop it there. All I can say is that on Friday you’re all in for a real treat. Frank, Fran, Dave, Bill and the late great Jerry Nelson have made something very special for us, and we couldn’t be more grateful. Make sure you come back as we celebrate everything Muppet Guys Talking this week, including an interview with the man himself, Frank Oz.