Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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Grown Backwards, David ByrneGrown Backwards is an incredible album.

I’m a huge fan of David Byrne’s work as both the frontman for Talking Heads and as a solo artist. He’s an acquired taste, but one I’d say is worth acquiring. And as much as I love his music in general, Grown Backwards, I think, is his strongest album front to back. (It’s predecessor Look Into the Eyeball puts up a damned good fight, though.)

Seriously. It’s great. Go buy it. Listen to it for a few years. THEN FINISH READING THIS POST OK

Okay. So, there is one song on the album that leaves me wondering about something. It’s embedded below, and you should listen even if you don’t give a crap about helping me with my question, because it’s an excellent song with a pretty adorable guitar line.

It’s called “She Only Sleeps.” And that might be the clue to my answer right there, but I’m honestly not sure. See, the entire line in the chorus is “She only sleeps with me.”

And that can be interpreted two ways.

So, here’s my question: When Byrne says “she only sleeps with me,” does he mean…

a) He is the only man with whom she has intercourse, or
b) They literally slumber together, and that’s it.

They’re mutually exclusive possibilities, and I go back and forth on how I hear the song. Byrne’s dreamy, detached delivery doesn’t tip the scales for me either way. He could be loosely bragging, or just spinning a little story about unrequited love. (It’s unrequited in the verses, at least. But you may hear something a little more behind the music.)

And even if he is bragging…couldn’t he brag about either possibility? Either he alone is enjoying sex with this force of carnality…or he’s the only one that gets to know her in a non-sexual way.

Either is brag-worthy, but it’d be two very different kinds of people doing the bragging.

In reality I’d guess Byrne would be more fascinated with the other side of her life: the one that you can only see when she’s resting from a long night of topless dancing, hard drinking, car crashing…the life she lives when she’s quiet. Helpless. Stopped in her revelry by the most basic need of all…the need for rest.

But that doesn’t mean that that’s what his character is more fascinated with.

So, what are we hearing in “She Only Sleeps”? What do you hear?

Is it the self-satisfied croon of a braggadocio, rubbing it in that he has what you want? That while she might light fires in your chest, his are the only ones she tends to?

Or is it a quieter, shyer singer, one whose electric guitar plays softly so as not to wake her, as he discovers in her sleeping form a woman that those who lust after her never get to know?

Does she only sleep with him? Or does she only sleep with him? The phrase gets emphasized both ways verbally…but how are we meant to take it emotionally?

Either way, the singer has some definite issues of female ownership to work through. But I’d be curious to know in which direction he needs to steer.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

Tossing things over to reader / friend / all-around-great-guy Stephen Fletcher this week. He watched me talk out of my ass about three Muppet movies and could stay silent no longer. Of course, he doesn’t seem very angry in his writing, but I assure you he flew to America and spat on my car. And if he says he didn’t, then WHO DID STEPHEN? Anyway, he wanted to share his own thoughts, and I wanted to let him. I’m just that kind of guy, and I had nothing else planned for this week.

I’ve gained something of a reputation as a Muppet fanatic. Almost annoyingly so to others, I sometimes feel. I’m pretty sure my friends’ Facebook feeds are littered with Muppet related posts from me, for one thing. My room has several Muppet posters and pictures adorning the walls and a good collection of Muppet DVDs and Blu-rays proudly sit on my shelf. I tend to get a bit of gentle ribbing or even eye-rolling from friends and family as Jim Henson and the Muppets have become such a strong part of my geeky identity. However I feel I must begin this with a shocking admission…

I didn’t become a huge Muppet fan until I was 21, and never even saw The Muppet Show and most of the other movies/specials until I was 21, too!

The only Muppet-y things I grew up with were primarily Muppet Babies and The Muppets Take Manhattan. I did also watch some of the 90s movies and Muppets Tonight at the time. I even thought Muppet Babies came first, and The Muppet Show and all the movies were made after that! At the time, that lead to me being totally confused as to why Scooter and Rowlf (as well as Skeeter) seemed to completely disappear from these other things. But that’s something I can probably go more in depth about when I talk about the third film.

The Muppet Movie (1979)

The Muppet Movie, 1979

But anyway. The Muppet Movie. If I had to sum this movie up in one sentence, I would probably call it the most spiritual and soulful Muppet movie of them all. Jim Henson, the Muppets in general, and pretty much all of Jim’s creations have always had this spiritual philosophy to them. The strong message that always pervades the Muppets is that it’s OK to be green, a bad joke-telling bear, or a crazy whatever. Another part of their message is about finding your voice and what makes you happy, following your dreams and being whatever you want to be, no matter what. I think nothing encapsulates that message more than this movie.

Of all the Muppet movies, this is truly the most spiritual, soulful and beautiful of them all. Three words that I may use a lot here, but I honestly think those three words are perfect for this movie, and really cannot be used enough. I find it impossible to not smile during many moments in this movie, particularly during “Rainbow Connection,” the look on Kermit’s face as he and the gang receive the standard rich and famous contract, and when the rainbow comes pouring through the studio at the end and the actual rainbow connection has found them. God, that last verse sung in the movie is just so wonderful and will always be in my head!

Which leads me to the soundtrack. It’s also impossible to not sing along while watching the movie. I find the music and songs just so joyous, and yet again, beautiful and soulful. Just what Muppet music should be. The two biggest stand outs for me are “Rainbow Connection” and “I’m Going To Go Back There Someday.” Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher really excel here with their writing on these songs. Absolutely beautiful lyrics.

If I had to pick between the two songs, I would pick “I’m Going To Go Back There Someday.” It might even be my favourite Muppet song ever. There’s just something about it that’s always struck a chord with me. A lovely mix of sadness, longing, contentment, wonder and idealism. Dave Goelz/Gonzo’s vocal track and performance are a big part of what makes the song so endearing. (I also highly recommend his performance of the song in Jim Henson’s memorial.) However, the true beauty of the song is the lyrics; play this song separately, out of context with the rest of the movie, and it’s open to many interpretations.

I will mention what is probably the one thing I don’t like about The Muppet Movie, and this will be a completely biased point as it concerns my favourite Muppet of them all – Scooter. I’m really don’t like how he’s used in this film. Or how little he’s used in this film, really. It just doesn’t sit right with me that he doesn’t join Kermit and Fozzie straight away. He’s one of the main characters from The Muppet Show, but I get the feeling that the writers just didn’t know what to do with him outside of the show.

This movie in particular, I get the feeling like they didn’t know where to put Scooter so they just threw him in as the band’s road manager and had him awkwardly added in during “Can You Picture That?” playing whatever instrument they could find for him. I think they do remedy this to an extent in The Muppets Take Manhattan. I remember six years ago, I got the opportunity to ask Muppet writer Jim Lewis on the Muppet central forum about Scooter’s treatment over the years and he did confess that as a writer he’s “struggled with Scooter.”

I’ve always felt that the Muppets had a “main six.” That “main six” changed over the years as some Muppet Performers either passed away or retired, but during the Jim Henson era, that “main six” to me were Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Scooter and Rowlf. Granted, I grew up with Muppet Babies and The Muppets Take Manhattan, which gave that impression. Though to be fair, the last two movies were arguably under that impression as well.

Every time I watch the movie, the one thing that bugs me is during the scene with Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Camilla and Rowlf all together in the car (about to be stranded in the desert). It bugs me for a couple reasons. The obvious one being Scooter isn’t there and I personally think he would’ve joined them sooner. And the other thing that doesn’t sit right with me is how of all the main performers, Richard Hunt is the only one who doesn’t have any of his characters in that car. Granted, I may sound a little biased (and probably a little crazy) since I just love both Richard and Scooter. And yes, I know Richard most likely had a hand in one of the other Jim Henson or Frank Oz characters in the scene, but as I said, it just really didn’t feel right to me. Again, I think this is something slightly fixed in the third film.

The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

The Great Muppet Caper, 1981

One thing that strikes me as interesting straight away in the film is the main trio of Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo. This film could’ve arguably just had twin brothers Kermit and Fozzie working together, and I think if this movie had been made just a few years earlier, it very well might have done that. But by this point, after five seasons of The Muppet Show and a movie, Gonzo had evolved and grown so much, he was now cemented as a core character, just as popular as Kermit, Fozzie or Piggy.

Strangely, as I was writing notes during a re-watch for this, this was the only note I had written down. I don’t know why, to be honest. It’s not like I dislike the film. The twin brothers gag never gets old to me (I’m willing to bet that Jerry Juhl came up with that), the songs are absolutely fantastic – “The First Time It Happens” and “Couldn’t We Ride” being some of the most beautiful songs ever made. Charles Grodin and Diana Rigg are probably the best human co-stars a Muppet movie has ever had.

Of the three movies, I think it’s fair to say, this one is the most fun and comedic of them all. The Muppet Movie had some incredibly moving moments, and while there are still some here, it’s mostly the Muppets having fun in their own movie, and it’s a comedy first. It’s definitely the most fourth wall breaking of them all, too. Muppet movies are known to break the fourth wall with the characters usually acknowledging they’re in a movie. I think this movie does that more than any other in such a wonderful way. My absolute favourite line has to be when Lady Holiday suddenly starts giving Piggy an unprompted character description of her irresponsible parasite of a brother, when Piggy asks her why she’s telling her this, she simply replies: “It’s plot exposition; it has to go somewhere.” Still cracks me up to no end.

For whatever reason though, during this re-watch, I found myself enjoying this one the least of the three films. That will probably change in future watches. I know I never felt that way in previous ones.

I can only imagine the disgust on Philip’s face as he realizes something negative about The Great Muppet Caper will be published on his site.

The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

If I had to mention one thing I know I don’t like about Caper (Sorry, Philip) it would be the lack of Scooter, Rowlf and The Electric Mayhem. I much prefer it when the whole family of Muppets have big parts to play for the whole film instead of being mostly supporting players to Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie and Gonzo. Of all three films, I feel like this one really does present the Muppets as a family more than the others do.

Right from the beginning, we see them performing a show together for their college graduation. When the idea comes up of putting the show up on Broadway and realizing the alternative is going their separate ways and saying goodbye to each other, they immediately jump at the chance to try and make it in the big city.

They’re a family right from the start and have been united as such for a while instead of meeting for the first time and eventually coming together like the first two films. I just love that there’s more of a big Muppet family feeling straight away.

I promise this will be the last time I use the word term “Muppet family” in mentioning this, but this would also be the last movie with the original Muppet family together. Sadly, Jim Henson and Richard Hunt passed away just a few years later and as a result, some of their characters would either be retired or silent in the next movie and would remain so for quite a while. Thankfully, in recently years, the characters have come back and been recast and are now being brought back to the fore again, which I couldn’t be more thrilled about. Though it’s still arguably the biggest role Scooter, Rowlf and The Electric Mayhem have had in a Muppet movie.

Certainly the best use of Scooter in this. Here, he almost shines as he gets more to do (in the first half anyway) when he convinces the rest of the gang that it might be best to go their separate ways and make it on their own. Not the best decision, granted, but his heart is in the right place. He’s no longer that teenager using nepotism to get a job at the Muppet theatre. Here he’s now a young adult showing some leadership qualities and giving a vibe of second in command.

If you compare Scooter’s voice in the first season of The Muppet Show to this film and further projects down the line, it really does feel to me that Richard had (possibly consciously) been aging him.

I also look at this as Rizzo’s breakout movie. Here he’s given his first major role. He appeared in the last season of The Muppet Show and briefly in The Great Muppet Caper, but he’s finally the wiseguy rat we know and love today. Hard to believe he’d be given a lead role with Gonzo in the next three movies!

Of the three films in the Jim Henson era, this is the only one I grew up with. This one does have a more nostalgic feeling for me. It’s impossible not to feel it once “Together Again” plays right at the start. I grew up mostly watching Muppet Babies. I think I did see Christmas Carol and Treasure Island before seeing this and it confused my child-like brain as to why Scooter, Skeeter and Rowlf seemed to disappear completely. I assumed Muppet Babies was canon (and there was some sort of canon with the Muppets) and the movies and The Muppet Show were created and took place after Muppet Babies.

I remember suddenly seeing this film from out of nowhere on a VHS tape I was watching. Whatever I was watching had finished and jumped to a recording of the film. The first five minutes had either been recorded over or missed, and I remember the first thing I saw was the gang in their lockers. I never knew of the film’s existence and was totally surprised and shocked to suddenly see an adult Scooter. I think I assumed that like Skeeter and Nanny, he was a character only seen on that show. Also imagine my further surprise when the Muppet Babies scene comes on! I think that was how I made the previously mentioned assumption. Either that or it cemented it.

Kid Me was very stupid. Thank god I’m the intelligent adult I am today.

I thought I’d end this on a few more observations and thoughts I wrote down that if I was a better writer, I’d manage to fit into this more deftly:

– Kermit’s faith, determination and optimism after the crushing blow of months of rejection and now losing his friends is such a great moment. He’s not going to give up, determined that the frog is staying, and going to be on Broadway with friends! Heartwarming and the most endearing thing about him.

– “Rat Scat” is one of my favourite things ever. Amazing puppetry and like many songs with Steve Whitmire, his vocal skills just make it for me.

– Maybe it’s just me, but the mugger who grabs Piggy’s purse kind of looks like Richard Hunt on steroids.

– Gil sounds quite close to Steve Whitmire’s Kermit, don’t ya think?

Listen: IT IS ME

August 12th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in alf | podcast | television - (1 Comments)

ALF, "I've Got a New Attitude"

I know I said I wasn’t going to write about ALF anymore, but I wrote this one with my mouth so I think that’s okay!

There’s a group of folks reviewing ALF, as far as I can tell coincidentally, in an episode-by-episode podcast. It’s called ALF is Back…in Pod Form, which is such a good title I plagiarized it three years ago!!!!

No, it’s a coincidence, obviously, and it points to just how infrequent references to ALF are in popular culture. When you need one…man, it’s slim pickings.

Anyway, they’re dissecting the show on their own, and I was asked to participate. I said no, of course. But I accidentally typed “yes,” and here we are.

They’re about halfway through season one, which means they have no idea what they’re in for, the poor, innocent children. I was invited to join their discussion about “I’ve Got a New Attitude,” which, if I remember correctly, was fucking garbage.

You can check out this episode of the podcast here, and if you’re (for some odd reason) looking for continuing ALF coverage to fill the emptiness in your soul, you should like it, subscribe to it, radiogram up it, or however the fuck podcast stuff works.

I’ll be honest…I’m not a huge podcast fan. I don’t understand them. The format is strange to me. And you need to like…talk. And reveal your idiocy. You can’t hide behind text you’ve worried to death.

So I’m probably not the most dynamic guy on Earth, and I apologize in advance for putting you to sleep if you listen to podcasts while operating your forklift.

But, on the bright side, it’s not the Philip J Reed show, and I tried not to step too much on their conversation. (For god’s sake, if you want to know what I think about the episode, I wrote six fucking novels about it.) I did end up talking an awful lot about serial killers, though…so there’s that.

Some of us were made for speaking. I was definitely made for writing. But it was still a lot of fun to participate, and maybe I’ll drop in again. You know…if they don’t all find better things to do with their time.

Crossroads

August 4th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in Meta | personal - (1 Comments)

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

So, this site. And what’s to come. And all the other questions I wish I didn’t have to answer.

In short, I’m not going anywhere. Or, actually, I’m going very far away. But the site isn’t going anywhere.

Or, actually, it’s going to keep going where it’s always gone, but maybe more slowly.

Should I start again?

OKAY

I’m at something of a crossroads with Noiseless Chatter. The ALF series is done. Forever. Period. And I can basically write whatever I want from here on out. I still plan on being amusing (NOT LIKE I CAN HELP IT) and saying curse words, but I’ll also say other things, too! And I’ll get to write about the things I want to write about!

Like Fiction Into Film! And Trilogy of Terror, since October is coming back around!

I’m excited about those things!

However, I’m…also really low on time.

I started a new job recently. It’s a great job with a great company. It’s good money. It’s fantastic experience. It’s awesome.

It also takes a lot out of me. When I get home, sure, I can write. And I often do! But I also have a girlfriend. And things I’d like to read. And things I’d like to watch. And Tokyo Mirage Sessions, which is brilliant yet refuses to play itself.

So it’s going to require me to…basically rebalance my entire life as far as that goes. In a way, that sucks for the blog, because it (necessarily) gets the short shrift. With pretty much anything else, I just have to be there, doing what I want to do. With this site I need to think of an article, watch or read or listen to whatever it is I want to write about, draft the article, gather my pictures, format it, edit it, post it, realize I missed 15 typos, correct them…u.s.w.

So needless to say I HATE ALL OF THAT

…of course I don’t. It’s just that it takes time. And I need to find a way to set that time aside, while not taking too much away from the other things that are important to me and my sanity.

In time, at the very least, I’ll get more settled at work, and it’ll involve less learning and more doing, which should give me some of my energy back. Until then…I guess I just ask for your patience. And for you to believe me when I say, hey, please do check back now and again, because I’ll be posting things.

Maybe I’ll give myself a weekly posting schedule. Would that work for you guys? Granted, one post a week isn’t much, but I’d like to think my posts are worth, like, 40 posts that anyone else would write. Surely you agree.

Let me know. I want you guys to be happy with whatever I do.

Another thing to mention: I’ll be leaving next weekend for Germany, to train for my new job. I’ll be gone for three straight weeks. I’m going to try to lock some posts down to publish while I’m gone, but I honestly can’t promise I’ll have the time to do so. (Man, I’m sure glad I got this job after stupid ALF was done. If I bailed for any length of time in the homestretch you guys would have rightly eaten me alive.)

So it may be quiet. And even if it’s not totally quiet, it’ll still be quieter.

But I do have more to come. Red Dwarf is airing new episodes soon, and I’ll review them. I’ll finally finish the second half of season two of Better Call Saul. I’m working on an ebook with Casey and J.P. that I think you guys will like, if you know what’s good for you.

And there’s more, like the article I’m writing for The AV Club. Did I ever mention that here? I forget. BUT I AM WRITING AN ARTICLE FOR THE AV CLUB and I need to get them the final draft this weekend so THAT TOO.

This is a tired post, from a tired man, but the site still has so much to say. I’m just trying to find the time to say it.

Any thoughts or feedback are welcome. But all I ask is that you stay tuned.

Thanks, beautiful.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

Let’s not mince words. Of the classic Muppet films, The Muppets Take Manhattan is my least favorite. I know, I know. I’m an awful human being who hates fun. But I think part of the reason this one leaves me cold is that it sits between two of the best things Jim Henson and his collaborators ever did: The Great Muppet Caper, which is the Maltese Falcon of movies staring piles of colored felt, and Follow That Bird, which I won’t be covering here, but which I assure you is brilliant and which you need to watch even if you think you’re way too old for it.

The Muppets Take Manhattan is just…strange. It doesn’t feel like the Muppets to me. Or…well, scratch that. It absolutely does feel like the Muppets, but only intermittently. When it does, it’s great. But when it doesn’t, which is most of the time, I find myself tuning out. My eyes wander. I look for interesting background details or try to figure out how much of a given street or park was blocked off for filming.

In short, I stop paying attention. And how in shit’s name is an amnesiac frog and a psychotic pig trying to make it on Broadway incapable of holding my attention?

Speaking of which, maybe I just missed them, but I can’t find many interesting background details. Forget the mass of Muppet cameos at the end; those are great, but minor character crowd scenes are a given for a film like this. I’m talking about things like the Rev. Harry Krishna sign in The Muppet Movie, or Nicky Holiday’s door reading IRRESPONSIBLE PARASITE. Little flourishes that end up populating the background because there’s no space for them in the zippy dialogue.

For a Muppet film, I guess, The Muppets Take Manhattan just doesn’t feel especially inventive. And perhaps the reason jokes didn’t bleed into the background is that there was enough space for them in the dialogue, which doesn’t pop the way it does in the previous two films.

Here there are long, talky stretches that don’t manage to be funny or interesting. The previous films were so heavy with gags that they kept coming through the end credits. This one doesn’t seem to have enough laughs to go around, so it pads out a lot of space between them.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

I hate to say it, because it’s not as though the actors are to blame, but I think this is due to the fact that so much screen time is given over to Kermit’s waitress friend Jenny and her father. Neither of them really get any punchlines or zingers, but they get an awful lot to say, which makes the film feel empty, at times seeming like a drama that forgot the emotion even more than it feels like a comedy that forgot the jokes.

Again, the actors are fine. Jenny is believably sweet and a nice, unintentional foil for the volatile Piggy, while her father is just some slightly batty but good-hearted sitcom Greek. They do what the film asks them to do, but, unfortunately, the film doesn’t ask them to do much. In fact, toward the end they both wink completely out of existence, making me question their utilities as characters in the first place. Like their dialogue, these two themselves feel like padding.

It’s especially weird since Kermit’s grand gesture at the end of the film is to invite everyone up on stage with him, including three new coworkers he doesn’t actually know and some unemployed penguins. But Jenny and her dad? Nah, to hell with them.

Seriously, that’s not Kermit. Those two gave him a place to stay, food to eat, and a source of income when he had nothing at all. Now he just says, “So, hey, thanks for putting my life back together when I had nobody, but now my real friends are here so you’d better go back to your failing restaurant”?

#NotMyKermit

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

At the very least, I should explain the plot. The Muppets Take Manhattan is the story of that time all the Muppets were homeless so they broke up and lived alone in constant grief. What a riot.

The project that ruins their lives is a musical called Manhattan Melodies, which they wrote for a show in college and which they spend every cent they have trying to bring to Broadway. As a result Piggy gets mugged, Gonzo gets mauled in a boating accident, and Kermit gets his skull caved in.

Damn.

Again, The Muppets Take Manhattan is weird, and there’s something uncomfortable about watching them squirm their way through these particular dire straits.

In The Muppet Movie they had to deal with unreliable vehicles and — indirectly — a lack of finances. In The Great Muppet Caper Gonzo had to freelance to pay for dinner and the gang had to lodge at the rundown old Happiness Hotel. So, okay, it’s not as though we’re used to the Muppets sitting pretty.

But The Muppets Take Manhattan feels too squalid. The poor guys have to sleep in lockers and go hungry. There’s even a scene in a montage that catches them staring hungrily through a window at somebody else’s sandwich. We’ve seen the Muppets weathering tough times, but I don’t think we’d ever seen them slowly starving to death in the streets.

It’s oddly horrifying. Henson and company spent many years bringing this strange troupe of magical creatures to life just to have them perish in a Manhattan gutter. It’s so sad that by the time Kermit is struck and nearly killed by a taxi, it barely even registers as anything out of place. That’s just New York, baby.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

I mean Jesus Christ. Look at that.

The Muppets Take Manhattan is bleak, but it’s not exactly a dark comedy. It’s more of a dark tragedy. I don’t need my laughs to be light and without consequence, but I do need laughs of some kind.

I’m exaggerating, though, of course. The movie has its moments, and it has some great ones. But they tend to either come too infrequently, or have black undertones of their own.

For instance, the scenes in which the Muppets write to Kermit, describing their individual journeys, are pretty funny. Scooter works in a theater, which is cute. Gonzo performs stunts for disinterested audiences, which makes for several of the film’s biggest laughs. (Cutting to the guy in the chicken suit, who Gonzo then calls Margaret, is the single best gag in the movie.) And The Electric Mayhem learns the joys of prostituting their talents in exchange for a paying gig.

So far, so good. But then there’s a scene in which Rowlf, off on his own and trying to make a living, manages a kennel. It’s a funny idea for the character but it pivots on a dime into a room full of dogs howling and crying that they want to go home. Rowlf joins them, because he wants to go home, too.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

It’s painful. And a scene in which a lonesome Fozzie pines for Kermit when he’s supposed to be hibernating is only less painful by comparison. On its own it’s heartbreaking, too, because we know how much Kermit meant to him.

I think that’s part of what gives The Muppets Take Manhattan its own weird atmosphere; it wants to Muppets to be sad. They aren’t having fun. They’re struggling to sell their show to Broadway, then they’re struggling to not tear out each other’s throats, then they’re struggling to stay alive. This isn’t a Muppet adventure, this is a Muppet scramble for a crust of bread.

And that affects the viewing experience for me. I can take sad Muppets — and I like sad Muppets! — but I can’t take hopeless Muppets, which seems to be what this film is most interested in exploring. That’s a suspicion upheld by the fact that the one song that seems to have any real feeling in it is “Saying Goodbye,” a sorrowful farewell sung by each of the characters in turn as they say goodbye to Kermit, each other, and any hopes they might have had for the future.

It’s so dismal and sad that it’s easy to doubt that any of the characters believe their own lyrics. “Somehow I know,” they sing, “we’ll meet again. Not sure quite where, and I don’t know just when.” They’re trying to convince themselves that this isn’t over. That, in spite of everything, things are going to work out after this one unfortunate detour.

…and then they all slide off into the lives of sadness they knew they should have expected all along.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

It’s a great song, and an effective sequence. And when you watch it knowing full well that several of the singers are no longer with us — Jim Henson, Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson — it becomes tremendously sad. It’s written and performed so well that it becomes almost too real, and difficult to watch.

But as far as the music overall goes…well, have at me, because I don’t really think there’s much else worth salvaging here. (And for a movie about a Broadway musical, that’s especially unfortunate.)

“I’m Always Gonna Love You” is pretty cute, as we witness the (thankfully not literal) birth of the Muppet Babies. And “Together Again” borders on memorability. But that’s it. I just watched the movie and I couldn’t tell you how most of these songs went, with the compositions unraveling to the point that characters are just tunelessly speak-singing by the end of the film.

Composer Jeff Moss is no Paul Williams, but few people are, so that’s fine. The weird thing is that he is a Joe Raposo. Like Raposo, Moss wrote a wealth of great songs for Sesame Street. These include “The People in Your Neighborhood” and Oscar’s signature song, “I Love Trash.” For crying out loud, the guy wrote “Rubber Duckie”! So why his compositions fall so flat here whereas Raposo’s songs for The Great Muppet Caper were some of the best things he’s ever done, I have no idea.

It’s possible that they suffered due to the extensive rewrites the script went through. Perhaps he didn’t have much to work with at the time they needed the music, or he had to write general songs without a sense of where they’d actually fit in the story. I honestly don’t know much about it, but I do know that Frank Oz rewrote a large portion of the script that Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses turned in, and that there were additional rewrites due to certain actors and cameos dropping out just before production.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

I don’t intend to speculate out of turn — I genuinely know very little about the creative struggles behind the film — and by no means do I intend to lay any blame at the feet of Frank Oz. Oz also directed this film, and it’s gorgeously done. Shots are framed beautifully, the colors on the Muppets are striking in ways they weren’t in the previous two films, and there’s a sense of a real, living New York going on in the background, even though we know we’re looking at a sea of paid extras.

So Oz definitely gave that side of the production his all, for sure, and his performances of Fozzie, Piggy, and Animal are all on point. Did his meddling cripple the script? Maybe, maybe not. I can’t say. It’s just as likely that Patchett and Tarses turned in a dud to begin with. Or that losing Jerry Juhl — who wrote for the previous two films and The Muppet Show — meant the script simply couldn’t keep up with the rapid-fire comedy of its predecessors.

Of course, it’s also possible that watching the Muppets die miserable and penniless in the world’s shittiest city just wasn’t all that conducive to comedy. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO KNOW.

But that’s just my experience with The Muppets Take Manhattan. I’ve heard from others who say that it’s their favorite of the films. I can’t fathom that, personally, but they probably can’t fathom my personal love for The Great Muppet Caper. (The insane idiots!)

I always invite comments on these articles, and I genuinely look forward to them any time I post something. (Whenever a piece gets no comments I sing “Saying Goodbye” as I tearfully ride away from my life on the back of a flatbed truck.)

But here, especially, I’m looking forward to hearing from folks who do love the movie. I know my review sounds harsh, but it’s not so much that I want to change your opinion as it is that I want to explain mine, and then hear yours.

If anyone can help me enjoy The Muppets Take Manhattan as anything other than a puppet snuff film, believe me, I’d love to hear from you.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes, bitching about the ways one puppet movie isn’t as good as some other puppet movies.

Another way this puppet movie isn’t as good as some other puppet movies is its cameos. Again, evidently some big names were attached to The Muppets Take Manhattan, and for one reason or another they dropped out. I don’t mind that, and I don’t even know if that’s especially relevant. All that actually matters is what made it to film, and…the cameos leave something to be desired.

The Muppet Movie had Orson Welles, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, and too many other huge (and game) names to list. The Great Muppet Caper had John Cleese, Peter Falk, Peter Ustinov, and…I can’t remember. I feel like the guard that hates pepperoni was somebody famous. But, okay, the point is, they were all awesome, even if there were fewer.

The Muppets Take Manhattan has plenty of actors who do the best with what they’re given, but on the whole they don’t get much. Art Carney, Liza Minnelli, and Brooke Shields are all completely wasted. Dabney Coleman and Linda Lavin each get some good lines, but, come on, it’s Dabney Coleman and Linda Lavin. You don’t even know who those people are. I could have made them up! You have no idea!

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

There are two redeeming cameos, though. Pairing Miss Piggy with Joan Rivers, for instance, is genuinely inspired, and I adore the way Rivers helps Piggy cope with her broken heart by clowning around with makeup. It’s such a perfect little sequence that taps very believably into the way a little bit of silliness between friends can help us make it through difficult times. It doesn’t solve Piggy’s problems — nor should it — but it works exactly the way it should, and I love it.

The other great cameo is Gregory Hines, in the only sequence that could have sat comfortably in either of the previous films. He plays a guy in the park who gets roped into mediating a lovers’ spat, and he clearly relishes the opportunity to occupy some part of the Muppet universe.

Hines loves what he’s doing here, vacillating between supporting Kermit and supporting Piggy, consoling each of them as necessary, and, ultimately, realizing he’s never getting his roller skates back, leaving them to figure things out for themselves.

It’s adorable, and I honestly wish Hines got to do this in a better film. As it stands, he’s this movie’s Steve Martin or John Cleese, and that’s great company to be in. He manages to be an exceptional cameo in a film that clearly has no idea what to do with them.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

But the real problem with this movie, I think, is that it’s a Muppet movie without the Muppets.

It has a Muppet. Kermit, of course. The rest of the gang spends the beginning getting antsy, and turns up at the end, of course, but otherwise, they just about disappear. It’s not The Muppets Take Manhattan. It’s Kermit Hustles His Way Through the City For a While, with Special Guests the Muppets.

They each have their solo stories (which are really more like abbreviated solo chapters) but they’re so segmented. I don’t know. I guess I don’t really care for finding out what Fozzie gets up to, or Scooter, or Rowlf. What I care for is finding out what Fozzie and Scooter and Rowlf get up to together. They’re Muppets, for crying out loud. They’re a motley crew of bizarre characters that work best when there’s lots of them bouncing off of each other and interacting.

The Great Muppet Caper had the perfect balance, I think. No, Sam the Eagle and the Swedish Chef and Janice didn’t get to do much, but they were always there, part of the group, and got to pipe up when they had something funny to say. It worked well. We got the sense that they were always part of the proceedings, even when they might as well not have been.

They didn’t splinter off just to appear in a brief, solo segment to deliver their one joke. They were part of a team, however loosely, and that meant something. It was especially meaningful toward the end, when Fozzie got them all to band together. They meant something to each other, and to their cause, even if we only heard from them when it was their turn to deliver a line.

Here we need to shoot off to another time and place to hear from them at all…something which is such a narrative and logistical hassle that we barely bother doing it.

And I never thought I’d have any reason to say this, but, man, there is just way too much Kermit.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

To paraphrase my review of the Muppet Movie, Kermit was always the center of the production, but not the center of attention. Here he definitely becomes the latter, and as much as I love him, as incomparable as Jim Henson’s performance is, as endlessly charming a character as he will always be…man oh man do we start to realize how important variety is in a Muppet production.

Separating Kermit from the other Muppets for so long is like stranding the Stooges in three separate stories. It’s like sending Stan Laurel on one adventure, and Oliver Hardy on another. Or like a Monty Python film in which we follow Terry Jones doing something alone for 70 minutes, with the rest of the cast appearing only in brief inserts.

It gets tiring. And, worst of all, it gives me no pleasure to report, it gets dull. The Muppet Show may have felt, at times, like The Kermit Show, but it never actually was. And The Muppets Take Manhattan makes it very clear how much less enjoyable (and memorable) The Kermit Movie would have been.

And also regarding the ending: what the fuck is up with the ending? I get that the Muppets finally get to mount their Broadway show, but…then what?

They’re not poor anymore? Where do they live? What do they do next? Now they’re just famous and never have to worry about anything again?

And I really don’t understand why the movie ends with Piggy tricking Kermit into marrying her during the play. I feel like that ties up one very specific concern that one very specific character had, but not the movie we’ve been watching.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

But, okay. Okay okay.

This is a wedding. This is supposed to be a happy occasion. So let’s say some nice things.

Which, to be honest, despite everything I’ve said above, is not actually very difficult at all. The Muppets Take Manhattan might be my least favorite of these, but that doesn’t make it bad. At worst it just makes it disappointing, and it’s only a disappointment because the previous two movies set the bar so high. If, say, Project: ALF (which was a load of shit) had even a fraction of the heart, humor, and charm of this movie, I’d have done a cartwheel.

The Muppets in this film are still the Muppets. Their characters are true to who they are. Sure, I might not want to see Rowlf howling in anguish because he misses his friends, but that doesn’t mean I doubt he’d do it. Watching the Muppets here isn’t a betrayal of who they are…we just happen to catch them at their lowest points, like watching the Beatles in Let it Be. They’re still who they always were…they’re just not the way you usually see them. Or might wish to see them.

And even though I think there’s too much Kermit once the gang splinters, it’s nice that Rizzo is already a resident of Manhattan, as he gives the film some sorely needed variety during that stretch. It’s also, of course, great that Piggy only pretends to leave with the others. What an absolutely perfect Piggy detail.

I’d still like to see more of her, and I wish her one-sided rivalry with Jenny disappeared for a stronger reason than the fact that the script says it disappears, but she, too, offers a nice reprieve from the frog-centric story.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

Throughout Piggy gets some great moments. We’ve talked about her scene with Joan Rivers, but immediately before that she quietly stews over finding Kermit and Jenny together on a bench…until she breaks and madly assaults a trash can with a pipe. And later on when she spies them in the park she jogs after them, and immediately starts wheezing and doubling over.

Again, an absolutely perfect Piggy detail.

There’s also the “Rat Scat” sequence, in which Rizzo and his tiny little puppet pals man the kitchen and prepare breakfast. It’s adorable in a slightly nauseating sort of way, and an impressive feat of puppetry several times over. I can’t even describe this one…you really do need to watch it, and it’s absolutely a highlight of the film.

In fact, Rizzo in general is a highlight, and it’s nice to see Steve Whitmire getting so much to do. Rizzo’s presence is also a chance for Frank Oz to solve some logistical puzzles as a director. When you have, for instance, Rizzo, Kermit, and a human sharing the screen, that’s three different scales. Their sizes are all different, and you can’t show the puppets from the bottom, or cut off the tops of the humans. How do you shoot them?

Oz comes up with several solutions that are so natural you won’t even notice unless you’re looking for them, and I love that. The Muppets Take Manhattan doesn’t give me as much enjoyment, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to appreciate.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

That’s my my opinion, though. And the nice thing about Henson’s body of work (okay…one of several hundred thousand nice things) is that different people connect with different projects. The Muppets Take Manhattan might not be the film I turn to first, but it is that film for somebody else.

I love Muppet Babies, but I know that others found the show annoying and embarrassing. I’ve only seen a few episodes of Fraggle Rock, but others grew up with it, and it was their Sesame Street. Some people prefer the electrified insanity of The Muppet Show, and others prefer the slower films. There are those who love Labyrinth and those who prefer The Dark Crystal. And we’re just scratching the surface here. There are others whose favorite Henson production is something I haven’t even mentioned.

And that’s beautiful.

Henson’s work in general, and the Muppet stuff in particular, was always about inclusivity.

However different we might look, or sound, or behave…however different we are…can’t we all be happier together?

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

As Kermit put it two movies ago, in words that succinctly explain everything Henson ever did, that’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with.

Jim Henson and the rest of the writers and builders and puppeteers and everybody else involved celebrated difference. Embraced difference. Created characters who were proud of their difference. And then brought them together anyway. Because being part of a group didn’t mean that you had to forget who you were, or become somebody else. It just meant that you could accomplish so much more. That you could be part of something bigger.

And that you could make a lot of people very happy.

I don’t know how consciously Henson wished his works to be a social statement. To be honest, I’m not sure he did think much about it. I get the feeling that it just came naturally to him, and to the people he worked with.

He created a universe that was better — objectively better, safer, more accepting, more tolerant, more encouraging, more caring, more loving — than the one he inhabited.

And he let us all come in, too.

His characters may have just wanted to get to Hollywood. Or catch those jewel thieves. Or stage their play on Broadway.

But the impacts they left on people — on children especially, but on people in general — were much larger and deeper than that.

Jim Henson changed lives. And he changed them in so many ways, through so many projects, that it doesn’t matter if The Muppets Take Manhattan wasn’t for me.

It was for somebody else who really needed it. And that person — those people — got their message from him, too.

I couldn’t possibly be more grateful.

The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984

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