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June 2019
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2012-04 Muppets have it all!

a column by James written for the Sligo Weekender

Whos your favourite Muppet?

Anyone who knows me knows only too well that my little house is sprinkled with Beaker memorabilia. Recently I had my very own Beaker hat bestowed upon me. I often find myself drawn to tragic characters in literature and on screen. I expect that is why the misfortunate luckless Muppet lab-assistant, questionably more cylindrical than beaker-esque, lures me into his wretched calamitous world. Its those bulging eyes, that shock of flaming red hair, his generally pathetic aura, and his hinged drawbridge mouth blurting out high-pitched meeps of unreservedly abject desperation, as he implodes, explodes, is electrocuted, set ablaze, or loses body parts, while his boss Dr Bunsen Honeydew (with glasses, but oddly no eyes) experiments on his hapless reluctant aide.

What is it about The Muppets that has been so adored by young and old for almost four decades? Perhaps its simply that it has it all. The BAFTA/Oscar/Emmy-award-winning show was first piloted in 1974 as a shoot-off from the ground-breaking Sesame Street (the gregarious Grover was one of my childhood role-models  maybe that says a lot). This Vaudeville/Music-Hall-style song, dance and comedy variety show is about as feel-good as TV and movies get. The Muppets bathe in good morals of friendship, co-operation, positivity, self-acceptance, team-playing and determination. As they continually make us smile we realise The Muppets are the ultimate force for good. We all know Muppet lookalikes, and as the main protagonist Kermit runs the show, both on and off-stage, we realise that every personality-type within our daily lives is represented within this felt-covered world.

Centre-stage at all times we have the aggressive yet tender, arrogant, narcissistic, self-centred, self-obsessed, glamorous, fabulous Diva-pig ; the ever-enthusiastic, though sadly limited in talent bear, aspiring to greatness (almost like Shakespeares Bottom from A Midsummer Nights Dream) ; a grouchy patriotic boringly moralistic censor Eagle ; and the wise-cracking cheerful adorable pianist/accompanist Rowlf. One step up from Sesame Streets Cookie Monster we have the chained and crazed Cave-Man monster-drummer Animal, whose voice is a sort of restrained psychotic scream as he showcases his unsubtle percussion techniques (check him out with sexy Rita Moreno singing Fever on You Tube). Animals anger-management storyline in the recent movie is surely sheer brilliance.

Making up the rest of Dr Teeths Electric Mayhem band, we have luscious-lipped rock-chick Janice, stoned saxophonist Zoot, and hippy bass-player Floyd Pepper  surely all of them intended as amiable pot-heads left over from the 1960s.

And who or what is Gonzo? A sort of seedy weirdo cross between a turkey-vulture-thingy and a freakish alien - The Muppets inexplicably charming and lovable Stuntman, again desperately aspiring to greatness. And what is it with Gonzos attraction to chickens, especially his fowl girlfriend Camilla?

In The Muppets we have slapstick, surrealism, absurdist comedy, parody and touchingly moving episodes. We have dance-floor scenes, newsflashes, Star-Trek-like Pigs in Space, ER-like Veterinarians Hospital, and lets not forget cookery with the Swedish Masterchef. This nameless Swede with real hands converses in Scandinavian gibberish, and along with Animal and Beaker proffer incontestably the worlds finest rendition of Danny Boy (check You Tube again). Even the Swedish Chefs food sings. How surreal is it to witness Cauliflower and Asparagus singing?
Onstage, off-stage, and even in the audience we have in-house hecklers Stadtler and Waldorf, giving Fozzie in particular a hellishly hard time. We spend quite a bit of time behind the scenes as Scooter (son of the Boss) and Kermit attempt to police the off-stage mayhem. Into this delicious mix are added quality human guests of the calibre of John Cleese, Victor Borge, Julie Andrews, Peter Sellars, Ethel Merman, Rudolf Nureyev and a dazzling array of others. Songs such as Thats what friends are for, Being green, Be what you wanna be, Man not a Muppet, and even the cutesie Inchworm add to the ongoing feel-good factor. In the 2011 movie the evil antagonist Tex Richman (played by Chris Cooper), along with his Muppet henchmen, eventually and predictably lose out to the ever-optimistic good Muppets who understandably triumph over evil.

American puppeteer Jim Henson was a genius to have come up with the Muppet concept (along with fellow puppeteers Jerry Nelson, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz and others), these shows within shows, and a long line of Muppet movies, the latest one proving that these flawed but lovable characters are as relevant and enchanting as ever.
So whos your favourite Muppet then