Tag Archives: Frank Oz

The Muppet Movie (1979)

Is it fair to say that the best use of the Muppet Movie (1979) may be as palate cleanser?  We found it on Disney+ while in need of something easy, after slogging through The Platform.  Instead of three Care Bears seasons, as recommended by Dr. Jay, we opted for one dose of classic Muppets silliness. The medicine worked well enough; it just tasted a little stale.2004_WC_TheMuppets

The Muppet Movie (1979) tells the origin story of the Muppets, though Kermit the Frog readily admits at the outset that some liberties have been taken. Kermit is discovered singing in a swamp (The Rainbow Connection, naturally) by a big Hollywood agent (Dom DeLuise) who has rowed the wrong way.  Turns out, Hollywood is in dire need of frog talent. After a few seconds of deep thought, Kermit decides to move right along to the West Coast to try his luck at stardom, but Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), a local purveyor of frog legs, is set on having Kermit be the face of his restaurant chain, dead or alive. As he tries to stay one step ahead of Hopper, Kermit happens upon all your favourite Muppets, who join up with Kermit on his journey, and ultimately make it big enough in Hollywood to star in the very biopic you’re watching.

I am sure the long list of celebrity cameos was top-notch in 1979, as the Muppets have always excelled at drawing other stars into their orbit, and any movie that includes Bob Hope, Richard Pryor and Steve Martin is doing something right. But most of the faces were not familiar to me, and I know they were expected to be (I certainly recognized most of the names once the credits rolled). Admittedly, I am only a few years older than this film, so your mileage may vary, but the Muppets Movie (1979) felt dated for me because so many of the cameos went over my head.

Still, the Muppets have lots to offer on their own, sight gags, silly banter, and especially a great soundtrack that literally propels them on their journey (I dare you to find me a more aptly titled song than Movin’ Right Along). The Muppets Movie (1979) remains an entertaining kids’ movie, but it has lost some of its lustre with age.

SXSW: The Director and The Jedi

the-director-and-the-jedi-sxswWhen I was a kid, I had a behind-the-scenes book detailing how they filmed the space combat in Star Wars, and I loved it. I could think of nothing better than to get to play with the spaceship models and the huge Death Star set used for the climactic scene. I found it fascinating to see how the movie was made.

And though my book did not inspire me sufficiently to pursue a career in film, my story is not much different than one that Rian Johnson tells in The Director and The Jedi, or for that matter one that Barry Jenkins told in his amazing keynote speech here at SXSW a couple of days ago about filming Moonlight in the same projects where Jenkins grew up.  Peeks behind the scenes can inspire the next generation of filmmakers, and give birth to a dream that a kid might not otherwise know to have, because it’s not immediately obvious that for every actor there are ten creative people behind the scenes, designing sets, making costumes, and on and on. But beyond that, even for someone like me who’s made a career choice that is not film, it’s just really cool to see how a huge film like Star Wars: The Last Jedi gets made.

The Director and The Jedi spans the course of The Last Jedi’s creation and documentarian Anthony Wonke was clearly given full access to the production. In granting unfettered access to Wonke and his crew, Johnson seems to have been trying to pay it forward, and in doing so he’s given a huge gift to all Star Wars fans.

There are some really amazing moments captured in The Director and The Jedi, with a particular favourite of mine being the destruction of the Jedi library, especially seeing the creature designers lose their shit over meeting Frank Oz.  And really, who can blame them? After all, he’s probably the reason they got into that career, and maybe even the reason their jobs even exist!

Maybe, just maybe, one young Star Wars fan will be inspired by this film to become the next Rian Johnson or Barry Jenkins. But even if not, there will be something of interest in The Director and The Jedi for every kid who ever wanted to fly his or her own model X-Wing through the trench run.

SXSW: Muppet Guys Talking

Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind The Show The Whole World Watched is a documentary directed by Frank Oz. It features several of the “original” muppet puppeteers\voices – Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, Bill Berretta, Jerry Nelson (now deceased), and Oz himself. It’s a very loving but simple film, just friends and colleagues having a chat over coffee. They discuss the characters they helped create and bring to life, the shows that made them famous, and the man behind it all: Jim Henson.

The documentary runs just over an hour but is packed full of priceless recollections. These people are still brimming with admiration for Jim Henson all these years later, and it’s clear that his legend lives on. Muppet Guys Talking is a testament to the power of creativity, and the importance of having the freedom to truly embrace it. It’s also just a lovely tribute to the characters we all grew up loving, and a reminder that the hidden humans behind those characters are not just providing a voice, but have also got their hands up their asses.

dave-gonzoDave Goelz is perhaps best known for puppeteering\voicing Gonzo. He also does Bunsen Honeydew and Zoot from The Muppet Show, Boober Fraggle and Uncle Travelling Matt from Fraggle Rock, and the puppetry for  Sir Didymus in Labyrinth, and dozens more.

Fran Brill was an actor before she turned to puppeteering, but Jim Henson knew she FranBrill-ZoePrairiehad good instincts and recruited her for his workshop. It paid off: she won an Emmy for her work on
Sesame Street, where she has originated many characters, including (but not limited to!) Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, and Prarie Dawn.

D23 EXPO 2015, The Magic Behind the MuppetsBill Barretta got his start puppeteering on Dinosaurs, and later developed characters for Muppets Tonight including Pepe the King Praw, Johnny Fiama, and Bobo the Bear. He also took over some of Jim Henson’s characters after his death, including Dr. Teeth, Rowlf, Mahna Mahna, and Swedish Chef.

Jerry Nelson’s most-loved character may be Sesame Street’s Count Von Count, though he was jerry-nelson---voice-of-count-von-count-on-sesame-street-55b75bda60f9fffaalso the original puppeteer for Snuffleupagus.  On The Muppet Show he did Sgt. Floyd Pepper, Dr. Julius Strangepork (from Pigs in Space), Kermit’s nephew Robin the Frog, and Gonzo’s girlfriend, Camilla the Chicken, among many, many others, and he often did the show’s announcing as well. On Fraggle Rock he did the lead character, Gobo Fraggle, Pa Gorg, and Marjory the Trash Heap.

sesame_street_jim_henson_frank_ozFrank Oz is of course the man behind Miss Piggy, plus Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Sam Eagle from The Muppet Show, and Cookie Monster, Bert, and Grover from Sesame Street, and even did the puppeteering and voice work for a minor character in Star Wars – Yoda. Besides this documentary, he’s the director of films such as Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, What About Bob, In & Out, and Death at a Funeral.

Each of them reminisce about the inspiration behind the characters, how they helped shape them, how they evolved over time, the crazy contortions they pulled hiding behind their more recognizable but felt-based counterparts. It was a very cool documentary, and lucky us, we also got to sit in on a Q&A session with the performers (moderated by Robert Rodriguez!), so look for some of that in the comments section!