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November 29, 2012

“The Comeback”: One Year Later

Filed under: Commentary,Feature — Tags: — Matthew Soberman @ 2:30 pm

As I began to awaken from my turkey-stuffing-and-apple-pie-induced coma on Friday morning, I was greeted with a sudden rush of remembrance. But this memory was not that I had missed out on the best Black Friday deals, and not that I probably had to apologize to my grandmother after a hard cider-inspired speech the night before. It was that it was November 23, 2012, and that exactly one year (well, a leap year, but a year nonetheless) earlier, The Muppets arrived in theatres, the first theatrical adventure of Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the rest of the gang in twelve years.

My first thought was to chuckle to myself and say, “Remember when I was worried that the film was going to suck?” Given that the last Muppet film, Muppets From Space, didn’t even win over the entire die-hard fanbase, let alone the general public, and that the major projects since then (It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, The Muppets Wizard of Oz, and A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa) had a shaky track record, I feared that Muppet magic may not be enough to win over audiences. That’s not to mention myself and a great deal of my fellow fans, who felt that a lot was riding on this film. It had been several years since The Walt Disney Company had bought the characters from The Muppet Show, rescuing them from the verge of obscurity, and after some relatively low-scale projects and a slew of popular viral videos, this was the first Muppet movie with the gang being officially owned by the biggest entertainment company on the planet. If the film failed, Disney may not see the Muppets as a viable film franchise anymore, or worse, sell them off to another company (or even worse, bury them in the Disney vault). Given that the characters were far from their heyday in terms of popularity, and there was a great deal of controversy as to how they were handled in the years leading to the Disney purchase, there were concerns that Kermit the Frog and Company may have reached the end of the Rainbow Connection.

Thankfully, one year ago, my worries would prove to be unfounded. After earning critical acclaim, including a 96% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and holding its own at the box office (though even Kermit would realize that there was no way of out-grossing a Twilight movie), The Muppets was deemed a success, and then came the real surprise: awards buzz. Bret McKenzie’s music and Jason Segel and Nick Stoller’s script were suddenly contenders for nominations. After a notable snub at the Golden Globes, The Muppets would do what no Muppet movie had done before it: win an Academy Award. (I call it an Academy Award, because I’m not making the obvious joke about its other name. So scram.) “Man or Muppet” corrected the misfortune that befell “The Rainbow Connection” and “The First Time it Happens” and earned the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Following a successful global theatrical and home video release, The Muppets can now be enjoyed by Muppet fans around the world, both casual and die-hard. For the most part, my feelings on the movie have gone unchanged. It’s a wonderful, nostalgic ride for those who know the characters, and a great introduction (or reintroduction) for those who don’t. Walter is a great addition to the ensemble and seems to be taking on the role of the wide-eyed innocent, a relief for those who felt a more nerdy persona would put him in competition with Scooter. And no one wants to see Muppets fighting over parts, unless there’s a karate chop involved.

But even after all the success and accolades, in spirit of the man who created them, the Muppets refused to rest on their laurels. Since the promotional run for the film wrapped, there have been live performances at Jim Henson’s Musical World in New York and at the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal (which I can proudly say I was at both). There have been countless television appearances, a Christmastime duet with CeeLo Green, and the Swedish Chef appearing in a funny, if not intelligible, music video, amongst other things.

One wonderful thing that came from this movie is that the success of the Muppets seems to have trickled towards the other creative worlds that Jim Henson left us. 20th Century Fox has signed on to do a third Sesame Street movie. The gang from Fraggle Rock made their first major appearance in decades in a music video with the Ben Folds Five, leading fans to hope that there may be more adventures with Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, Boober, and Red coming soon. Things are looking bright on the Street and in the Rock.

But perhaps the most important part of this “comeback” is that the characters we know and love had finally been embraced by a new generation and reconnected with older ones. I cannot count how many times I’ve seen lines out the door and wrapped around the block at Muppet-related events this year. I’ve seen several temper tantrums at Disney Stores over Kermit plushes. When I went to Walt Disney World this year, Muppet-Vision 3D had a line. A line. I have been going to Walt Disney World for fifteen years, and this was the first time I actually had to wait to get into a show. And I waited with a smile on my face.

And the best part of all is that I am writing this just weeks away from the start of filming on the next Muppet movie. You heard me, weeks. The script seems to be written, and rumblings are saying that filming begins in London in January. For what once took twelve years to get the Muppets another movie, we’re just over a year away from seeing Kermit and the gang on the big screen again in December 2013. (Which means this whole apocalypse thing isn’t going to happen. The Mayans wouldn’t deny us a Muppet movie. I hear they’re big fans of Sweetums.)

The success of The Muppets has been a bright point in a very turbulent year for Muppet fans. The Chick-fil-A fiasco (where the Muppets were dragged in even though they weren’t involved), the sad passing of Jerry Nelson, the Mitt Romney hullabaloo, and the controversial resignation of Kevin Clash may have briefly shaken us, but our confidence in a bright future is stronger than ever. And now I’d like to turn the tables over to you, our readers and fellow fans.

Has your opinion of the movie changed since you first saw it? What do you think is the most important thing that has happened for the Muppets in this past year? Where do you think the franchise is headed? Let us know what you think via the ToughPigs forum, and we’ll post some of your opinions in a follow-up article. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll spend the next year worrying whether or not Bean Bunny will appear in the next movie.

Click here to wonder what the next 365 days will bring on the ToughPigs forum!

by Matthew Soberman

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