Our 12-year-old son treated us to a trip to the movies this weekend. (He won first place for his Ent costume at a Halloween program at a local church, the prize being a gift certificate to the local movie theater.) I checked out what was available, read some reviews, and suggested The Muppets. He has enjoyed all the Muppets movies we have watched on DVD, as well as the episodes of the original Muppets show that we watched on DVD. So we went to see the new Muppets movie.
A lot of long-time fans of the Muppets were concerned about whether this new movie, made without the creative genius (and voice) of Jim Henson, would bring the Muppets magic to life or be a big disappointment. Both from the reviews I have read and our own impressions, this new movie is far from a disappointment. As I saw very little of the Muppets when they were actually on TV, however, I can’t claim to speak with much authority on the subject.
I do have nostalgic memories of watching The Muppet Show a few times with the other residents of on-campus housing at the private high school where I taught in West Simsbury for one year. I really don’t remember much about the show at all, or whether I appreciated its unique brand of humor at the time. My nostalgia is more for the friends I watched it with, and for a particular period of my life when I was still trying to figure out where my life was headed.
My favorite Muppets movie, by far, is The Muppet Christmas Carol. It is also my favorite Christmas movie, and my favorite book-to-movie adaptation. (When I read A Christmas Carol now, I am constantly noticing how surprisingly faithful a movie filled with funny, furry creatures is to Dickens’ story.) Watching it has become a Christmas tradition for me. I couldn’t tell you, though, how much of my pleasure in watching it is for the Muppets and how much for Dickens’ own story.
When it comes to the rest of the Muppets movies and shows I have seen, I enjoy them mostly but there are parts I enjoy more than others. The ones I don’t enjoy as well, I think, are those based on aspects of popular culture that I am not familiar with. There were celebrities who appeared on the show that I had never heard of before. (My husband points out that I grew up “culturally deprived” – my friends in college were amazed at how ignorant I was of popular entertainment and the celebrities who figured prominently in it.)
At least in the case of this newest Muppets movie, that particular issue is less of a problem for me. While I hardly ever watch TV anymore (and then only what is available through the internet), and never listen to the radio (unless someone else has it on), I have been exposed to a lot more of popular culture in the last 23 years (since meeting Jon) than in the previous 26. So while I didn’t recognize all the celebrity cameos in this movie, and no doubt missed a number of cultural allusions, I could appreciate it for the most part – and enjoy it.
The movie asks – very directly – whether the Muppets are still relevant today. I found myself wondering about that as we left the theater. This blog post says they are, and I hope that this blogger is correct. There’s a very interesting article, at Christianity Today, on what made the Muppets so great, suggesting that the truths about the human condition embodied in their shows will make them as relevant now as a generation ago.