Insanity and Talking Puppets

I’d like to point out that these two are not necessarily related.  There are doubtless a great many sane talking puppets in the world, living successful and happy lives as doctors, lawyers, and computer engineers.  I have the utmost respect for those puppets.  Also, I should point out that a great many of insane puppets cannot talk.  So one should never, under any circumstances, assume a puppet is insane merely because it can talk.

So.  To be absolutely clear, lets explain this.  We are talking about MY insanity, and how it relates to talking puppets of any gender, ethnicity, or psychological state.  As long, of course, as those puppets are Muppets.

Did you know that the word ‘Muppet’ is supposed to be a combination of the words ‘Marionette’ and ‘Puppet?’  Seems like the marionettes got ripped off on that publicity stunt.  I mean, without the marionette part of the thing, Kermit wouldn’t be able to ride bikes or dance or anything except talk.  Miss Piggy wouldn’t even be able to do her karate chops.  Muppets just wouldn’t be the same without the marionettes.  Then again, ‘Marionuppets’ sounds pretty ridiculous, so I guess I’ll just have to live with the injustice of the thing.

Anyway.  These dancing and singing collections of felt have been convincing people I was insane since…

well, since…

I’m sure they must have thought I was sane at SOME point in my life.  Before Muppets. 

I recall sitting on the recess ground at age 12, enthusiastically describing the comedic genius of The Great Muppet Caper to a rather distracted recess monitor.  I seem to recall her answer was something like, “That’s nice, dear.”  To be fair, back then ALL kids were crazy, so I don’t think anyone really noticed.  In junior high, when I started trying to get other kids to watch Muppets because of how ‘awesome’ they were, I think some people started to get uneasy.  And in high school, when I started discussing the merits and history of the Muppets, teachers started eying me oddly.

Then came college.  And YouTube.

YouTube blew the world of Muppets open for me.  I could instantly access all my favorite songs, gags, and karate chops from the Muppet Show.  FIVE SEASONS of them.  After that, there was simply no going back.  If I was sitting with others, “studying” on my computer, and suddenly started giggling, one of them would inevitably sigh and say to me, “Are you on YouTube AGAIN?”

I wish I could say I’ve learned to control this, but unfortunately that’s not the case.  Just last week some lady at work asked me why I was laughing.  (For some reason it disquiets people when you spontaneously break into laughter.)  There’s really not a sophisticated way to say, “I’m laughing because of a kid’s show full of singing felt animals.”  The lady stared at me for a moment, and then walked away laughing.  Y’know, the sort of breathless, high-pitched laugh you give because there’s really nothing else to do.

It could have been worse.  Last week someone asked why I was laughing, and they came away thinking I was some sort of morbid sicko.  Am I the only person who finds Worf’s kamikaze attack on the Borg cube hilarious?  (This has nothing to do with Muppets, just with insanity.  People who know me don’t bother asking why I’m laughing).

But Muppets are pretty cool, and most of them are perfectly sane.  Not only do they represent a major innovation in filmmaking and storytelling, they’re quite simply a lot of fun to watch.  Hilarious, character based, whimsical, and zany.  They sing very well, they have some of the most intriguing dance numbers you’ll see anywhere, and have very original takes on some of the oldest devices.  Not the deepest things in the world, always, but their movies, especially their early ones, generally have a sort of message that they deliver surprisingly well.  And hey, sometimes even Muppets can get serious.

This is a picture from the Muppet Show episode with Arnold Schwarnegger, where Muppets from the future, like Kermit and Scooter here, come back through time and take over the Muppet Show. It’s a great episode with a lot of character development and deep meaning and…

Okay, okay, so it’s an image from The Dark Crystal.  So sue me.  Dark Crystal is essentially Muppets-gone-bad-and-placed-in-a-bizarre-fantasy-world-with-shiny-rocks-evil-magicians-and-beetle-soldiers.  Outside of the plot, characters, world, and atmosphere, it’s practically the same thing.  Anyway, you can’t say it’s insane, can you?  If you call that insane, then you’d better be prepared to call Labyrinth insane, and Never-Ending Story insane, and…

Ah, forget it.  The point I wanted to make was the guy behind the Muppets, Jim Henson, could do more than just make funny dance numbers.  He liked a good bit of fantasy, and was a real technical artist when it came to special effects.  They made a number of the puppets for Star Wars, including Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz, Henson’s understudy).  And the oh-so-famous turtle suits from the OLD Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies were designed by him too.  The guy was a puppeteer, showman, director, and electrical engineer all in one.  Used computers a lot too.  A genius really.

Course, Muppets these days aren’t what they used to be, what with Henson dying and all.  Frank Oz did his best with all the movie adaptations, like Muppet Treasure Island, and Muppet Christmas Carol.  But  Muppets from Space was a little… wierd.  To say the least.  I mean, okay, aliens, okay, Gonzo, but still… weird.

Still, even Frank Oz did a better job than the Germans who bought the place out.  Muppets and the Wizard of Oz?  That was just sad.  Merry Muppet Christmas Movie?  Not worth the money.  About the only thing they can do right is the half-dozen different webisodes floating around the internet.

No wonder, then, that Muppets are these days reviled and scorned.  No wonder that people equate talking puppets with insanity.  It really shouldn’t surprise us that people no longer take a singing frog seriously.  Kermit just doesn’t command the respect he used to, because of what his producers have put him through.  It’s sad, really.

How are the mighty fallen, eh?

Still, those few of use who recall the golden days of Rowlf and Fozzie and still honor the noble strains of “It’s not Easy Being Green,” remember the whimsical humor of those early days, and can respect the pieces of felt that once depicted them.  And, perhaps, break out into laughter on the warehouse floor at a memory that sadly, only we can still appreciate.

You know, the really odd thing is, I wanted to review BONE this week.  Maybe next week.


One thought on “Insanity and Talking Puppets

  1. I frequently get Muppet Treasure Island songs stuck in my head (particularly the one about sailing for adventure on the big blue wet thing) and I always think of you.  You’re definitely very different from the average person in your tastes, however you’re good at taking it in stride and being willing to make fun of yourself a bit for it too.  It is amusing.I’m no muppet connoisseur, but I always liked the two old guys for being so cynical and ridiculous.


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