The Set of 400: #42 – My Favorite Barbershop Quartet

Today! Because that’s nothing, I once waited a whole year for September –

The Muppets (2011)

Directed by James Bobin

Starring Jason Segel (x3), Amy Adams (x2), Steve Whitmire (x6), Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz (x6), Bill Barretta (x3), Matt Vogel, Peter Linz, David Rudman (x2), Chris Cooper (x3), Rashida Jones (x3), Jack Black (x6), Alan Arkin (x6), Zach Galifianakis (x2), Bill Cobbs (x2), Mickey Rooney, Ken Jeong (x3), Jim Parsons, Kristen Schaal (x2), Sarah Silverman (x3), Donald Glover, Emily Blunt, James Carville, Whoopi Goldberg (x6), Selena Gomez, Dave Grohl, Neil Patrick Harris (x2), John Krasinski, Judd Hirsch (x2), Rico Rodriguez, Eddie Pepitone (x2)

Man, it is disconcerting seeing full-body Muppets with legs, right? Like, sitting is okay, but standing like that? Gah! Muppets on bicycles is such a cool trick that it was never visually an issue seeing their whole body, so why is the above picture so strange? And this was an actual poster for the movie – maybe not the most common one, but still!

It’s pretty ingenious puppeteering!

The 2011 Muppet film was the first big screen adventure for the gang in twelve years. They’d popped up in a bunch of TV specials, and started a pretty decent YouTube channel for music videos and song parodies and the like, but the days of major pop culture relevance were long behind them. Thus, when rumors started that there was this new, glossy Disney film with big stars attached and one-half of Flight of the Conchords doing the songs, I was excited but pretty skeptical. Would this actually see the light of day? Could a new Muppet film truly come to pass? There have been whispers of a Fraggle Rock movie for over a decade now, so it’s not like these things tend to materialize. And serious, the best Muppet product from the previous decade was a somewhat nausea-inducing Playstation game, Muppet Race Mania, so what kind of hope could I have?

Significant as being Frank Oz’s last full project with the Muppets, it was also a pretty fun game.

In the meantime – and I swear this relates – Sarah and I finally made plans to get married, starting roughly in the fall of 2010. As recounted before – maybe in #75’s The Hangover? – we did the whole thing in Vegas, which didn’t require a ton of planning but still more than if we were getting hitched at a casino in, say, Hammond, Indiana. We very briefly flirted with the idea of getting married on 11/11/11, before realizing we would’ve needed to get the ball rolling in like 2007 to secure any halfway decent venue, thus we pushed it a month and locked it down on 12/09/11, which was a Friday. That’s right, tell your family and friends – you know someone who didn’t get married on a weekend. It’s rarer than you’d immediately think.

Unbeknowst to us at the time, we were married on the exact same day in the same city as Sinead O’Connor (for the fourth time). Our marriage – as of today – has lasted 184 times as long as this one. Eat it, Sinead!

However, had we gotten married on 11/11, the wedding itself would’ve been vastly different, most directly because of the sheer Muppet mania that had arisen in our lives after the film’s release on 11/23. We had to put the ceremony together – it being a non-denominational, Caesars Palace affair – and pick the music, which prominently ended up featuring the “Somebody’s Getting Married” finale number from Muppets Take Manhattan, as well as the opening extravaganza from the 2011 film, “Life’s a Happy Song.” I’m not sure if the Manhattan tune would’ve been on the mind enough to make the playlist before 12/9, but the other song obviously wouldn’t have made the cut. Whew!

Our great pal Sam also got us Muppets as wedding gifts, and they are quite the hams

“But what about the movie, for Sweetums sake?” I can hear you asking. Yes, the 2011 film is terrific. It’s a love letter to the fans, even if it reuses the standard Let’s Put on a Show trope from virtually all the non-adaptation films, and the We Need to Save the Muppet Theater version to boot, which is almost the exact plot of It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie from 2002. When I first saw it, I think this recycling bothered me more than it does now. At the time I stated pretty definitively that this was no better than the fourth best Muppet feature – and I still think that’s probably true. What it does, it does great, but legitimately the three Jim Henson movies are still tops. However, in the handful of years since, my general fondness for this movie grows to the point that it is now my second favorite of the group. What a success story!

Sure, it spends way too much time on the humans, and is the only non-adaptation movie that you’d have to put the humans top billed. But they’re fun – Jason Segel and Amy Adams were vitally necessary to getting this film made at all, and once they were gone, Muppets Most Wanted (while still fun) had nowhere near the success of its predecessor. Some people complained that a huge amount of screentime went to the new Muppet, Walter, but again – they kinda needed to do this, to get a new generation on board with Muppet-y shenanigans. It’d been well over a decade since they had any relevance whatsoever! Sure, the Muppet purist in me was kinda rankled at the short shrift for the original characters, but when you consider the alternative – another Muppet movie that would probably have been straight to television – I think this was all necessary. And the end product is pretty wonderful.

Unadjusted, The Muppets would go on to be the highest grossing film in the four decade series, and pulled down $165 million worldwide. Adjusted, obviously, the original film is tops, but 2011’s is still second. Not bad! It also became the only Muppet film to win an Oscar, for Bret McKenzie’s hilarious, soaring “Man or Muppet,” after previous nominations for Best Song (The Muppet Movie‘s “Rainbow Connection” and The Great Muppet Caper‘s “The First Time It Happens”) and Best Original Song Score (The Muppet Movie and Muppets Take Manhattan). This film’s success produced Muppets Most Wanted, which again, did not do overly well (but still good enough to be the third highest grossing film, again unadjusted), and one season of the misguided ABC series in 2015-16, which was weird but sorta watchable. We’ve had basically nothing since then, but rumors persist a new show may find its way to the Disney streaming service, which should be well underway as you read this. Is there a new Muppet show? Is it any good? Tell me it’s good!

We were very excited in ’15, I’m skeptical again now

Our highest rung in the actor’s guild ladder attained today was reached by a bunch of Six-Timers – Muppet performers Steve Whitmire and Dave Goelz (#188 Muppet Christmas Carol, #279 From Space, #111 Take Manhattan, #312 Treasure Island, and #51 Great Muppet Caper), and those with varying size cameos Jack Black (#258 King Kong, #352 Be Kind Rewind, #92 Anchorman, #372 Walk Hard, #310 Mars Attacks!), Alan Arkin (#100 Catch-22, #307 Return of Captain Invincible, #209 Wait Until Dark, #274 Argo, #126 Glengarry Glen Ross), and Whoopi Goldberg (#398 Ghost, #391 The Lion King, #219 The Player, #152 Toy Story 3, #259 Soapdish).

Coming tomorrow! The Zen philosopher, Basho, once wrote, “A flute with no holes, is not a flute. A donut with no hole, is a Danish.”

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