Tag Archives: Frank Oz

The Set of 400: #5 – My Favorite Sadly Temporary Side Effect

Today! Because it’s not often you see a guy that green have the blues that bad –

The Muppet Movie (1979)

Directed by James Frawley

Starring Jim Henson (x3), Frank Oz (x10), Dave Goelz (x7), Richard Hunt (x3), Jerry Nelson (x6), Charles Durning (x4), Austin Pendleton (x2), Orson Welles (x5), Cloris Leachman (x6), Dom DeLuise (x8), Steve Martin (x7), Richard Pryor, Bob Hope, Milton Berle (x3), Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, Elliott Gould (x5), James Coburn (x4), Carol Kane (x6), Madeline Kahn (x9), Mel Brooks (x6), Telly Savalas, Paul Williams (x3), Bruce Kirby (x2), Caroll Spinney (x2), Scott Walker

The gold standard of Muppet productions. The zenith of the entire franchise. The culmination of nearly 25 years of Mr. the Frog’s place in the cultural landscape, beginning way back with Sam & Friends in 1955. After this, and the subsequent completion of The Muppet Show’s dynamite five year run, the felt gang would achieve superstardom few puppets have entertained before or since. A groundbreaking, world-altering comedy/musical motion picture unduplicated in success or popularity through the entire course of human history. The Muppet Movie is the greatest thing ever produced by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Kermit, for one, is stunned by this adulation

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The Set of 400: #51 – My Favorite Champagne Improvement

Today! Because I wish I were you people seeing this for the first time –

The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

Directed by Jim Henson

Starring Jim Henson (x2), Frank Oz (x9), Jerry Nelson (x5), Dave Goelz (x5), Richard Hunt (x2), Charles Grodin (x2), Diana Rigg (x2), Jack Warden (x4), John Cleese (x4), Peter Ustinov (x2), Peter Falk (x5), Robert Morley, Steve Whitmire (x5), Louise Gold (x3), Caroll Spinney, Erica Creer, Kate Howard, Della Finch

The second feature Muppet film and the first released after The Muppet Show ended, The Great Muppet Caper had a higher degree of difficulty than any other film in the series, before or since. Figure, it’s the only non-adaptation film that doesn’t in some way incorporate putting on a show or show business as the backdrop (Muppets From Space is the only other one close, and that has a lot of Piggy’s aspiring journalism career at center). So they’ve crammed the familiar characters into oddball new roles – weirdly, again, journalism, but of the print variety, plus hotel management – albeit with their same names, and more fourth wall breaking than any other movie to explain this conceit. It had only been two years since the smash hit original Muppet Movie, and they didn’t have terrific Paul Williams songs to eat up a bunch of the run time (Muppet Caper‘s songs are still great, though). This one needed tons of jokes and cameos and a strong narrative to succeed, and it came through on all counts.

As a kid, I probably liked this Muppet outing best, or had it in a very close contest with Takes Manhattan. It’s a lot sillier than the original film, but still keeps the gang largely together unlike Manhattan. The England setting produces a bunch of fun gags (like The Muppet Show, Muppet Caper was filmed in and near London) and it features the most action packed finale of the franchise – a sequence not even attempted to be equaled by any successive movie until Most Wanted – which largely functioned as the Muppet Caper to 2011’s Muppets as Muppet Movie. Does that makes sense? I didn’t get to talk about Most Wanted on this list because it missed the cut off date, but I’m afraid people skipped it, as it got lost in theaters. Go watch Muppets Most Wanted, it’s pretty fun.

It’s the Kermit-goes-to-a-Siberian-prison-camp-run-by-Tina-Fey film you never knew you needed

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The Set of 400: #53 – My Favorite Dead Animal Sleeping Bag

Today! Because I thought they smelled bad on the outside – 

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Directed by Irvin Kershner

Starring Mark Hamill (x3), Harrison Ford (x7), Carrie Fisher (x7), Anthony Daniels (x3), James Earl Jones (x6), Kenny Baker (x4), Peter Mayhew (x2), Frank Oz (x8), Alec Guinness (x3), David Prowse (x2), Billy Dee Williams (x2), Julian Glover (x2), Jeremy Bulloch, Kenneth Colley (x3), Denis Lawson, John Ratzenberger (x7), Jason Wingreen

Look, there was bound to come a time on this list where the movies just get crazy great. While there are maybe a few unconventional choices going forward, maybe some preferences inside franchises that are atypical, we’re still largely going to be dealing with super popular or super acclaimed films, by and large. So, like, what is there to say about The Empire Strikes Back that hasn’t already been said? Is there anything in entertainment or pop culture that has been written about more over the last forty years than Star Wars?

For me, it’s basically just this movie and the St. Patrick’s Day parade, though

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The Set of 400: #86 – My Favorite Golden God

Today! Because I’m out of it for a little while, everyone gets delusions of grandeur –

Return of the Jedi (1983)

Directed by Richard Marquand

Starring Mark Hamill (x2), Harrison Ford (x4), Carrie Fisher (x6), Anthony Daniels (x2), Kenny Baker (x3), Peter Mayhew, James Earl Jones (x5), Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid (x2), Frank Oz (x7), David Prowse, Alec Guinness (x2), Sebastian Shaw, Kenneth Colley (x2), Warwick Davis (x2)

The first movie I distinctly remember seeing in theaters, Return of the Jedi was everything to me as a kid. I don’t wholly remember a time before it – figure, I was a sturdy three-and-a-half when Jedi came out – but as this was the newest film, it rapidly became the go-to in our rotation of Star Wars flicks. Even now, while (spoiler) it is my least favorite of the original trilogy, I contend it has the single best sequence of any of the films – the Tatooine/Jabba’s Palace first act, obviously. And sure, it just drowns in stuffed animals by the end – and a final action sequence that goes on forever – but as much as you might hate the Ewoks, if you grew up with them, do they really bother you that much? This was a franchise built on merchandising first and foremost! They needed their own line of Care Bears! Come on!

Adorbs!

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The Set of 400: #111 – My Favorite William Tell Overture (Chicken Rendition)

Today! Because you share a love so big, I now pronounce you Frog and Pig –

The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

Directed by Frank Oz (x2)

Starring Jim Henson, Frank Oz (x6), Dave Goelz (x4), Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson (x4), Steve Whitmire (x4), Juliana Donald, Lonny Price, Louis Zorich (x3), Art Carney (x2), Dabney Coleman (x2), Liza Minnelli, Joan Rivers (x2), Linda Lavin, Gregory Hines (x2), James Coco (x4), John Landis, Karen Prell (x2), Brooke Shields, Frances Bergen, Ed Koch, Gates McFadden

The first Muppet film I saw in theaters – Time tunnel shoutout to four-and-a-half-year-old Joe! – The Muppets Take Manhattan was also the last big screen adventure for Kermit and the gang until 1992, and the last time they would appear as their established characters in film for 15 years. This is also probably the Muppet film I’ve seen the most – it being the newest one when I was a kid and it feeling very much of the ’80s gave it the slight edge over the two earlier films.

I never think of the first three Muppet films as a trilogy, even though I guess in some ways they are. I mean, plot-wise, they aren’t connected whatsoever – but they are still the same characters performed by the same people, doing very similar stuff. I mean, the Toy Storys build on each other a little bit, but they are all pretty separate adventures, too, and that’s definitely a trilogy. The first Muppet outing was an origin story, the second is the standalone journalism/heist caper, and this one sees them graduate from college and try to put on a Broadway show. That, in a lot of ways, feels like one complete tale. Hell, Kermit and Piggy get (sorta) married in the end! That’s a capper to the journey! Plus, Jim Henson lived another six years and didn’t get another film together – that tells me they wanted these to stand together as a trilogy. You know what? From now on, this is the first Muppet trilogy! Christmas Carol, Treasure Island, and weirdly From Space function as the second, very loosely cobbled together Gonzo-led trilogy, and we’re still one movie short of a third modern trilogy. Get it together, Disney!

This old Jerry Juhl/Frank Oz script is allegedly great and ready to go, Disney

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The Set of 400: #146 – My Favorite Hidey Hidey Hidey Ho

Today! Because they don’t have my address. I falsified my renewal, I put down 1060 West Addison –

The Blues Brothers (1980)

Directed by John Landis (x3)

Starring John Belushi (x2), Dan Aykroyd (x5), Carrie Fisher (x5), James Brown (x2), Aretha Franklin, Steve Cropper, Donald Dunn, Matt Murphy, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, John Candy (x8), Henry Gibson (x4), Lou Marini, Willie Hall, Kathleen Freeman (x3), Frank Oz (x5), Twiggy, Charles Napier (x3), Steve Lawrence, Steven Williams (x2), John Lee Hooker, Pinetop Perkins, Steven Spielberg, Alan Rubin, Tom Malone, Murphy Dunne

One night while still living in Scranton, with then-girlfriend Sarah’s brother and his then-girlfriend visiting, we all became gripped with the idea that we needed to acquire a copy of The Blues Brothers, immediately. As I’ve written somewhere before, I have something like 1800 movies on DVD, so not having The Blues Brothers was simply insane and unacceptable and needed to be remedied post haste. So we loaded into this Oldsmobile Achieva I was driving at the time and went to the only place still open at this late hour that might possibly sell a copy of the SNL classic – Wal-Mart. You’d be right to warn against the sorts potentially encountered at late night Wal-Mart, but that evening, I think those deviant sorts were us. We were rolling frozen concentrated orange juice down the aisles and causing general mayhem – and I’m honestly not sure if they even had The Blues Brothers. We ended up with a copy eventually, but I’m not sure if it was that night.

(Incidentally, this was also the night the gas pedal on the Achieva somehow got stuck down, and for a few seconds I was convinced we were going to die. There are some indications that we possibly did all fly into a coma that night, and that everything that has happened since has been some crazed dream, what with all the Red Sox World Series championships and the current occupant of the White House. Shit, is he still president in February of 2020?! This was like the summer of 2004, I think, so maybe brain-damaged induced fantasy would’ve run out of logic, chronologically and otherwise, by this point.)

Like, this really happened, didn’t it?

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The Set of 400: #188 – My Favorite Misplaced Jelly Beans

Today! Because mother always taught me – “Never eat singing food” –

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Directed by Brian Henson (x2)

Starring Michael Caine (x2), Steve Whitmire (x3), Frank Oz (x4), Dave Goelz (x3), Jerry Nelson (x3), David Rudman, Jessica Fox, Steven Mackintosh, Meredith Braun, Louise Gold (x2), Karen Prell

Some critics and fans choice as the best Muppet film, Christmas Carol holds a number of interesting distinctions, not just in Henson Company lore but also in filmed versions of the Dickens novel. Come along on this trivia journey! Much has been made of the fact that this was the first major Muppet production after Jim Henson’s death in 1990, but this was also the first project without Richard Hunt – another of the core five puppeteers who performed virtually all the characters – who was ailing and died in early ’92. Because of this, many of their characters do not appear or have significantly scaled down roles, such as Rowlf, Scooter, Janice, and Dr. Teeth. It would be many years before they would recast these parts. The exceptions, of course, were Steve Whitmire taking over Kermit – an obviously necessity – and Dave Goelz and Jerry Nelson playing Statler & Waldorf (here, the Marley brothers), having been performed by Hunt (since The Muppet Show) and Henson (since The Muppet Show pilot, Sex and Violence). Partly by design, but also by casting, this was the first Muppet project of any substantial size that did not feature Kermit as the lead – you can make a case to say he’s fourth as Cratchit, after Caine’s Scrooge, Gonzo as Dickens, and Rizzo, helping out the narration. This set-up, with Gonzo as the main Muppet figure, would carry through the rest of the films in the ’90s.

Gonzo does make a terrific Chuck Dickens

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The Set of 400: #215 – My Favorite Dog in High-Heels

Today! Because when the aliens come down to earth, they come inside raindrops, making the rain chubby. Chubby Rain!

Bowfinger (1999)

Directed by Frank Oz

Starring Steve Martin (x5), Eddie Murphy (x2), Heather Graham (x2), Christine Baranski, Jamie Kennedy, Terence Stamp (x3), Robert Downey Jr. (x8), Adam Alexi-Malle, John Prosky, John Cho (x2), Kohl Sudduth

The halcyon days of my second year of college and it’s a movie about movies? Oh man, was there any way Bowfinger wasn’t making this list? I’m not sure how well remembered or regarded this movie is now – it doesn’t seem to be on the tip of anyone’s tongue – but I’ve always been a huge fan of this wacky guerrilla filmmaking adventure. Martin plays the low rent producer/director Bobby Bowfinger, trying to scrape together a minuscule budget science fiction movie without the knowledge of the movie’s purported star, Murphy’s Kit Ramsey. They assault him with actors (who are unaware he doesn’t know they’re in a movie) and perilous scenarios, preying on his temporary psychological problems – exacerbated in no small part due to his affiliation with the Scientology-esque Mindhead. To help with this deception, Bowfinger enlists Ramsey lookalike/gopher/nerd Jiff – also Murphy – for help with doubling, especially in the more terrifying scenes, such as his bold dash across a busy Los Angeles highway.

“Heavenly God! Heavenly God! Heavenly God!”

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The Set of 400: #279 – My Favorite Talking Sandwich

Today! Because you go ahead and eat me now, you’re gonna need the energy –

Muppets From Space (1999)

Directed by Tim Hill

Starring Dave Goelz (x2), Steve Whitmire (x2), Bill Barretta (x2), Frank Oz (x3), Jerry Nelson (x2), Brian Henson, Kevin Clash (x2), Jeffrey Tambor, Josh Charles, Andie MacDowell, David Arquette, F. Murray Abraham, Ray Liotta (x2), Pat Hingle, Kathy Griffin, Rob Schneider, Hulk Hogan (x3), Katie Holmes (x2), Joshua Jackson, Gary Owens

Often referred to as the first big screen Muppet film where Kermit wasn’t the lead, Muppets From Space is actually the third in the ’90s trilogy of post-Jim Henson films where Gonzo is the unquestioned star, following his roles as Charles Dickens in virtually every scene of The Muppet Christmas Carol and as Jim Hawkins’ boon companion, er, Gonzo in Muppet Treasure Island. This is, to date, the only original Muppet feature where Kermit doesn’t nominally star, though, that’s true.

This was also the only theatrical Muppet film released between 1996 and 2011, and as such, it serves as an interesting keystone – wrapping up the entire early history of the franchise with the characters playing themselves, signaling the end of the Jim Henson/Frank Oz era of features, and introducing the Muppets Tonight characters into the film family for the first time. Most of them would be roundly discarded by the time the reboot of the ’10s came around (even fan favorite Pepe), and so this is likely the only film where these eras of Muppets will appear together.

We honor you, Pepe!

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The Set of 400: #312 – My Favorite Wise-Cracking Lobster

Today! Because I’m not Jim Jimmy Jim Jim Jim Jim, he’s Jim Jimmy Jim Jim Jim Jim –

Muppet Treasure Island (1996)

Directed by Brian Henson

Starring Tim Curry (x2), Billy Connolly, Jennifer Saunders, Kevin Bishop, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, Bill Barretta, Frank Oz (x2), Kevin Clash, Louise Gold

By wide pronouncement the worst of the big screen Muppet films, Treasure Island gets a hugely unfair rap, in my opinion. If your argument is that the other Muppet movies are of such high caliber that something has to be labeled the worst, okay, I’ll accept that. Because there is little inherently wrong with Treasure Island, especially for hardcore Muppet fans.

Sure, the movie falls squarely on Gonzo and Rizzo to keep moving, a tactic used to such great success a few years prior in Christmas Carol. This time, they tag along with the novel’s Jim Hawkins to meet Long John Silver, get on the boat, get swept up in the mutiny and whatnot, and break into epic musical numbers. Really, the main gripe you could have about this – and Christmas Carol and the 2011 Muppets – is that there aren’t quite enough Muppets. At least Christmas Carol had the wisdom to make Kermit Bob Cratchit, considering Scrooge was a human. This movie takes both the main characters away from the felt gang, so Muppets have to fit into roles wherever they’re left, leaving the film decidedly light on Kermit, Fozzie, and Piggy, to say nothing of Rowlf, the Electric Mayhem, Statler & Waldorf, and the rest of the gang.

Uncle Deadly would’ve made a great Long John, just saying

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The Set of 400: #332 – My Favorite Door Melting

Today! Because yud say boom de gasser, den crashin der bosses heyblibber, den banished –

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Directed by George Lucas

Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Ahmed Best, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Brian Blessed, Terence Stamp, Ray Park, Warwick Davis, Pernella August, Samuel L. Jackson, Dominic West, Sofia Coppola, Keira Knightley, Greg Proops (x2), Oliver Ford Davies, Hugh Quarshie

Let me just start by saying SHUT UP. I know, I’m not exactly in the majority for my enjoyment of this film. And rest assured, I recognize the amount of ridiculous bullshit that’s in it. Why did I use a Jar Jar Binks quote at the top? Because I’m owning it, and I want you to know I’m not overlooking the crammed in nonsense that ruins this movie for people. And perhaps I’m projecting backward onto this film – because I largely haven’t enjoyed the Star Wars things that have come since 1999 – but I think this is a hugely underappreciated movie, with a lot to like. So just shut up.

Let focus on the big things – the lightsaber battle at the end is the best lightsaber fight in any Star Wars movie. Hell, it might be the best swordfight in the history of film. John Williams score for this movie is my favorite of the series. The pod racing scene stands up with any sequence in any Star Wars. Ewan McGregor was a terrific choice to carry the prequels, and is always excellent as Obi-Wan. Darth Maul is a terrifically cool villain. Mace Windu is pretty cool, too. Plus it cannot be overstated how eagerly anticipated this movie was in ’99, to the point that I can’t believe it could’ve been warmly accepted no matter how it turned out. Look at The Force Awakens – the only reason people fell all over themselves in love with that thing is because the prequels were so hated. The logic – let’s just straight remake A New Hope and pray no one notices – worked great, as things got so out of hand by Episode III that fans just wanted anything resembling the original movies, no matter how derivative.

Groan!

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