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5 of My Favorite Muppets
Five out of thousands...
Jim Henson's Muppets have an elaborate history-- even before Sesame Street, he was making Sam and Friends in the '50s. "Muppet" could cover any of thousands of characters from the past several decades.
Because it's impossible to narrow it down, these probably aren't my very favorites. I love some of the more minor Muppets. A single appearance with a memorable quirk can capture my heart. Some day I'll write about Thog, Lew Zealand, and Kermit the Forg (not frog), but right now, I'm focusing on five we all remember.
#5: The Fanboy
Original Muppeteer: Peter Linz
First appearance: The Muppets, 2011
Walter drew a lot of ire from hardcore Muppet fanboys for drawing the spotlight away from Kermit. Ironically, Walter himself is a hardcore Muppet fanboy. The Muppets was Walter's story, about how he tried to bring the old Muppets back together. He's an earnest little character who speaks to the nerd in me. He's the audience surrogate. In a world of Gonzos and Miss Piggies, he's just a Walter, and he's trying to find his way. He's different; he's vulnerable.
At the same time, he has the right kind of manic spark that lets him fit in with the other Muppets. Maybe it's not obvious in the movie-- he spends a lot of time being sad and inspirational in the movie. But even outside the movie, outside the character arc, when he's just a Muppet doing what Muppets do best, he shines. Like on MTV's Talk Nerdy, when he and Kermit panic to pitch their DVDs. Or on Good Morning America, singing The Rainbow Connection.
His dancing must be seen to be believed.
GMA: The Rainbow Connection
Should Walter become a regular?
Nick Stoller has already promised Walter will play a part in the next movie-- although maybe he won't outshine Kermit so much. Still, is it too late to save this newcomer?
#4: The Stick-In-The-Mud
Original performer: Frank Oz
Current performer: Eric Jacobson
First appearance: Sesame Street, 1969
Bert is kind of the anti-Muppet, isn't he? Other Muppets dance, Bert takes a nap. Others sing, Bert reads a book. Trademark Muppet zaniness is replaced with oatmeal, bottle caps and pidgeons, carefully arranged to be as boring as possible. Top it off with a grouchy performance from Frank Oz, and, well...
It's hilarious. And, dare I say, adorable. Bert is normally overshadowed by his foil, Ernie. At first, he looks like a vehicle to let Ernie dispense the laughs. But at some point, Bert's dullness goes from a sad fact to a point of pride, and interesting in its own right (somehow). He tries to play pretend with Ernie, and wants to be a bowl of oatmeal.
For other Muppets, life is a box of chocolates. For Bert, it's a bowl of oatmeal. How can you not love that?
Once in a blue moon, Bert gets his own song, without Ernie. And when he does, it's glorious. Don't worry, they're kiddie but they're catchy. ;)
Bert sings about dressing up for the winter to a group of children who, among other things, think galoshes go on your head.
Bert sings to Ernie about the sheer beauty of paperclips.
In what must be the least modest bath ever, Bert is joined by a team of backup singers for a song and dance about cleanliness.
A disturbingly catchy number in which Bert's apartment is invaded by a flock of sheep, who explain the origin of wool blankets.
Bert, Cookie Monster, and Oscar put on a song about the things they are obsessed with.
Bert's signature number. Bert's full body is shown while he dances like a pigeon, no matter what anyone else thinks.
Of course, all that's just normal Sesame stuff. It got weird when he guest-starred with Connie Stevens on The Muppet Show.
Some Enchanted Evening
This seriously happened.
#3: The Pessimist
Original performer: David Goelz
First appearance: Fraggle Rock, 1983
Boober is similar to Bert in that he is the quiet, unfun one sitting in the corner. He is unlike Bert in that he's haunted by the shadowy specter of death, preferring to wallow in his own neuroses than have a little fun. Only an incredibly over-the-top pessimist could ever balance out the happy-go-lucky Fraggles, but it's a necessary job; his fears aren't always unfounded.
Part of why he's so entertaining is that he isn't just bad at having fun. He just hates it. He responds with revulsion to singing and playing. Unfortunately for him, he's got a subdued "fun side" by the same of Sidebottom, whom he finds revolting. He eventually patches things up with Sidebottom, but only after a long animosity.
Boober gets all the best lines in the show. Here are some of his wisest, sorted by subject. Right now they're all from a single episode (and he wasn't even the star!) but I'll add more as they come to me.
- On superstitions: "AAH! Don't do that, it'll bring death and pestilence!"
- On rubber balls: "UGH! It's hideous round thing!"
- On taking action: "You should crawl under the covers and moan and whimper!"
- On home: "It's always exciting at Fraggle Rock! That's what's wrong with the place."
- On caution: "Beware of the terrible round thing."
#2: The Dreamer
Kermit the Frog
Original performer: Jim Henson
First appearance: Sam and Friends, 1955
This is one everyone was expecting. Kermit is one of Jim Henson's most enduring characters, showing up in hundreds of productions since Sam and Friends in the '50s. He is one of the most complex Muppet characters, which is probably why he's so versatile. His essence is hard to pin down, but I'm gonna try it: Kermit is a very gentle, easily frustrated soul.
Kermit is the straight man needed to keep the show running. He's pitted against his insane costars, often flying off into fits of flipper-flailing rage. And yet, he approaches the world with such an honesty and optimism. You can try to wrap your head around Kermit flying off the handle being the same Kermit who sits in the swamp wistfully strumming his banjo. We all have our own contradictions, and it's what makes Kermit feel less like a puppet and more like a person.
He's taken on a life of his own. It's like he was meant to live past Jim Henson. Kermit has so many layers he can speak to all of us at any given time, no matter the decade. That's how you leave a legacy.
The Many Faces Of KermitClick thumbnail to view full-size
The final face?
Despite seeing so many shades of Kermit before, nothing could prepare the modern Muppet fan for the 2011 film, when we saw it... SAD KERMIT.
Warning: you cannot hug Sad Kermit through your computer screen.
#1: The Daredevil
Gonzo the Great
Original performer: David Goelz
First appearance: The Muppet Show, 1976 (although the puppet appeared earlier)
Gonzo is a Muppet among Muppets. He stands out as "the wacky one", even though they're all wacky. Think about this for a moment.
Gonzo was created by Jerry Juhl to be a character who does terrible acts, but considers them artistic. Gonzo is such a broad character by now that many no longer think of him as Gonzo the Great, daredevil performance artist of The Muppet Show. He has the bizarre notion that his acts are brilliant and cultured, when in reality they're more along the lines of, "I shall now defuse this highly explosive bomb while simultaneously, and at the same time, reciting from the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley."
Gonzo is, in a word, weird. He doesn't fit in. He can't be categorized. He doesn't even know what species he is. Even in the Muppet universe, Gonzo defies explanation. Gonzo dates poultry. He shoots himself out of cannons. He blew up his own business in order to quit his job. He makes it a point to be just plain bizarre, extreme in all that he does. It can get him down sometimes, but in the end, Gonzo embraces his oddness. It's endearing just how confident the guy is just being different.
A stunt and a song
I figured I couldn't represent Gonzo without a stunt. But then, I can't NOT show you his unofficial anthem, "Jamboree". It was written specially for the Muppet Show!
The Muppets Â© The Walt Disney Company.
Sesame Street Â© Sesame Workshop.
Fraggle Rock Â© The Jim Henson Company.
Images in this lens fall under fair use for the purpose visual identification of the subjects, where non-copyrighted images aren't available.
So, what did you think? Like my selection, or hate it? Mad that I mentioned Gonzo but not Rowlf? That I'm 18 and I like Bert better than I do Uncle Travelling Matt? (I'm sorry, Matt!) Comments are appreciated!