The Muppet Movie (1979)

Sometimes it just takes kids a while to fall in love with the Muppets. Some adults never quite manage it. Once upon a time, one of my colleagues at the museum where I used to work confessed – and “confessed” is the right word because we’d just lunched with our counterparts at the Center for Puppetry Arts – that she found the Muppets monotonous.

“They’re what?” I said.

“Monotonous,” she said.

“Manna-wha?” I said.

“Monotonous!” she yelled. And of course I sang “Doo doo doo-doo-doo,” and she looked at me utterly baffled before it hit her and she gave me a death glare. I do miss her.

And our son, he didn’t get them either when we first showed him the program around age four. It probably didn’t help that we started with the first season of The Muppet Show, which honestly isn’t really all that good, but he found the normal-sized Muppets creepy and strange and the full-sized monsters horrifying. After a few days, we skipped ahead to season two, which is infinitely better thanks in no small part to the addition of Jerry Juhl as head writer, and because I adore Madeline Kahn, we watched that episode. She did a sketch with one of the big monsters, Doglion, and it scared the absolute life out of him and he’s had no time for the Muppets ever since.

I’d say that maybe he was too young, except my older son was loving the Muppets when he was four. He drew a picture of Elton John surrounded by his adoring food after watching that one in 2001 or so. You can never tell.

So this morning it was time to push the issue and he didn’t sit down to this movie with very much enthusiasm. Making matters worse, there’s a great big ungainly Criterion package of classic Godzilla movies just sitting on the shelf he could be watching (be here next Sunday). So we sat down to watch something he really didn’t want to watch, and apart from giving me a death glare for joining in with Floyd Pepper on some of the verses in “Can You Picture That?” – I do tend to draw those – he had a really good time apart from the slower songs. It could have been worse. I really wanted his mom to sing Janice’s part. Get back to me in about nine years. I bet when our son’s seventeen he would not find our singing along to what may well be the best song released in 1979 in any way funny.

Incidentally, I completely love Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. They’re the best band-within-a-fiction that’s ever been. And while “Can You Picture That?” is the centerpiece of this movie for me, the other six songs are every bit as flawlessly crafted. I’d mentioned Paul Williams’ curious luck when we ran into him in a 1977 episode of The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries; it remains absolutely bizarre to me that the fellow who wrote these great, great songs for the film never had hit singles of his own. Sure, a couple of these aren’t the sort of songs I’d listen to regularly, but it’s a weird, stupid world when “The Rainbow Connection” loses out on an Academy Award to… errr… “It Goes Like It Goes.”

So anyway, the film’s infectious mix of goofball puns, how’d-they-do-that effects, and incredibly lovable characters won our son over and he really did like the movie and laughed a lot. For us grownups, there’s also the astonishing number of cameo appearances by big celebrities, like Kahn again, and Telly Savalas as her tough boyfriend. Only Steve Martin and Mel Brooks try to steal the film from its stars and they’re both hilarious, but I also love James Coburn owning the only bar in the world too tough for James Coburn, and, in perhaps the greatest stupid gag I can think of – because I can’t think of it without smiling – Carol Kane answering “Yeth?” whenever anyone shouts “Myth!” I fed that to Marie last night and she left me hanging. I’m still shaking my head.

And of course even though we try to watch movies without interruption or comment, our son had been chuckling at Animal so much that I couldn’t resist because the puns were so infectious. They got parked in that ghost town and when Floyd says he needs to walk Animal, I asked our son whether he wishes Animal had a bigger part. Was what happens next his favorite part of the movie? Do bears go “Moving right along” in Studebakers?

The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.2 – The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula (part two)

That’s a better screen grab.

Anyway, tonight we watched part two of Michael Sloan and Glen A. Larson’s season two opener of The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries and it’s… more of the same, with another pair of tunes by Paul Williams and one more by Shaun Cassidy. Shaun, as Joe, gets to smooch Nancy’s friend, and Nancy and Frank get to make goo-goo eyes and will they / won’t they each other. Universal’s costume department got to pull every Oktoberfest outfit out of mothballs to dress the extras, and the props department provided a very silly fake bat for some poor guy to dance around on a wire. This was some very, very silly television, although I did genuinely smile during a cute denouement after the real culprit who is pretending to be Dracula gets handcuffed.

Speaking of Paul Williams, isn’t it so darn weird that he was omnipresent in the seventies, and wrote so many good songs that were hits for everybody in pop music and provided so many memorable tunes for Hollywood soundtracks… and yet he seems to have made the top 100 charts on his own only one time? (“Waking Up Alone” made #60 in 1972.)

Our son pretended to be frightened all night, pronouncing this the creepiest Hardy Boys story ever, and playing up the fake-scared business to let us know that his Doggie would watch the scary bits and let him know what happened while he hid on the staircase. If I didn’t know he was playing at being scared, it would almost make me feel bad about what we’re going to watch Sunday night. Unpleasant dreams, viewers.

The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 2.1 – The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula (part one)

So okay, it seems faintly ridiculous for me to celebrate the first time that the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew ever crossed over into each other’s stories with a screen grab of Frank and Joe with guest star Lorne Greene, but I’d say it was even more ridiculous that this big meeting did not result in a single useable photo of Pamela Sue Martin sharing good face time with either Parker Stevenson or Shaun Cassidy. Is this a harbinger of a troubled television season, or am I reading too much into things? We’ll see as we spend the next couple of months tackling the second season of this program.

Our son was initially excited to see this back in the rotation, because he really did enjoy the first batch of fourteen – the Hardys’ segments more than Nancy’s, just like most of America then – but this one turned around and gave him a really solid set of frights. The convoluted plot sees Frank and Joe tagging along with a small-change rock band to the Dracula’s Castle Festival in Transylvania, because their dad has vanished on the trail of some art thefts that may be carried out by someone in the entourage of a big rock star who’s playing dates all over Europe. For backup and background, Dad Hardy had been in touch with Carson Drew and his daughter Nancy, who really has no time for the “amateur hour” antics of Frank and Joe.

The “meet cute” involves our heroes unwittingly sending each others’ luggage back to the lobby of a hotel in Munich, much to our son’s glee. He cackled with laughter as the tensions escalated until it ends with Frank flipped onto his back. But then the business of some undead fiend possibly stalking the grounds and tombs of the castle while the bands play – Paul Williams and Bernie Taupin are among the musicians – gave him some behind the sofa frights. And I thought we all knew this simply has to be a Scooby Doo plot!

Anyway, the first cast change to note is that that Jean Casey’s character of George Fayne isn’t present, but actress Ruth Cox is here as a nearly identical character, Bess Marvin. Even weirder, George will be back in some future episodes, but played by a different actress. Lisa Eilbacher’s character, Callie Shaw, has been dropped, and so has the character of Ned Nickerson. Maybe they were freeing up space for more guest stars, who also include John Van Dreelen, Norbert Schiller, and Leon Askin. Perhaps it’s just me, but it does feel slightly silly to pack your guest cast with European actors and then ask Lorne Greene to attempt a Romanian accent as a grouchy police inspector.