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 Twilight Zone 5.6 – Living Doll

This wasn’t the first time that we went into a celebrated and famous installment of The Twilight Zone, this one written by Charles Beaumont, and I ended up loathing it. Yet again, it’s a trip back to the weird, stupid, and bizarre days when completely incompatible people got married for God-knows-why.

I started with a grain of sympathy for Telly Savalas’s character, because it’s strongly implied that he did not know that his wife had a daughter from a previous marriage, and his new(ish) wife deliberately hid this, surprising him with “two for the price of one.” He is apparently unable to have children, and she judges everything he does as resentment. But he’s far from sympathetic. That grain I had dwindled and died pretty quickly as his already aggressive and unlikable character descends into irrationality, and when he privately smiles when nobody can find his stepdaughter’s Talky Tina doll, which he’d thrown out, I was ready for Talky Tina to go all Chucky-from-Child’s Play on him.

There’s value in old TV like The Twilight Zone even when it doesn’t entertain. It’s a window to the awful world that the Greatest Generation and the Boomers perpetuated, where it was preferable to be miserable together than either happily divorced or “living in sin.” As fiction, it’s impossible for me to look at this as anything other than the story of two horrible adults getting what they deserve. As history, it’s another reminder that the “good ol’ days” were often incredibly rotten.

On the other hand, our son at least seemed to enjoy the amusing shock of the stepdad answering that telephone call at the commercial break…