Published on: December 16, 2011
Okay, this may have seemed a little creepy to anyone who might have paid attention.
But the other afternoon, I decided to go see The Muppets
. My wife and kids wouldn’t go with me, I didn’t have access to any little kids to use as props, and so I manned up and went down to the fabulous AMC Theater in Port Chester, NY. Nobody made a lot of money on this show ... other than me, there were two old ladies in attendance. (I’m not sure this made me feel worse or better.)
That said ... I’m really glad I went, because The Muppets
is a wonderful move and loaded with business lessons.The Muppets
has the knockabout, easy feel of one of those old Mickey Rooney “let’s put on a show” movies; in fact, it even has a brief cameo by the 91-year-old Rooney. Which tells you a lot about The Muppets
, since it is a movie made as much or more for those of us who have fond memories of the old “Muppets” TV series that was syndicated in the late seventies. Kids will get a lot of the jokes, but there are a ton of sly references (both New Coke and Tab make quick appearances) that will only make sense to people of a certain age.The Muppets
has as it central character a fellow named Walter - he clearly is a Muppet, except that he has grown up in Smalltown, USA with his human brother Gary (Jason Segal). The movie begins as Walter takes a trip to Hollywood with Gary and his girlfriend of 10 years, Marty (Amy Adams), thrilled to have an opportunity to visit the famed Muppet Studios and perhaps even catch a glimpse of the famous Muppets from afar. He’s crushed to find out that the studio is in disrepair and that the Muppets have scattered; Kermit is living, Norma Desmond-like, in a Bel Air mansion. But when Walter discovers that an evil oilman, Tex Richman (played with glee by Chris Cooper), plans to buy the studio and drill for oil there, it sets in motion a plan to bring the Muppets back together to hold a telethon to raise enough money to save the studio.
That actually sounds more complicated than it is. The Muppets
moves along with a knowing, breezy quality - always aware of it is, and yet completely sincere and without guile. The writing is crisp, the musical numbers are cheery, and The Muppets
is never less than terrific entertainment. I’m really glad I went. Even by myself.
Now, the business lessons...If you own something valuable,you have to nurture it.
Disney bought rights to the Muppets (other than those owned by the “Sesame Street” folks) in 2004, more than a dozen years after the death of Muppet founder Jim Henson. Somehow, since then, the Muppets became virtually irrelevant to American culture ... which seems like such a shame since Kermit may at one point have been almost as well known as Mickey Mouse. But it was almost like once they bought the property, they did not know what to do with it.Passion rules. And one person’s passion can be a game-changer.
One of the reasons this movie works so well is that star Jason Segal loved the property and brought the idea of reviving the franchise to Disney. He was the real power behind the movie, and you can feel the passion coming right off the screen. It is instructive that he was able to do something that the whole Disney corporation could not. (To Disney’s credit, there has been considerable coverage about how the company realized understood that it needed to get out of the way and not apply to much corporate-think to the movie. And it shows.)You have to appreciate the people who work for you. And they need to hear it. And feel it.
When Kermit tried to get Miss Piggy - now working as editor of Paris Vogue
to come back to the act, she rejects him - because she feels that he never really appreciated her. And, as the movie makes clear, the whole thing doesn’t work without Miss Piggy and Kermit singing ‘The Rainbow Connection.” Kermit learns a valuable management lesson ... as should we. (And by the way, I teared up a little bit at “The Rainbow Connection.” And I’m not ashamed to admit it.)Even in a cynical world, a sunny attitude can pay dividends...if only because it is so refreshing.
At one point in the movie, Chris Cooper’s character says that The Muppets simply are obsolete and irrelevant in a “hard cynical world.” But The Muppets
proves that this most definitely isn’t true, and I hope that it is the beginning of a fresh, new and long life for The Muppets.
Speaking of cynicism ... there is some boob out there in the cable TV universe saying that the new Muppet movie is trying to brainwash kids into being anti-business and pro-Socialist. This because the bad guy in the movie is a Texas oilman.
This is just silly. First of all, it is a movie. About, in essence, sock puppets.
Second, it seems to me that you have to have a bad guy. To suggest that it cannot be a Texas oilman is to apply a kind of reverse political correctness to a family entertainment. (And let’s face it. Unless you happen to be a Texas oilman, there are few better bad guys out there than Texas oilmen. Except maybe bankers. But don’t get me started.)
Third...and let’s pay close attention here...this movie was made by a corporation - the largest media company in the world in terms of revenue, and number 65 on the Fortune 100 list.
Not that kids know this ... but they also don’t make political connections from a character who, as much as anything, is modeled on Snidley Whiplash.
The only person trying to make political points with The Muppets
is this cable TV guy. If he doesn’t like what The Muppets stand for, he should go see something else.
A big thank you to the folks at The Fresh Market, who last week sent me a really amazing present to just thank me for producing MNB each day. Kevin, the assistant manager at their Westport, Connecticut, store, called me out of the blue and said that they wanted to give me some Graeter’s ice cream - they knew from reading MNB that I think it is the best ice cream on the planet, and they wanted to celebrate the fact that they are the first chain selling it on the east coast.
And so they did - they gave me five cases
of Graeter’s ice cream. (You’d be amazed how much stuff I threw out just to make room in my freezer. And my wife and kids suddenly are looking at me in a brand new light.)
So thanks, guys. I really appreciate it.
That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday as we count down the last few days before Christmas vacation.