The Definitive Subjective Ranking of the Best Theatrical Muppet Songs

I grew up watching the Muppets. Loved The Muppet Show, Muppet BabiesFraggle Rock, Sesame Street, The Jim Henson Hour, you name it. The Muppets’ variety act lent itself to parodying countless popular songs over the years, but it also led to numerous original songs, some of which are really hard to forget. This is a ranked list of the original songs from the theatrically released Muppet movies (the lack of cover songs kinda kills Muppets from Space, unfortunately).

Is this list subjective and based on my temporary whims? Definitely. Disagree? Tell me your favorite Muppet songs. But I did. I ranked 50 Muppet songs. Like a goddamn man. A MAN!

[Pictures and composers names taken from Muppet Wiki.]

Sorta Forgettable:

me

50. Let’s Talk About Me – (The Muppets, 2011) Chris Cooper gets crazy as Tex Richman and sings a mean-spirited hip hop number. Sadly, it’s not that memorable. [Bret McKenzie]

Wedding.mtm

49. He’ll Make Me Happy – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984) While it’s nice to see all the characters at Kermit and Piggy’s wedding it’s just too slow. And isn’t Piggy a modern, liberated pig? Does she really need a frog to make her happy? What’s the message here? [Jeff Moss]

The_Magic_Store

48. The Magic Store – (The Muppet Movie, 1979) After so many great songs in their very first big screen adventure, I’ve always felt their big closer was a bit of a letdown. The spectacle feels artificial. [Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher]

Whistling_Caruso

47. Whistling Caruso – (The Muppets, 2011)  It’s whistling. Walter whistles to save the show. It’s okay, I guess. [Andrew Bird]

Mary_-_Me_Party

46. Me Party – (The Muppets, 2011) It’s light and breezy and gives Amy Adams and Miss Piggy something to do. Not the worst, but not my favorite. [Bret McKenzie and Paul Roemen]

Rightwhereibelong

45. Right Where I Belong – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984) Kermit snaps out of his amnesia after a truly jarringly insult-filled rant against Miss Piggy. Then we get this slow, forgettable little ditty. [Jeff Moss]

Canttakeno

44. You Can’t Take No for an Answer – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984) It’s a montage of Muppet rejection as they walk around the city. Like a lot of songs from Manhattan, it’s not the most memorable. [written by Jeff Moss]

Weddingchart-1080p

43. Somebody’s Getting Married – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984) It’s cheery. It’s upbeat. But why does it make me feel like everything is so forced? Did every single Muppet really care this much about Kermit and Piggy tying the knot? The highlight is the dancing tuxes. [Jeff Moss]

Something_better

42. Something Better – (Muppet Treasure Island, 1996) The two Brian Henson (son of Jim) directed Muppet films actually are some of the strongest for song consistency. Both Treasure Island and Christmas Carol boast some strong musical numbers. This trio of the boy Hawkins, Gonzo, and Rizzo is not one of them. [Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil]

A Bit More Personality:

Go_back_there

41. I’m Going to Back There Someday – (The Muppet Movie, 1979 and Muppets from Space, 1999) This is where the Gonzo mythos officially started. On the show he was a background character, but in the movie he became more fleshed out and this was his most bizarrely sobering moment. He’s hinting at suspecting that he’s an alien from outer space, yet it’s strangely serious and wistful. It’s a little slow, feels out of character for the usually more zany Gonzo, and I never really got it, but it ain’t bad. [Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher]

number1

40. I’m Number One – (Muppets Most Wanted, 2014) Ricky Gervais sings with Kermit’s doppelganger, Constantine, and it’s got a few great lines, but it goes a little too long and Ricky seems like he might be playing it almost a little too kid-friendly. I found that distracting and it didn’t entirely work for me. [Bret McKenzie]

MUPPETS MOST WANTED

39. Interrogation Song – (Muppets Most Wanted, 2014) This one has so much personality and a lot of clever lyrics and Ty Burrell gives his all as the Interpol agent, but I was still trying to get over the new Sam the eagle voice and this song, while funny, felt to be the most kidsy Muppet song ever. A little too soapy and kidsy for me, I guess. [Bret McKenzie]

Rat_scat

38. Rat Scat (Something’s Cookin’) – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984) This song introduces Rizzo the rat and company, but it’s more of an amusing spectacle than a great song. [written by Jeff Moss]

boomshakalaka

37. Boom Shakalaka – (Muppet Treasure Island, 1996)  It builds a lot of tension and suspense for the big comedy reveal of Miss Piggy being an island goddess who then takes an awkward fall down a flight of stairs, but there’s not a whole lot to it lyrically. [Hans Zimmer and Nick Glennie-Smith]

When_love_is_found

36. When Love is Found – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992)  This song reprises “When Love is Gone”, but with an obvious shift to a more joyful tone. It’s a good payoff at the end, but this reprise does not outclass the original somber theme sung my the crestfallen Belle. [Paul Williams]

When_love_is_gone

35. When Love is Gone – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) I know. Everyone hates this one. The thing is, it’s not a bad song. It’s serious, yes, but appropriately compelling. Sung mournfully by Scrooge’s lost love by a woman who had the thankless task of being completely serious in a movie with wacky felt animals and monsters. [Paul Williams]

Officially Muppets:

Walter-Man

34. Man or Muppet – (The Muppets, 2011) So this won the Academy Award for best song. Jason Segel and Walter explore their identity crises and it all comes to a satisfyingly silly conclusion. It’s funny and Muppet-y, but I submit this is not yet the best song from The Muppets. [Bret McKenzie]

cabin fever

33. Cabin Fever – (Muppet Treasure Island, 1996) The crew gets a little stir crazy and it’s the perfect timing for a wacky song. It happens at a lull and it operates purely as filler, but it’s welcome filler. The line, “And now that we’re all here, we’re not all there,” is perfect Muppet lyrical lunacy. [Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil]

together again

32. Together Again – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984 and Muppets Most Wanted, 2014) It’s buoyant and one of the more iconic Muppet songs. It’s a pleasant and small Kermit-led charmer. [Jeff Moss]

Sayinggoodbye

31. Saying Goodbye – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984) It’s a touching farewell that sees many beloved characters going their separate ways. It’s a surprisingly human moment from the Muppets. [Jeff Moss]

MUPPETS MOST WANTED

30. We’re Doing a Sequel – (Muppets Most Wanted, 2014) This is Most Wanted‘s version of “Hey a Movie!” from Muppet Caper. It even has villain Ricky Gervais popping in, echoing Charles Grodin’s appearance in the Caper opening. It’s cute and has some nice pop culture references, but “Hey a Movie!” is tough to beat. [Bret McKenzie]

Night_life

29. Night Life – (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) This is an unapologetically abrasive Electric Mayhem song whose loud beats are matched and timed with the backfiring of their ramshackle, multicolored tour bus. The joke is that this is why they don’t get many gigs, but I actually like this willfully obnoxious jam. [Joe Raposo]

Hispaniola_Figurehead

28. Sailing for Adventure – (Muppet Treasure Island, 1996) It’s funny and has a solid tune with some classic comedy lyrics (“People die by falling overboard!”). It lags a bit when Hawkins and Long John Silver sing, but overall it’s a song full of the anticipation of a high seas adventure. [Barry Mann]

Higher and Higher:

Scrooge3

27.  Thankful Heart – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) This was the bouncy finale song Scrooge earned. It fills the screen with all the characters he was a dick to throughout the film and suddenly all is right with the world. It always puts a smile on my face. [Paul Williams]

Blessusall

26. Bless Us All – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) Another one most people probably forget, but it’s one of the sweetest and most tender songs the Muppets ever did. Framed as a prayer around the Cratchit family table, little Robin leads and even Miss Piggy appears genuine in this quiet moment of tearful thankfulness. Fully aware they are all on the edge of tragedy, the family takes stock of what they do have—even if it all only be temporary. [Paul Williams]

Scat

25. Christmas Scat – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) This is about the only time there has ever been a genuine connection apparent between Kermit and Robin. Nobody ever likes Robin, but this short, upbeat scene shows a beautiful affection that had never been previously shown. [Paul Williams]

MMWtrailerNov20-0082

24. The Big House – (Muppets Most Wanted, 2014) Prison jokes set to music featuring Tina Fey with Jemaine Clement, Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo, and a solitary confinement-bound Josh Groban singing backup. It introduces Kermit to the gulag. It’s so enjoyable I can even get over rhyming getaway with get away. [Bret McKenzie]

Marley_and_marley

23. Marley and Marley – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) This might be the weirdest Muppet song ever. Longtime peanut gallery hecklers, Statler and Waldorf, become actual characters in the Dickens classic as Jacob and Robert (Bob?) Marley. It’s mostly dark and dour, a terrifying warning about the consequences of greed and selfishness, yet it takes breaks for a couple offbeat “doh-ho-ho” jokes. The suitcases sing backup as Scrooge is wrapped in ghostly chains. [Paul Williams]

GMC-UnderwaterBubbles

22. Miss Piggy’s Fantasy – (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) This number is purposely over-the-top and it is hilarious. Pretty much anytime Miss Piggy has a number, it’s going into her absurdly treacly imagination. Synchronized swimming ballet reminiscent of Busby Berkeley and Charles Grodin lip synching in a truly hilarious manner make this a great one. It’s trying to outdo the previous film’s “Never Before, Never Again” and maybe it comes close, but not close enough. [Joe Raposo]

Feelslikechristmas

21. It Feels Like Christmas – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) The jovial Ghost of Christmas Present sings this very cheery introduction to the joy of Christmas morning. We see so many characters spreading good cheer and love that it really is quite infectious. [Paul Williams]

Steppin_Out

20.  Steppin’ Out With a Star – (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) This is a really nice sequence showing Kermit getting ready for his big date with who he thinks is Lady Holiday. It has all the excitement of getting ready to go out on a first date. Fozzie and Gonzo also join in the fun. The puppetry was always impressive in this sequence as well. [Joe Raposo]

Even More Fun:

mmw

19. I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu) – (Muppets Most Wanted, 2014) This is the most Flight of the Conchords song Bret McKenzie ever snuck into a Muppet movie. It’s a very funny and kinda sexy sequence where Constantine dials up the faux-charm and promises Miss Piggy all the romantic things in the world—including armadillos. [Bret McKenzie]

Propirate

18. Professional Pirate – (Muppet Treasure Island, 1996) This is a high stakes song about moral ambiguity and it’s funny as hell. Tim Curry leads the pirate chorus as they try to lure Jim Hawkins to their side and betray Captain Smollet. A regular sea shanty, but with some Muppet spice. [Barry Mann]

Canyoupicturethat

17. Can You Picture That? – (The Muppet Movie, 1979) This is probably the best Electric Mayhem song. They rock out in an old church as they disguise Fozzie’s Studebaker. It’s a lot of fun and ends on a nice joke when Kermit and Fozzie finally see their psychedelic work. Fozzie: “I don’t know how to thank you guys.” Kermit: “I don’t know why to thank you guys.” [Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams]

Neverbefore

16. Never Before, Never Again – (The Muppet Movie, 1979) Miss Piggy’s imagination certainly is a wild place. She first lays eyes on Kermit the frog at a fair and immediately goes into a hilarious dream montage borrowing cues from every romantic cliche off a pulp romance novel cover. This might be the funniest Piggy song. Highlights include her pretty much amorously forcing herself on the all-too-gallant amphibian in a field and her final note that turns into an abrasive scream. [Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams]

Piggy_and_Kermit

15. The First Time it Happens – (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) It’s a peaceful waltz where Kermit and Miss Piggy fall in love and we are completely in their heads. This is one of the few times in Muppet history where the pig and the frog are on the same page romantically…maybe because nothing is spoken. [Joe Raposo]

happy song

14. Life’s a Happy Song – (The Muppets, 2011) Jason Segel and Walter sing this joyous and silly intro to the film. It sets a safe and light tempo that borders on self-parody. After this song you accept the soft, sweet cheesiness of the rules for this new Muppet world. McKenzie’s songs always felt more intimate and cute compared to the bigger sounds of some of the previous films’ scores. This is a nice introduction to that change. [Bret McKenzie]

Powerful Stuff:

always love you

13. I’m Gonna Always Love You – (The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1984) This is another moment that’s all Piggy. Once again her imagination runs wild and we get the first appearance of the Muppet Babies as she fantasizes about what it would have been like had she met Kermit when they were all babies. It’s a catchy and stupidly cute little tune. [Jeff Moss]

Love_led_us_here

 

12. Love Led Us Here – (Muppet Treasure Island, 1996) This might be the most powerful moment between Kermit and Piggy. As Capt. Smollet and Benjamina, they dangle upside-down off a cliff as a candle burns through the rope. Realizing the end is near they stop fighting and embrace their fate as they profess their love and pontificate on how destiny has led them to what seems like disaster, but maybe it has brought them closer. It’s weirdly emotional. [Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil]

IslandHeads

11. Shiver My Timbers – (Muppet Treasure Island, 1996) Following a fantastic instrumental prologue and a salty Billy Connolly narration, we are plunged into a densely atmospheric pirate adventure with weird Muppet critters singing an ominous warning while cutthroat buccaneers bury their treasure. It’s got an intense build and it’s one of the few Muppet songs that actually feels dangerous. And the tikis. My god, the tikis. “One more time now.” [Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil]

greatmuppetcaper-01

10. Hey a Movie! – (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) This might be the fourth wall breaking-est song the Muppets ever did. They pretty much give away the whole story and set the tone for the rules of their movie world. This was the first time the Muppets were not about being a variety show and were just straight up diving into genre storytelling, but they retained their sense of anarchy throughout and this song showcases that perfectly. [Joe Raposo]

1moresleep

9. One More Sleep ’til Christmas – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) This song is so soft and happy it’s hard not to love. It really does feel like a special night as Kermit and the rat bookkeepers tidy up and walk home, taking a moment to even join some skating penguins. “There’s no such thing as strangers when the stranger says ‘hello.'” [Paul Williams]

ForkinRoad

8. Movin’ Right Along – (The Muppet Movie, 1979) This was the charming, pun-filled road song that became the pulse of the whole film. Fozzie and Kermit are so full of hope for their new lives. You really buy their camaraderie. [Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams]

The Final Countdown:

pictures

7. Pictures in My Head – (The Muppets, 2011) This was my favorite song from The Muppets. In it, Kermit quietly reflects on his past regrets and his fading memories of his distant friends. We’d never seen Kermit this wistful and defeated before. It was strange and sad and then sculpted itself into something hopeful and magical as all the pictures came to life and sang to Kermit before retreating back into its own pessimism. Wonderfully crafted and kinda moving. [Jeannie Lurie, Aris Archontis, and Chen Neeman]

MCC-Screengrabs-George-a

6. Scrooge – (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) What a great intro to a movie and a character. This was the first Muppet movie to try to be a reinterpretation of a classic bit o’ literature and they had to set the stage right and explain the tone and geometry of this world quickly. They did a great job and give many obscure characters a chance to shine as the camera movesd to every Muppet-filled nook and cranny of this Victorian street. It explains who Ebenezer Scrooge is with both levity and brevity. Alongside passages taken verbatim from Dickens we also get more Muppet-y lines like “Even the vegetables don’t like him.” Genius. [Paul Williams]

GMC-MuppetsOnBikes

5. Couldn’t We Ride? – (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) Following a quarrel between Piggy and Kermit, this sublime song is pure elation. It’s Caper‘s version of “Rainbow Connection”. All the Muppets are riding bicycles without a care in the world. It was an impressive feat of puppetry as well. What starts as a quiet moment between a frog and a pig becomes a universal feeling of good feelings and serenity. [Joe Raposo]

MMW-SomethingSoRight

4. Something So Right – (Muppets Most Wanted, 2014) This is an epic moment that follows Miss Piggy’s emotional uncertainty following an uncharacteristic proposal from a frog who she thinks is Kermit. It’s a solid song with emotional depth and cashes in on the precedented joke that Piggy is a Celine Dion fan. Celine does indeed join in for a nice cameo, as does Dr. Teeth, Floyd Pepper, Scooter, Rowlf, Pepe the prawn, and even the rarely used Lew Zealand and Link Hogthrob (Beaker steals the scene with six well-placed “mee’s”). Piggy has another fantasy about her life with Kermit—having freak babies and growing old together. It’s a wonderfully executed song and features the most random assortment of side characters. It’s Most Wanted‘s “Pictures in My Head” moment and I daresay, it surpasses it. [Bret McKenzie]

Rainbow_connection_1

3. Rainbow Connection – (The Muppet Movie, 1979, The Muppets, 2011) What? The Muppet anthem classic isn’t number one? Blasphemy! Outrage! Well, it’s just my opinion. This really is one of the sweetest songs ever and it’s easy to see its universal appeal. Rather than go after jokes and gags, Kermit simply sings from the heart, putting words together for no other reason than they sound pretty and full of hope. The perfect introduction to the optimistic world of the Muppets [Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher]

SomethingBetter

2. I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along – (The Muppet Movie, 1979) This is a quiet moment of male bonding between Kermit the frog and Rowlf the dog (both voiced by Jim Henson). They sing a duet lamenting their failed love lives. It’s simple, playful, real, and even finds time for a few welcome jokes. It’s like a scene from Casablanca and at the end we feel closer to both of them. [Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher]

Happiness_Hotel_Song

1. Happiness Hotel – (The Great Muppet Caper, 1981) “Happiness Hotel” is an apologetic welcome to a shabby, hole-in-the-wall inn when Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo get to England. It’s sung in a bouncy, rinky-dink sort of way by the entire Muppet peanut gallery. It’s loaded with gags, puns, clever dialogue, and rhymes. What makes it great is it has that mock-apology sensibility that The Muppet Show always had. The whole idea of The Muppet Show was that a motley band of misfits and oddballs were trying to put on a variety show every week with Kermit and others usually trying to cover up backstage mishaps or onstage shenanigans while Statler and Waldorf heckled in the sidelines. The show was supposed to be about a flawed revue act that the characters were always apologizing for but, just like this song, the pretend problems are what made it great and funny. This song feels like a loving and energetic tribute to the original spirit of the old show. And it ends on a stinger where long-suffering straight man, Sam the eagle, opens his door, scans the room tacitly, and then finally mutters, “You are all weirdos.” Classic. [written by Joe Raposo]

Originally published for net.sideBar March 30, 2015.

http://www.netsidebar.com/the-definitive-subjective-ranking-of-the-best-theatrical-muppet-songs/

Jim Henson is the Story Teller

Great TV seems to be a rarity these days. Especially in the realm of high-end fantasy. In times like these (dominated by “reality,” shockers, and wanton crassness) I find it refreshing to revisit older television shows. Jim Henson’s The Storyteller (1988) is a welcome oddity from the past. Only nine episodes were made, but they are fresh and fun. Four more episodes were made for Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Greek Myths (1990).


Jim Henson gets a lot of credit as the creator of the Muppets and Sesame Street (1969-present), but few seem to realize that he was much more than a simple puppeteer. In addition to performing as Kermit the frog, Rowlf the dog, and Dr. Teeth, Jim Henson was a pioneering innovator in the field of modern puppetry, animatronics, and special effects. The Jim Henson’s Creature Shop (which was developed for films like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth) was responsible for some of the most memorable movie monsters of the past few decades (including The Witches, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Babe, The Flintstones, Dr. Doolittle, MirrorMask, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, etc.).

John Hurt (A Man for All Seasons, The Elephant Man, Watership Down, Alien, Hellboy) stars as The Storyteller, a wizened old man who sits in a tatterdemalion chair at the best place by the fire. Brian Henson (Return to Oz, Labyrinth, Monster Maker) performs the voice and puppeteers the role of the Storyteller’s dog. Together in an old and mysterious castle they huddle by the fireside and tell stories from ancient European folklore. The hallmarks of the show are that the tales told by the Storyteller are very obscure and each episode is assured to feature some new makeup, monster, or prosthetic from the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Some familiar faces do make appearances in the stories themselves. Sean Bean (Ronin, Fellowship of the Ring), Bob Peck (Jurassic Park), Jonathan Pryce (Brazil, Evita), Miranda Richardson (Blackadder, Sleepy Hollow), Joely Richardson (Event Horizon, 101 Dalmations), Alison Doody (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), Bryan Pringle (the butler in Haunted Honeymoon), Robert Eddison (the knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), Philip Jackson and Pauline Moran (Inspector Japp and Miss Lemon from Agatha Christie’s Poirot), and a few others all play roles in these bizarre fables, but the real stars are the innovative special effects.

A high fantasy children’s show about obscure foreign tales with grandiose production qualities featuring spooky and distorted monsters and hideous makeup was doomed to be short-lived from the beginning it would seem. When one of your episodes features a hedgehog monster-man who rides a giant rooster, marries a princess who fears him, and removes his skin every night to hang out with barnyard animals naked you know you don’t have a typical mainstream smash hit on your hands. The stories are dark and unforgivingly strange and cryptic at times. The puppets, animatronics, and makeup and indeed even the tone is sometimes enough to make one uneasy, but after almost a decade of dark 80s films for kids (The Black Cauldron, Watcher in the Woods, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Gremlins, Black Hole, Return to Oz, Time Bandits, etc.) I don’t see it as anything the young ‘uns couldn’t have handled.

The two episodes Jim Henson himself directed “The Soldier and Death” and “The Heartless Giant” were probably the best. “The Soldier and Death” I found to be particularly good and actually surprisingly complex..not to mention the great creepy devil puppets and death too. John Hurt must been having the time of his life as the Storyteller. He plays the role with such grizzled vigor and in the episode “A Story Short” he actually becomes the central character in his own narration. The filming is fun and imaginative, featuring many expressionistic touches and collage and silhouette techniques. The puppets are great (perhaps a bit odd at times, but it’s all good). Sea monsters, devils, griffins, giants, wolves, trolls, magical lions, and other creatures speckle the landscape here. Major props to the clever writing as well. The Storyteller does not Disney-fy tragedy or strangeness and keeps the morals relatively ambiguous, favoring just being thought-provoking and entertaining over being clear about morality. It is admirable that a children’s show would respect its audience to the degree The Storyteller does. It does not offer easy answers to anything.

Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Greek Myths (1990) features a new narrator. Brian Henson returns as the dog and Michael Gambon (The Cook the Thief His Wife and Her Lover, Toys, Gosford Park, Harry Potter, Fantastic Mr. Fox) is the new storyteller. This time the tales are not so much more dark as they are more sad and hopeless. This short series does not water down Greek tragedy for a younger audience. At times narrator, Gambon, seems to be delighting in horrifying his dog sidekick with unhappy twists. The monsters are still cool and scary. Medusas and minotaurs galore! Classic Greek myths come to life as you see stories of Perseus, Icarus, Theseus, and Orpheus all rise and fall. Derek Jacobi (Brother Cadfael, Hamlet, Gosford Park) plays Daedalus in the first episode.

Both series are quite unique and unforgettable. The original Storyteller intro might be one of the best TV intros ever (it’s almost reminiscent of Tales from the Crypt). What I really liked about the stories they selected are not only that many were new to me, but that it says something of culture and history. Ancient Greek myths are a completely different beast from early European folklore. The rules and flow are different. We don’t really tell stories the way they did back then. As a master storyteller and master in special effects, Jim Henson was just the man to tackle this idea. Henson really did think outside of the box. Yes, his wonderful, iconic Muppet characters will undoubtedly be loved and cherished for years to come, but he was much more than a puppeteer. Revisit the Storyteller series and while you’re at it, the old Muppet Show too (still arguably one of the finest and cleverest variety shows ever put together). Fraggle Rock? The Muppet Babies? Have at it. And fans of all that Henson did might also be interested in revisiting another short-lived favorite from my childhood: The Jim Henson Hour (1989).

picture references:

ign.com

muppet wiki

Surpassing Sequels: Followups That Followed Through

Sequels are just a recent product of an unimaginative Hollywood, right? Wrong! …well not just anyway. Sequels, prequels, spinoffs, franchises, etc. have been a part of the movie money machine since the beginning. Paul Wegener’s great silent German expressionist classic about a rampaging Jewish clay man, The Golem (1920), was actually the third movie in a series. Snack on that. There are at least two other movies before 1920 about a rampaging Jewish clay man.

Whenever you see a list of great movie sequels you invariably run across many repeating titles. You’d have to be an idiot not to include The Empire Strikes Back (1980), The Godfather: Part II (1974), or The Bride of Frankentstein (1935). These films in particular are wonderful because of their ability to not only recapture the magic and what was great about their original incarnations, but because they were able to expand upon the mythos and even improve on their themes. They created new, complex conflicts built upon stones already laid. It is not too terribly often that one gets to see a sequel that surpasses its predecessor, but it might happen more than one might think. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), Mad Max: the Road Warrior (1981), Star Trek: Wrath of Khan (1982), Clear and Present Danger (1994), Legend of the Drunken Master (1994), and I’ll argue Iron Man 3 (2013) are only a few movie followups that, in my humble opinion, improved on the originals. The Toy Story and Back to the Future franchises also did a fine job of retaining their integrity throughout. The Four Musketeers (1974) was the perfect continuation (although I wonder if it should count because it’s just the second half of the book), and Hellboy II: the Golden Army (2008) has even more monsters than the original and is funnier (I am biased towards more monsters and being funnier).

Then there’s your more divisive ones. From Russia With Love (1963) is technically a better film than Dr. No (1962), but it’s only because Dr. No derails itself in the last act and gets really campy in the homestretch. I still probably prefer Dr. No though. Superman II (1980) is a good sequel because it uses the established characters to present a novel dilemma (the one ripped off by Spiderman 2) and because it keeps a far more consistent tone. If the first Superman did not shift gears and become too cartoony after Lex Luthor showed up, the first movie would have still been better. And Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) is still a far better sequel than Temple of Doom (1984).

If memory serves Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985) was the better of the two made-for-tv ewok movies, but it really doesn’t matter because both were pretty awful.

So what’s this all about? A good sequel should expand, not simply rehash. I just wanted to remind everybody that not all sequels are complete garbage. Furthermore, I would like to share some of my favorite movie sequels that sometimes get forgotten or missed when people think of sequels.

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12.) Technically 1985’s Return to Oz is not a better movie than Wizard of Oz (1939), but it’s such an off the wall departure from the tone of the original that it deserves to be mentioned. Made by a completely different studio decades after Wizard, Return to Oz was directed by Walter Murch and even if it seems a bit random, it’s completely in keeping with L. Frank Baum’s world. It’s a much darker and stranger tale with a much younger Dorothy (GOING IN FOR SHOCK THERAPY!!!!) and although it is actually more uneven and more dated than Wizard of Oz, it has a lot of its own charm. Dorothy was played by a very young Fairuza Balk. The real stars of this film are the wonky 80s special effects and cool puppetry from the Jim Henson studios.

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11.) Jacques Tati‘s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) was followed by three sequels starring the bumbling Mr. Hulot (Tati). All are wonderful, but the first sequel, Mon Oncle (1958), is regarded by many as his best. It is quiet and subtle and beautifully set up. Tati’s penchant for comic juxtaposition and clever mise-en-scène is as sublime and sharp as ever. The color photography is textured and pretty, and the amusing clash between the rustic, old world and sterile, malfunctioning modernity makes for wonderful satire. Playtime (1967) might beat it though for sheer breadth of and scope of comic beauty and satirical examinations of alienation in society.

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10.) Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa knows his period action epics. The man behind such fantastic movies as Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), Ran (1985), and many others served his sequels up pretty good too. 1961’s Yojimbo starring Toshiro Mifune was remade by Sergio Leone as A Fistful of Dollars so you’re probably familiar with the storyline of a super cool nameless warrior who lives by his own rules and plays warring gangs against each other. It’s sequel Sanjuro (1962) continues this ronin’s story and—because of a malfunction that ended up looking really cool—it introduced the blood spray geyser gimmick for a whole generation of action and samurai films to copy.

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9.) Before Sunset (2004) is the excellent sequel to Richard Linklater’s classic romantic drama Before Sunrise (1995). The first movie followed two strangers, a young American guy (Ethan Hawke) and a young French chick (Julie Delpy), as they simply walk around Vienna for one magical but short-lived night. Even though they know they will probably never see each other again they cannot help but plant the mysterious seeds of romance. The sequel picks up a decade later after the American has written a book about that magical night and is touring around. The girl meets him in Paris at a signing. The sequel goes in real-time and it is the perfect second installment for these two characters. They have aged and they have grown and life is more complex than it was, but that special connection that existed between them is still powerful and captivating. It is a pleasure to revisit these two endearing personalities. I eagerly anticipate Before Midnight (2013).

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8.) I love The Muppet Movie (1979), but Jim Henson’s The Great Muppet Caper (1981) might be even more fun. It was a successful follow-up to The Muppet Movie because it gave the characters a chance to go overseas and get mixed up in a heist storyline with all the classic moves…only with Muppets. Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy, Gonzo, Animal, everybody is back and in Great Britain. The Muppet Movie is still great and you can’t beat the song Rainbow Connection, but Caper is directed with more style and it seems to be having more fun playing with the conventions of the crime genre and it’s less episodic. Another personal note: it’s still before Gonzo became too front and center. Gonzo was always my favorite, but I liked him better as a side character. When he’s the main focus he loses his mystique. I feel the same way about the Fonz on Happy Days.

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7.) Joe Dante’s Gremlins—along with Temple of Doom—resulted in the MPAA employing the PG-13 rating system in 1984. Gremlins is a dark and cynical horror-comedy, and so is 1990’s Gremlins 2, but it’s much more anarchic and cartoony. It’s more satirical than merely cynical and it manages to effectively parody itself, it’s predecessor, consumerism, TV, and sequels in general. It’s wilder and more unhinged and if Christopher Lee’s presence isn’t enough, Tony Randall voices the Brain Gremlin. People still like Gremlins, but for my money the sequel is far more daring and fun. Gremlins, as I always understood them, were more mischievous and wild than simply horrific. I hearken back to the classic 1943 Bob Clampbett cartoon Falling Hare starring Bugs Bunny and one of his few devilish matches: a gremlin.

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6.) Chan wook Park’s vengeance trilogy does not share characters so much as it shares themes…of vengeance. Oldboy (2003) is the second film in the trilogy (sandwiched between Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance) and it is the most famous in the west and I’d say it’s my favorite of the three as well. It’s a dark and complex revenge story of man who is kidnapped and upon his release he must figure out who abducted him and why. Memories, love, loss, pain, anguish, action, chills, suspense, tragedy, you name it. This intense South Korean flick has got it all.

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5.) The Rescuers (1977) never got me. I liked some of the songs and the animation is strong and emotive (the last time animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston would work together for Disney), but the colors are yucky, the villains are ugly and uncharismatic, and the whole mood of the film feels a little off-putting…but I liked the mice. In 1990 they brought back Bernard and Bianca (voiced once again by Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor) for The Rescuers Down Under. Evenrude the dragonfly is gone, but funnyman John Candy plays an obnoxious albatross and George C. Scott is a mean poacher out to get a giant eagle. The memorable mouse duo embarks on a dangerous mission to Australia to rescue a young boy. It’s a sleight film, but it works and I like it a lot more than the original. It’s fun, funny, and the animation is great.

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4.) Here’s a fun one. Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki won me over with Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989), which was a surreal comedic tale of Finland’s worst band and their road trip to the states to obtain an audience, but the sequel Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses (1994) is just as good. Their old manager allegedly has been born again as Moses and so goes on a mission to find all of the Leningrad Cowboys and take them back to Europe…but not before stealing the nose off the Statue of Liberty. Just as surreal the second time around this sequel gets a littler kookier to boot. This movie also has one of the best sight gags I’ve ever seen.

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3.) If you like your horror with a side of humor then you already agree with me when I include Sam Raimi’s 1987 classic, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (a half-remake, half-parody type sequel of the first Evil Dead). The first film was more a straight horror film with some campiness, but the sequel plays with the material in much bolder ways. It’s kinetic, gory, AND FUNNY, and the special effects are better. I wish the whole movie could have been just Ash (Bruce Campbell) alone in the house fighting the demons of the Necronomicon…I suppose they needed a bigger body count though. The scene where Ash battles and cuts off his demon-possessed hand and replaces it with a chainsaw is hilarious. As much as I enjoy this super energized tribute to supernatural slasher flicks (complete with gratuitous homages to the Three Stooges), I might even like the next sequel Army of Darkness (1992) even better.

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2.) Satyajit Ray made a stellar directorial debut with Pather Panchali (1955), and he continued to do something truly special with the followup films Aparajito (1956) and Apur Sansar (1959). The story follows the development of Apu, a young boy growing up in squalor in 1920s India. It is a powerful and potent trilogy. You will run the emotional gamut watching it. What makes the sequels so interesting is that as the character of Apu grows, so does Ray as a filmmaker. Pather Panchali is almost documentarian in its approach and style, while Aparajito becomes more a narrative-driven plot and finally Apur Sansar is almost Hollywood-esque with its calculated rises and falls (the good Hollywood).

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1.) The best sequel of all time I list here. It is one that I am shocked and appalled does not appear on more lists. It is Troll 2 (1990). I know what you’re thinking. Troll 2 is an odious train wreck of a film that completely disregards anything concerning the previous movie…and most things concerning any movie. Everything about it is terrible. Acting, writing, direction, production, special effects, dialogue, structure, you name it, it has screwed it up royally. It is so terrible that it’s actually quite wonderful. Who am I kidding? I love this movie! I really love it. Where the first Troll (1986) was simply a really bad, forgettable movie (that curiously featured Sonny Bono, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and a character named HARRY POTTER), Troll 2 is a devastating rape of the art-form and has developed a huge cult-following. Nobody even remembers that there was another Troll. Troll 2 completely eclipses all previous troll efforts. How many movie sequels can totally obliterate the first movie? People love Troll 2. People have Troll 2 parties. There’s a documentary about it called Best Worst Movie (2009) which is also pretty awesome. Few bad movies have had the impact and staying power on the cult fan base that Troll 2 has. So while some may say it’s a failure as a movie, I wouldn’t say it’s a failure as a sequel.

There you have it. Go watch some movies. Leave a comment if you have a suggestion. Also, am I only one who liked Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) more than Desperado (1995)?

http://www.listal.com/viewimage/1263332

http://saradobie.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/return-to-oz/

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http://collider.com/ethan-hawke-on-a-3rd-before-sunrise-before-sunset-movie/13503/

http://twynkle.com/movies/928/backdrops/203918

http://www.the-other-view.com/oldboy.html

http://www.miradas.net/2007/n59/estudio/leningradcowboysmeetmoses.html

http://bestworstmovie.com/nil-blog/film-interview-george-hardy/