Tickets for the new Muppets Most Wanted movie is going mostly unwanted at the box office. The movie suffered an opening gross of just $16.5 million, far below the $29.2 million opening take of last year’s The Muppets, which did surprisingly well without Henson’s input. The stumbles for Muppets Most Wanted during opening week, however, shows just how badly the franchise misses the genius of Jim Henson.
Henson died in 1990 after fashioning a troop of puppets from the sock draw and creating a franchise valued at $150 million. Henson was reportedly going to sell his company to Disney for that amount the weekend he died. During its five-year run on public television, The Muppet Show reached 235 million viewers in more than 100 countries. The show won three Emmys and led to feature films The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan.
Henson first began working with puppets as a senior in high school. Later, he took his puppets to WTOP-TV in Washington, D.C. where they appeared on a Saturday morning kids program. While he was in college, Henson created Sam and Friends for WRC-TV, developing techniques he would later use on The Muppets. It was there that he first worked with Jane Nebel, who would eventually become Mrs. Henson. During his time at WRC-TV Henson created an early version of Kermit the Frog.
Henson branched out in the 1960s, producing several experimental movies. He was honing the skills he would later use on his television shows – the brand of Jim Henson genius that Muppets Most Wanted misses and stumbles because of it.
Henson went on to create more than 2,000 different Muppets during his lifetime. Many of the innovative Muppet techniques he developed over the years had never been tried before. He and his puppeteers like Frank Oz, brought life to otherwise inanimate objects like Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.
It is that brand of genius, critics say, that goes missing in action during Muppets Most Wanted. One critic says the movie opens with song lyrics that claim “the sequel is never as good as the original” and then “goes on to prove it.” Critics contend the movie’s script is what misses Henson most of all. Written by Director James Bobin, it parcels out most of the humorous lines to the live actors instead of the usually zany Muppets. Henson never would have allowed that. As a result, Fozzie, Gonzo and the rest of the Muppets fade into the background as the human cast of Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Tina Fey overshadow them. Further, critics accuse the plot of being “constantly in flux” and never “sure where it wants to go” or “whom to really focus on.”
Critics contend the music in the movie also lacks appeal, “not catchy, funny” or even interesting. The songs, they say, miss the “original Muppet spirit.” Muppets Most Wanted lacks music with the charm of It’s Not Easy Being Green and The Rainbow Connection.
The result, most critics say, is a Muppets Most Wanted that stumbles and misses the genius of Jim Henson, the man who brought magic to the screen two decades ago.
Commentary by B. David Warner