Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Jay and Sam vs The Muppets Wizard of Oz

Jay and Sam tackled The Muppets Wizard of Oz. When did they see it and how? What did they think? How much does Sam hate Quentin Tarantino?

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1 comment:

rocketdave said...

“Sexy” is not really a dirty word. Honestly, these complaints about a couple risqué jokes makes me think of the people who were so outraged that ABC’s The Muppets flirted with a PG sensibility, which is completely overlooking the fact that Jim Henson never intended the Muppets to be strictly kids’ entertainment. For instance, on The Jim Henson Hour, I remember a desperate Kermit promising viewers that if they kept watching after the next commercial break, that they might see, among other things, “maybe a little sex.” Not to mention the fact that one of the two original pilots for The Muppet Show was actually titled (with tongue planted in cheek) The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence.

Jay spends some time at the start of the podcast explaining the Muppets, which at one point I would have considered to be unnecessary, except I remember how my sister told me this story about how she was teaching a class at the University of Iowa several years back when she was working on her doctorate, and had cause to show a clip from The Muppet Show, and none of these college age kids had any idea who the Mupepts were or who Fozzie Bear was. As someone for whom the Muppets were a major part of their childhood, that was incredibly depressing.

Jim Henson did claim that “Muppet” was a portmanteau of “marionette” and “puppet,” but he also later admitted that he just liked the way the word sounded.

Pepe is Spanish. His puppeteer, Bill Barretta, based his accent on his mother-in-law, iirc. Rowlf would have been a more obvious choice for Toto, but after Jim’s death, Rowlf didn’t speak for many years. Ironically, Bill Barretta now is Rowlf’s performer and he’s a terrific replacement. However, I think the main reason Pepe played the role of Toto is simply because he was one of the more popular Muppets at that time, being one of the few new characters, along with Bobo (who is also played by Barretta), to survive past the cancellation of Muppets Tonight. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of Pepe, though he’s grown on me some in the past year or so.

My favorite character from Muppets Tonight was Johnny Fiama (another Bill Barretta character), who plays the Wicked Witch’s right hand man in this movie. Sam enquires if he’s modeled after Travolta. Nope, he’s not; he’s a crooner in the vein of Sinatra, Tony Bennett, etc. Unfortunately, Johnny Fiama hasn’t been seen much in recent years. He was usually paired up with his monkey pal Sal, who was played by Brian Henson, who obviously is no longer affiliated with the Muppets since selling them to Disney.

Ashanti would definitely not have been anywhere near my first choice for Dorothy, and I would like to think it’s not because of her ethnicity. I mean, I can’t think of any occasion in which I’ve objected to a person of color taking over a role of a traditionally white character. I really like Lucy Liu as Watson on Elementary, for instance. It’s just a matter of whether someone is the right fit for the part. Any of the alternate actors mentioned during this podcast would have been better Dorothys (I particularly would have loved to have seen Anne Hathaway play the role), but their talents would have probably been wasted in this production. Like I said in my comment for the last podcast, I only watched this movie once, when it originally aired, and as both a fan of Oz and of the Muppets, I felt underwhelmed and disappointed. It has been twelve years, so maybe I’d look on it more favorably now, but then again, I felt pretty much the same way about 1999's Muppets From Space, and when I rewatched that for the first time not that long ago, my opinion hadn’t changed much.

Oh, this is a trivial thing – I know it’s a common mistake to make - but to say that Frank Oz was the voice of Miss Piggy is kind of doing a disservice to how much hard work goes into bringing a character like that to life. Puppeteers/ Muppet performers are more than just voice actors.