Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Dance Party:The 12 Muppets of Christmas

With Sesame Street turning 40 this year, the Muppets seem to be everywhere. I never watched Sesame Street, as I already knew how to count when the landmark series premiered, but everyone is aware of its existence. The show introduced the world to Jim Henson's creations, the Muppets.

It's time for me to make this confession: I don't like the Muppets. Here's a bigger confession: I don't like puppets of any kind. They make me very uncomfortable.

My first experience with live action puppets (as opposed to the cartoon variety, more on that in a mo') was being bored to tears by Kukla, Fran, and Ollie. This trio had a lot of success in the 40s and 50s, but by the time I ran into them, their heyday was over. They were hosting a Saturday (or was it Sunday?) afternoon anthology series called The CBS Children's Film Festival. The program featured hour-long films aimed at children (they were often foreign, if I remember correctly), which was enough to keep me tuned in. Unfortunately, somebody thought kids needed something familiar every week, so Kukla, Fran, and Ollie provided that hook. They were a real snooze-fest. But at least they did not make me uncomfortable.

I blame Walt Disney for my discomfort with puppets. Sometime in my childhood, I attended one of the re-releases of one of Disney's classic animated films. One particular scene in this film so disturbed me, that I had nightmares. To this day (quite a few decades later), I can lay my distaste for any kind of puppet or marionette squarely at the feet of this guy:
Not only was it creepy that this poor little kid, Pinocchio, became disfigured by a growing nose, but when he started to turn into a donkey, I freaked. I saw this film once, at least 45 years ago; I have not seen it since.

Puppets, marionettes, even that Insult Dog, all give me the creeps. The only hand-manipulated character I can stand is this one, though we don't see too much of her these days since her handler is, you know, dead:

Otherwise, leave me alone. I'm not the only one to have mixed feelings about puppets in general, and the Muppets in particular. Hardly anybody remembers that, back in 1975, the Muppets were part of the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players. Yep, they appeared in every episode of the first season of Saturday Night Live, but it was not a good fit. The actors and writers hated them, with one writer noting, "I won't write for felt."

Jim Henson soon created The Muppet Show, and his characters finally became successful as adult entertainment. But not for me. Though I can pick Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Statler & Waldorf out of a crowd, the other Muppets are foreign to me, and I intend to keep it that way. (The Muppet Show has already provided a previous Dance Party, the one with Juliet Prowse.)

I know I'm in the minority here; everybody in the world loves The Muppets. So, to kick off the holiday season, the Friday Dance party presents twelve of them, plus John Denver, who kind of looks like a Muppet himself. Somebody, please, tell me: What is the attraction???