Fans of the world’s funniest felt family won’t want to miss Muppet Guys Talking, a warm and witty new documentary that reunites filmmaker Frank Oz with four of his fellow Muppeteers for a laughter-filled tribute to the legacy of Jim Henson.
For the millions who grew up with Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and all their fuzzy offspring, the characters created by Jim Henson and his collaborators are an indelible part of childhood. But as producer/director Frank Oz (best known as the performer behind Fozzie, Miss Piggy, and Grover) says at the start of Muppet Guys Talking, the Muppets were always intended do more than merely entertain children. Creating anarchic comedy that could be appreciated by all ages was serious work, but it was born from a spirit of playfulness and experimentation that comes across strongly in the documentary.
In Muppet Guys Talking, Oz is joined in a casual living-room setting by veteran puppeteers Dave Goelz (Gonzo, Bunson Honeydew), Fran Brill (Prairie Dawn, Zoe), Bill Barretta (Pepe, Carl), and the late Jerry Nelson (The Count, Robin), to whom the film is dedicated. The quintet’s gabfest is a goldmine of trivia and insight for Muppet fanatics, ranging from the inspirations behind Snuffalupagus and Grover — Winnie the Pooh’s Eeyore and Oz’s dog Fred, respectively — to the reason why Fozzie stopped wiggling his ears. Viewers learn how Gonzo emerged from Goelz’s self-perceived personal flaws (“He started as a loser, then he was a nutcase, and then soulful.”), why the performers referred to pulling an all-nighter as “Jim Henson Hours,” and how Brill handled being one of the only Muppet Gals among the guys.
It would be easy for a documentary like this to visually devolve into ‘talking heads’ (or is that ‘talking hands’?), but Oz intercuts just enough behind-the-scenes archival footage of the Muppeteers in their prime, including a touching roll call of Jim Henson’s characters, from Rowlf to Guy Smiley. There are also some crudely composited cartoons used to illustrate the more outrageous anecdotes. However, the focus is on their verbal remembrances, which reveal secrets of fostering creativity and cooperation that can apply to any endeavor.
If you require slick editing, look elsewhere; several of the shaggy-dog stories lead to dead ends, there are frequent calls to ‘cut,’ and they even take a mid-film coffee break. But that only adds to the charming sense that Jim Henson’s irrepressible spirit still lives on in the relationships between these artists. Muppet Guys Talking isn’t a film for young Muppet watchers (lest they hear the voice of Yoda use the s-word), but adult fans will find themselves wishing it were longer than 65 minutes, if only to include more memories.
Muppet Guys Talking is available online beginning March 16 at MuppetGuysTalking.com. Watch these videos for more Muppet mania: