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“The Muppets”
a review by Darby O’Gill

There are a few things that I like to think of as the building blocks of my childhood; The Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, The Three Stooges, and The Little Rascals all played their part, but the one to play the biggest role had to be the Muppets! Allow me to better illustrate my life-long devotion to Jim Henson’s Muppets, if you will. My first soundtrack ever was The Muppet Movie, wait for it… on 8-track. Yes, I know I’m old. It was quickly followed by The Great Muppet Caper, also on 8-track. One of the fondest, and most vivid memories I have from my childhood, is the joy and excitement I would get at 7:30pm, once a week as the drum-roll and trumpets would sound over the rotating ITC Entertainment logo. That image and sound is forever etched into my brain. I remember my cousin taking me to see The Muppet Movie in the theater, just the two of us, because she had just gotten her driver’s license and she could. And when I got married, and my mother requested Kermit’s Rainbow Connection as our mother/son dance, I couldn’t have been more touched. As you can tell, the Muppets have played a huge role in my life, and to say the news of a new Muppet movie, back in the hands of Disney no less, made me nervous, would be a huge understatement.

In The Muppets, two brothers, Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), grow-up in a small town called Smalltown; only Gary is a real boy and Walter is, well a Muppet. There’s not really a lot of explanation for it, so I’m just going to move on. Walter naturally feels out of place in Smalltown, but that all changes after he sees his first episode of The Muppet Show! So, when Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) plan a romantic get away to Hollywood, it’s only natural that they invite Walter along to take a tour of the Muppet studios. But when they get there, the studio and theatre are in ruins. The Muppets are all but forgotten, as all that seems to remain is a sad little tour. It’s on the tour that Walter overhears an oil tycoon’s, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), plan to buy the land and drill for oil. Walter seeks out Kermit the Frog to help him bring the Muppets back together again, and hopefully save the studio in time!

I really wanted to love this movie. I went in with high hopes and wary expectations, but ended up coming out with the same mixed emotions. I really disliked the first half of the film. The thing that makes a good Muppet movie is that the story is being told around the Muppets and their interaction with the people in the real world. The first part of this movie deals with the people and not the Muppets. I understand that that’s just how the filmmakers chose to tell the story, but I just didn’t like it. I think it’s also why The Muppets Take Manhattan is my least favorite of the original movies. Also, the musical numbers are forced and way too over the top. One of the nicest things in the first two movies is the way the music just flows with the story, and sadly that doesn’t happen here. This brings us to the second half of the movie, where the Muppets regroup and hold a last-minute telethon to help save the studio. Now this is the movie I wanted to see! The eye to detail, and love and care that went into bringing The Muppet Show back to life is heart-warming. I fell in love with the second half of this movie! I know that Muppet co-creator Frank Oz walked away from this project, because he disagreed with the way some of the characters were being handled, and that the Muppets were never about money. I agree with him, but I’m also guessing that he was referring to the earlier rendition of the script, which was quickly panned by many of those that got to read it. In the final version of the film, I don’t really have a problem with it. The Muppets aren’t really raising money for themselves, as much as they’re doing it to help save their studio. Some people are also complaining that Kermit is depicted as a Hollywood mogul in the movie, but I think they forget that he was in fact the executive producer of The Muppet Show. He ran the show from his little table just off stage, and was in charge of all the guests. I think the movie nailed the spirit of the old show, and hopefully gets a whole new generation to watch them now on DVD. In closing, there were just two things I would have liked to have seen: 1) I would have loved it if they had found a Fraggle hole in the basement of the studio, and 2) If the marketing people would have gotten McDonald’s to release a new set of Muppet drinking glasses, that would have been AMAZING!

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“Kung Fu Panda Holiday”
a review by Darby O’Gill

It seems like only a year ago that I was saying there should be a Kung Fu Panda holiday special, and one year later here we are. Wow, right?! The power I have in this town, even scares me at times. I not only love the fact that DreamWorks Animation is keeping the spirit of the holiday specials alive and kicking, but they also don’t just phone-it-in like a Disney straight to DVD film. Each special always enlists the talents of its respective films’ original voice talent, no matter how big the name. I really hope that other production houses are considering following in DreamWorks footsteps next year. Are you listening Warner Brothers? Between the Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbara, and DC Comics, you guys are sitting on a smorgasbord of material. One of my all-time favorite holiday specials from when I was a kid is Hanna-Barbara’s Yogi’s First Christmas. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend tracking it down. It was never officially released on DVD, but you can order a made-to-order copy from Warner Bros. directly. Just chick here. They might show it on Boomerang, or even finally release it officially on DVD this year with the upcoming Yogi Bear movie, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

In Kung Fu Panda Holiday, Po finds himself torn between spending the holiday with his new family the Furious Five and his fellow kung-fu masters, or with his father. It’s not until he tries his best to do both, that he realizes what is truly important. Yes, it’s clichéd, but DreamWorks Animation always seems to pull it off in a way that makes it enjoyable and fun at the same time. At one point Po’s father tells him he’s sorry for making him feel guilty, and Po just replies, “That’s what the holidays are all about.” There’s also this great bunny, played by 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer, who has been mistakenly dishonorably disgraced and wishes to die an honorable death, so he’s constantly trying to get Po to kill him. I know, not the type of subject matter you’d expect to find in a children’s holiday special. But, you know what? It’s funny. We also all need to chill out a little bit. We’re getting way too uptight. Three knuckle deep searches at the airport?! I know we want the world to be a better place, but we also need to relax a little bit. Okay, my rant is over for now. Where was I? Oh yeah, Kung Fu Panda. The artistic style of the film comes through masterfully, and the quick animation movements from scene to scene are here as well. I was a big fan of the Kung Fu Panda movie, and can’t wait for this summer’s sequel. Here’s my prediction for next year’s two specials, a Megamind Halloween special in October, followed by a How to Train Your Dragon Christmas. Place your bets now, and we’ll see you next year!

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