'The Muppets' Music: How Muppetational Is It?

We evaluate whether the new songs can live up to the genius of their predecessors

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PHOTO: Disney

The Muppets, the first new Muppet movie in 12 years (in theaters November 23rd), features original songs written by Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie. McKenzie is hilarious, soulful and tuneful, but can he write great Muppet songs?

As an unauthorized Muppet historian, I've looked into the creative processes of the classic Muppet songwriters, the guys who gave us "Bein' Green," "Rainbow Connection," "Couldn't We Ride," "Saying Goodbye," that infectious Fraggle Rock theme, and a hundred others. I've found five PoMs, or Predictors of Muppetationality: creative freedom, radical collaboration, ability to get into a Muppet's head, full understanding of Kermit's complexity and resolve to not talk down to kids.

In the following charts, I compare the process of classic Muppet songwriters to McKenzie's. Then, I took my best guess: Will the new songs be Muppetational?


"Jim Henson gave you more freedom than anybody I've ever worked with in my life. I said, "You want to hear the songs as we're writing them?" He said, "No. I'll hear them in the studio. I know I'm gonna love them." You just don't get that kind of freedom on a project these days."
Paul Williams, songwriter for Emmet Otter, The Muppet Movie, and A Muppet Christmas Carol

"In order for a comedy song to work you can't have too much production because if it goes too big you lose the comedy. So within the Muppets film when it gets big it goes right back down."
Bret McKenzie, Music Supervisor for The Muppets


Muppetational
It sounds like the studio didn't force a bland movie-score sound where it wasn't needed.


"We literally sat down with Jerry Juhl, Jim Henson, myself, and Kenny Ascher and a bunch of guys in a room. It was kind of like, 'What're we gonna write about for The Muppet Movie?"
Paul Williams

McKenzie said he had specific song placements requested for the movie.


UnMuppetational
We'd like to hear about more collaboration between script and songwriting.


"We thought... Kermit is like 'every frog.' He's the Jimmy Stewart of frogs. So how do we show that he's a thinking frog, and that he has an introspective soul, and all that good stuff? We looked at his environment, and his environment is water and air… and light. And it just seemed like it would be a place where he would see a rainbow. But we also wanted to show that he would be on this spiritual path, examining life, and the meaning of life…I think the song works because it's more about questions than answers."
Paul Williams, explaining "Rainbow Connection"

"Conchords was basically a world whereby everyone had a slightly weird world view," he said. "You're in a group of fools, basically, and the Muppets are similar: They are all optimistic but they're all kind of inherent failures, they're not good at what they do. I love that about them because you instantly feel for the underdog."
James Bobin, director of Flight of the Conchords and The Muppets


Neutral Muppetational
This seems to paint Kermit as foolishly optimistic, instead of wearily and absurdly so.


"The degree to which you're able to dress up and counterfeit yourself as this person, that's as good as you are as a writer. I'm pretty good at it, which leaves me tremendous doubts about my own personality."
Joe Raposo, songwriter for The Great Muppet Caper and "Bein' Green"

"We see ourselves in the Muppets. They are a group of people who never stop hoping for the best."
James Bobin


Muppetationally Muppetational
It would be impossible to miss the love this group has for the Muppets.


"Don't condescend… one of the fallacies is the conviction… that it's a world where everything is rosy and sunny and the only things that are appropriate are sweet and lovely. For myself, I love things that are very gentle and very tender and full of awe and friendship… but clearly, childhood can be a very hard place to be and a very cruel place at time, and I don't see any reason to try and pretend that isn't the truth."
Dennis Lee, Lyricist for over 300 songs on Fraggle Rock, including the theme.

When asked the difference between writing for Flight of the Conchords and The Muppets, McKenzie said, "Less sex jokes." McKenzie's "Life's a Happy Song" has already been released. It sounds a little over-cheery, but it's hard to judge without the visuals to put its tone in perspective.


Either Muppetational or Muppetation-anathema or maybe something in between — really hard to tell:
But we hope it's great.

 

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