Unpopular Opinions: Muppet Babies 2018
Back in September, Twinsanity did a Peeks on Disney’s 2018 reboot of Muppet Babies.
Here’s the intro. Kick it!
Now since I’m The Ancient One, I was around to have seen the original Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies series from 1984. Given this, you might be expecting me to be saying:
…However, I’m going to risk ticking off a lot of 80’s kids by saying today’s Unpopular Opinion: having now seen both, I think the Muppet Babies reboot is better.
Believe it or not.
Allow me to elaborate on why I feel that this new Muppet Babies trumps the original:
For one thing, this show’s premise and setting make more sense. The 2018 series takes place in a day care center, as opposed to the title characters all living together in some strange house with no parents or master and never leaving. As I previously mentioned in our Retro Bin of Little Muppet Monsters, the 80’s Muppet Babies premise makes zero sense if you try to break it down logically.
In addition, on this show the characters actually go outside once in a while!
I like how they have these little tube slides that take them into the backyard set, and how said yard, in addition to having the standard stuff like a treehouse, a merry-go-round and a tire swing, there are specific props and areas for each character: a faux pond for Kermit, a stand-up stage for Fozzie, a cannon for Gonzo, a dressing room She-Shed for Piggy and an easel for Summer.
Speaking of Summer Penguin (heh-a penguin named Summer–good one), I’ll bet you’re expecting me to say “She’s an OC and she’s not Skeeter so I hate her!”, but no, I’ve got no beef with Summer. First, the writers didn’t simply put Skeeter’s brain into a new character’s body; Summer has an altogether different personality than Skeeter. Whereas Skeeter was athletic, Summer’s more of a creative artistic type. She carves her own swath, and fits in well.
As for the inevitable “Why Summer and not Skeeter?” question, as Jason noted in Peeks, I think reducing the number of main characters was a smart decision; Kermit, Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie and Animal were always the dominant characters; Scooter, Skeeter and (especially) Rowlf, aside from the occasional stand-out moment, were for the most part just kind of there. While we’re on the subject, I’ll hit you with another Unpopular Opinion regarding Scooter and Skeeter:
I like the idea of 2 of the characters being twins more than I liked those specific characters. Yeah, I did think it was kind of interesting how the girl was the bolder twin and the boy was the more reserved one, but I’ve seen better examples of that.
This show’s takes on some of the characters are also just plain better. One example of this is Animal.
When I first saw the original series in ’84, I thought Animal was an odd inclusion (He wasn’t one of the characters featured in the original Muppet Babies sequence from The Muppets Take Manhattan, after all), but at the same time I did see some potential in a kid version of his character, unfortunately, the ’84 series completely screwed him up. They tried to tack on this whole lame “He’s younger than the others” shtick as a way to explain his wild, feral behavior. This show doesn’t try any of that, as it’s simply not needed. We don’t need an explanation as to why Animal is wild, he just is. A feral kid is no stranger than anyone else on this show. If you don’t need an explanation for banjo-playing frogs, stand-up comedian bears and diva pigs, then you should be able to accept that one of the kids is a Wild Child.
I also like how this show remembers that Animal is a freaking drummer. This was barely mentioned in the first series (I remember Animal playing the drums once in the musical number of the episode “Dental Hyjinx”, but that was about it.) No, I’m not implying that Animal should carry his drum kit around with him wherever he goes, his hands should be drumsticks and his head should be a giant drum, but that is his character (Animal was partially inspired by the Rolling Stones’ drummer Keith Moon, who is likewise a wild man, even famous drummer Buddy Rich once said of Animal: “He’s the drummer; all drummers are animals”), so it only makes sense for Animal’s role on The Muppet Show to be incorporated into Muppet Babies like the others’ shticks.
I also greatly prefer this show’s take on Piggy. She’s still a full-tilt diva, but Miss Piggy’s always been a prima donna, that’s her character, I wouldn’t expect her not to be vain and a spotlight hog (sorry, couldn’t resist!), but here she manages to be a prima donna without crossing over into being obnoxious and overbearing about it. I also like the modifications to her daily outfit, like making the bow in her hair sparkly and dark pink and the stars on her dress, reflecting her ‘superstar’ nature. Nice touch.
And I’m really digging this show’s take on Gonzo. Kudos go to Disney for bringing the character back to his roots.
Gonzo here is an excitable adrenaline junkie and all-around oddball who lives for mind-blowing stunts (like with Animal, this show’s producers remembered that Gonzo does stunts) and high-concept stuff that only he understands, loves chickens and is not afraid to march to his own beat. THIS is the Gonzo that I admired, identified with and was one of my favorite Muppets as a kid; I like this show’s version of Gonzo MUCH more than that thing was walking around in his skin in the later seasons of the 80’s show. I’ll never forgive the original series for turning who was always one of the coolest Muppets into some wimpy, lovesick loser hopelessly pining away for Piggy (who in turn treated him like the scum you scrape off tomato soup) and whose sole motivation for doing anything was to get with her.
The 80’s show turned Gonzo into Wilshire Brentwood from Beverly Hills Teens, and I couldn’t stand it.
That revised take on Gonzo infuriated me so much that I stopped watching the 80’s show after a while; I didn’t see the point in continuing to watch when one of my favorite characters was essentially gone. But there’s (thankfully) none of that here: on this show we get ‘classic’ Gonzo back, and I couldn’t be happier.
I also prefer this show’s shorter stories and the revised story structure. The simpler, 11-minute plots are an improvement, as I felt that many of the 80’s show plots seemed padded out. There are still fantasy sequences, but they’re always brief, to-the-point and never overdone, and here the characters don’t toss around pop-culture references like dollar bills at a strip club; no doubt it was felt that a ton of pop-culture references would likely fly over the heads of the younger viewers, not to mention date the show ferociously, which kind of happened with the 80’s show. (There are also no TV show or movie clips inserted into the action, since Disney would have to pay for clips of any property they don’t own, which was also a hindrance the 80’s show suffered from. It’s because of the extensive use of licensed footage that the 80’s Muppet Babies never got a proper DVD release.)
So overall, I feel that this new Muppet Babies stands head-and-shoulders above the original. If I have one nitpick about this reboot, it’s this:
On this show, the characters are around 4 years old, so the title’s a misnomer, as they’re technically not babies, but I guess Muppet Pre-Schoolers didn’t have the same ring to it.