Sunday, October 12, 2008


"Ode To Joy"
Credits Unknown or Unattributed (meepmeepmeepow)

There are a few things in life that I am a fool for. One of these things is Jim Henson's muppets. More than just a children's show (this is left to those who live on Sesame Street), The Muppets started out as very much adult entertainment, moonlighting on the first few seasons of Saturday Night Live and as their own variety show (oh, weren’t the seventies good for variety shows?). So as I’m searching out for animated films for this week’s blog posting, it was a pleasant surprise to stumble on the muppets, specifically Beaker, Dr. Bunson Honeydew’s assistant - the one who always manages to get blown up, beat to hell, or otherwise mangled.

This short is relatively (read extremely) simple, which is precisely why I’m drawn to it. The screen is split into six parts, each filled with a Beaker, who then performs Beethoven’s 9th, at first a cappella, then with his own accompaniment. In classic Beaker fashion, things explode, electricty flares, and I laugh.

I wanted to blog about this short for a few reasons. The first being the state of animation. Can muppets and puppets be considered animation? These are technically physical objects that exist in an entirely legitimate manner, so are they live-action? The trick is though, that puppets, though “real”, must be controlled or animated by a puppeteer to achieve life-life qualities. Is this legitimate animation?

The state of the animated film has certainly been turned on its head in the last decade, since the release of 1995’s Toy Story. Animated films are no longer just drawn, but digitized, computerized, or otherwise manipulated. For so long the animated film was considered the cartoon, but this no longer really holds true. Claymation, computer animation, and (I argue, yes) puppets, are all forms of legitimate animation. Because puppets often interact with human counterparts, we forget that they are not “not real”, but tend to think of them as a mere extension of live-action components. I don’t think this is true; I think Beaker is just as cartoony as Mickey. He certainly plays cartoon cliche well; the silhouetted skeleton near the end as he electrocutes himself is something that would fit right in on Saturday morning.

Another thing I found interesting about this film is the mystery of the production. I have hard the hardest time placing the film to a name. It is posted by YouTube user meepmeepmeepow, whose only subscriptions are to other muppets themed YouTube users (there’s some great Gonzo clips), and all these muppets-based users list their website as These clips in every sense seem to be directly from muppets headquarters. If this is so (and let’s face it, it pretty much is), then it looks like another legitimate production company (Disney owns The Muppets) is looking to new sources of distribution. YouTube may be for losers and hecklers, but it’s also now for the cinematic elite. What is the state of television and the movie theatre if Disney is posting YouTube videos?

In any case, it’s probably all well that we just sit back and laugh.


Laura G. said...

I had never thought of puppets as a style of animation, but you made a compelling case for it in your blog. Both involve bringing inanimate objects to life, and there are strong similarities between puppetry and stop motion animation.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading this blog and would like if you would watch my short.