Jim’s Eighth Favorite Film

9 Jul


Let’s all do ourselves a solid and pretend that it hasn’t been seven months since I wrote my last entry into my Top Ten Favorites, shall we?  Good.

I was forthcoming at the outset of this blog series that subjectivity, as is the case with any Top Ten list, would play a key role in its formation.  Despite the fact that this list is still in its infancy we’ve come to the entry in which, more so than any of the other films before or after, the immeasurable, personal factors – nostalgia, mood, time, place – play a significant role in the reverence I hold for it.

For anyone who doesn’t remember, The Muppets was released on November 23, 2011, the same weekend as Martin Scorsese’s eventual Oscar-winning ode to cinema, Hugo.  On a much more local and intimate scale, it was just another weekend in which I woke up with expectations for nothing other than despair.  Still trying to pick up the pieces of a financial and emotional collapse from the previous summer, I didn’t see much reason to hope on the horizon and trekked out to the movies that weekend for the purpose of writing a review for Hugo.  Trying to simultaneously save money and take advantage of the sparsely-manned theater that particular morning I snuck across the hall into another theater upon the completion of Hugo to complete the 2-for-1 special with The Muppets.

I didn’t know what to expect when the film began.  I knew I loved the work of Jason Segel, I knew that he loved the Muppets and I knew that as a kid I had almost worn my VHS copy of The Muppet Christmas Carol thin. Well, the music played, the lights were lit and I met – or more accurately, re-met – the Muppets.  And when it was all sang and done, I left the theater with something I hadn’t had in a long time: hope.

Am I saying that watching The Muppets made all my fears and doubts about my future melt away? Absolutely not.  I walked out the theater still worried about finding a job, still heartbroken over the girl who had left me and still uncertain about what God had in store for me.  You see, I don’t necessarily believe that hope eliminates the factors that oppose our happiness and joy, nor do I necessarily believe it should.  Hope, I think, needs the opposition of the negative to even exist because all that it does is confirm to us that the existence of past good provides proof for future good.  One who has lived their entire life always getting everything they’ve ever wanted would have no concept of hope because he or she would have no concept of loss or of there being something better out there.  Hope cannot exist without faith.

There are moments of sheer joy in The Muppets that made me tear up, but they were not tears of joy; at least, they were not celebratory tears at the reminder that there is beauty in the world or anything like that.  The tears I cried were mournful tears, tears caused by the recollection of and longing for a time when I was happy, when things were better, when I wasn’t consumed with doubt and fear.  But the important point is that I able to feel, that after months of numbness to the situation I was in I was reminded of the fact that because things have been good before (think of Walter and Gary’s glee and contentment expressed in “Life’s a Happy Song”) is proof that they can be good again despite being overwhelmed (think of the despair expressed in “Man or Muppet”)

It wasn’t necessarily the fact that Gary, Mary, Walter, Kermit and the gang succeeded in their goal and turned out winners in the end – remember, they not only didn’t save The Muppet Theater, they didn’t even come close to saving it – it was the fact that whatever it was they did, they did together, confident in who they were and what brought them together and made them successful in the first place.

As I looked around the crowded theater, I noticed that the audience was surprisingly pretty evenly split between children and adults.  I thought for a minute of Jim Henson, of a vision he had long ago to both entertain and educate children, to show them through so many situations that it was okay to hurt, that it was okay to love, that it was okay to laugh, that it was okay to be confident in themselves.  I thought how lovely it was that many of these adults likely learned these lessons as youths themselves and wanted to pass them along to the young ones they loved, wanted expose them to a joy that hopefully would stick with them long after they first experienced it, especially during the times when they seem incapable of feeling joy.  I cried for losing the past, but was reminded that it was possible to care in the first place and that because I had felt joy before, I would be able to feel joy again.

I left The Muppets in pain, but not in despair.  Hope doesn’t need to take our pain away; it just needs to remind us that pain won’t last forever.  My reminder for that afternoon came courtesy of a little green frog puppet who’s in love with a pig and plays the banjo.  I had my reminder and as long as Jim Henson’s vision goes on, those little kids in the audience would always have a reminder as well.  It was Walter, himself dreaming of living a life bigger than his own, who said it best at the outset of the film:

“As long as there are singing frogs and joking bears, Swedish chefs and boomerang fish, the world can’t be such a bad place after all.  And as long as there are Muppets, for me, there’s still hope.”

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