November 27, 2011

Pooh Review and Muppet Musings

Recently I've seen two attempts to bring beloved franchises back to their former glories. (Three if you include Sonic Generations, but I'm sure none of my readers want to hear about video games so I'll just say I loved it and leave it at that.)

Winnie the Pooh was designed as a throwback to the original Pooh shorts from the late 60s. I think in attempting to be faithful to the quiet, low-key charm of the classic shorts, they went too far and just made a movie where nothing really happens. The familiar wordplay arguments are taken to extremes here-- the characters spend the whole movie arguing about what they should do, and never get around to doing it. The songs were also completely tuneless. Still, it was definitely the best Pooh movie in quite a while. It did have its moments, and the animation and voices were as good as one would expect from Disney.

On the other hand, I flat-out loved The Muppets. I haven't paid much attention to the Muppets' output over the past decade but the last I saw, it seemed like they were still struggling to get over the various deaths (Jim Henson, Richard Hunt, Jerry Juhl) and retirements (Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson) that had shaken up the franchise. I'm happy to say that this issue has now been sorted out.

Steve Whitmire's Kermit still doesn't sound 100% like Henson's did, but he's close enough. Frank Oz's characters are now played almost perfectly by Eric Jacobson. I say "almost" because most of them are dead-on, but Fozzie Bear's voice alternates between sounding indistinguishable from the original, and being barely recognizable. He definitely has Fozzie's speech pattern right, which is no easy feat, but the timbre of the voice wavers a lot during the quieter moments. His Piggy, Animal and Sam the Eagle are consistently good though. The replacements for Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt are also fantastic. Dave Goelz is still playing Gonzo, 35 years on, and seems to be in good health, so I assume he'll continue for a while.

The movie was directed by James Bobin and the new songs were written by Bret McKenzie. They were two-thirds of the main creative force behind the Flight of the Conchords TV series. I loved that show, so I enjoyed their contributions. You can definitely hear the Conchords touch in the lyrics, which were full of puns and sly phrasing. Also, this movie has one of the best versions of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" ever recorded.

This was clearly a movie made by Muppet fans. It was almost surreal seeing so many cameos by obscure characters and nods to past films, in a theater full of fellow fans reacting with cheers and laughter. The Muppets have been out of the public eye for so long, it started to feel like nobody else remembered them, let alone still liked them. Which of course is exactly what the movie is about.

I was worried it might feel too self-glorifying--"Jason Segel and his fellow Muppet-lovers convince the Muppets to mount a comeback" just as easily describes the behind-the-scenes events that led to the movie. But the human leads and the new Muppet character are likeable, and they stay out of the spotlight for most of the movie. Segel's enthusiasm was obvious whenever he was onscreen, and Amy Adams was adorable as always. The only time I actually thought about the real-life parallels was the ending, in which (spoilers?, not really) everything works out and the Muppets are beloved once again. If the movie had failed at the box office, then that ending scene would've been uncomfortable to watch, but so far it seems to have done good business, which is a relief. I want this movie to do well. It deserves to.

I'm curious what the Muppets will do next. This movie was great, but they can't keep playing the nostalgia card. The team has shown that they can faithfully recapture the original magic, but now they have to show us some new tricks.


ADC said...

Winnie the Pooh was boring? Hmm... that is disappointing. I was hoping there would be more to it. I will give it a watch with the family one of these days.

I never got into the Muppets. I might visit their older films before I give this movie a view. I am actually quite interested in the Treasure Island adaptation.

You don't have to go in-depth on Sonic Generations. Just talk about it in general. What worked best, what didn't, etc.

Aaron Long said...

Okay, I'll talk a bit about Sonic Generations then... I had no issues with the game. I thought everything worked really well. My one complaint is that I wanted the main story to be longer. I did all the extra missions, but they're not as fun as going through new levels.

Both gameplay styles were really well done. I think this is the best 3D Sonic gameplay ever, and of course the Classic levels were great too. The level design was fantastic, and more varied than it's been since 1994. Definitely a step in the right direction for the franchise, but the question, just as with the new Muppets film, is what will they do next?

They can't keep having two Sonics with different gameplay. They need to create a hybrid. I'd retain most of Modern's moves, because they work well in 3D and it would feel weird to lose them for the 2D sections, except they should replace Sliding with the more traditional Rolling. They also need to create one design that will keep the Modern fans happy while leaning a little more towards the Classic look. He can still be fairly tall, but not anorexic... He can have green eyes, but his head should be shaped more like the original.

But as far as the game itself is concerned, I thought Generations was really good. It's the most fun I've had with a game for a long time.

ADC said...

I did try the demo out, and I agree with you on the sliding.

I have a feeling that unless they do something genius one of two things may happen.

1) They will continue to make Sonic games that are sub-par afterwards (or maybe better, but nothing quite new and interesting)

2) Stop Sonic altogether (with one more game) in a similar manner as the Legend of Zelda series.

Quite personally though (and I do like Sonic), there isn't much that can be done with the Sonic series. Heck, the Super Mario series is coming to halt as well (sorta). Unless they find some other sport to make a game of Mario will retire. Then again COD proves otherwise...