I think we love the muppets because they are so well characterized and we can see aspects of ourselves in them.
Who doesn’t know a crotchety old guy like Statler or Waldorf? I’m sure we all know a Miss Piggy.
I don’t think I have ever met a Beaker.
Coming soon to the SDMB - “A Which Muppet Are You?” thread (if it hasn’t been done yet).
The name “muppet” comes from “mannequin” and “puppet”, because it shares the attributes of both. What those attributes might be, I don’t know. I guess they are furrier than most puppets, which are usually wood or plastic, but I’ve never seen a fur or felt covered mannequin.
Maybe it’s cause puppets usually have strings and such hanging from them and they move rather awkwardly. The muppets on the other hand need no strings and are all well characterized. Henson started them out right and the excellance has just continued since his death.
A lot of care goes into the creation of a Muppet, giving it its distinctive look. Example: the muppet builders are trained to create and attach the eyes to give them the appearance of “focus”, so that when the muppets look at something, you really believe they’re looking at it. There’s also the “magic triangle”, the special Muppet placement of the eyes, nose and/or mouth relative to one another. So, yeah, they’re easy to pick out of a lineup, and the reasons are kinda subtle.
Actually … the bear’s name is Fozzie – not Fozzy. Just a nitpick.
Anyway, Max Torgue got it right with the term “magic triangle”. That’s perhaps not just a poetic term, either – it’s rumored that there is actually some sort of formula that Jim Henson had for the placement of eyes and nose in relation to the mouth. The Henson organzization itself uses the term “magic triangle” – it’s just not clear whether there’s an actual mathematic formula involved or if it’s a matter of aesthetics. The focus issue mentioned is also of prime importance.
Interestingly, Henson protects the “look” of its puppets. Sometime last year (maybe year before) Henson broughta lawsuit against some company because their puppets too closely resemble the Muppets. I can remember neither the company nor the exact outcome, but perhaps someone else will know the details.
The bit about “Muppet” coming from a combination of “marionette” and “puppet” is apocryphal at best. There’s evidence that Jim Henson and his wife Jane have both said this, but that answer seems to be a later invention, probably because Jim figured he needed a good answer to that frequently-asked question. Jim was also known to say that he just liked the sound of the word, without giving consideration to the combination.
There’s also a very distinctive movement pattern for the Muppets. It’s partly because Jim Henson pioneered puppetry for TV – and by that, I mean his characters were not limited to a puppet stage. Because his were the first characters to be performed that way (over the head, with the puppeteers watching monitors so they can see what the audience will see) the Muppeteers were pioneers – and thus have more experience and more training, giving them a distinctive movement pattern. Lip-synch was another area where Jim had definite patterns, and his puppeteers were trained in that way.
I love the Muppets. I collect Kermit, and am a puppeteer myself – so expect to see me in Muppet threads.
The stuff about the “magic triangle” is fascinating. That’s another thing I’ve always noticed–those guys really are looking at something.
Another thing I was noticing yesterday (yeah, we watch something Muppety every single day here) is the lip-synch that PRNYouth mentioned. Now, when a human speaks, the lips move very distinctively to the form of the letters. Muppets (and another puppet with a moving mouth, for that matter) don’t do that. The mouths just open and close. But when you’re watching the Muppets, you believe that their mouths are moving just like a human’s. It’s amazing.
I think part of the Muppets’ distinctiveness stems from their flexibleness around the mouth. Many–if not most–conventional puppets have hard palates in their mouths. This allows you move the mouth up and down, of course, but it prevents you from drawing the pads of the fingers back to the palm for that distinctive “erk” look that many of the Muppets incorporate (I especially associate this with Kermit, Bert, and Ernie, but I think most of the characters have this capacity.) This “liveness” in the mouth gives the Muppeteer an extra dimension with which they can convey personality and emotion.
Which leads me to my next, semi hijack-icular point…
PRNYouth, I’m a Kermit collector of sorts myself. I don’t have much of a budget to blow on it, but I pick stuff up when I can. I’ve been really frustrated, though, by the fact that apparently all of the commercially available Kermit hand puppets have hard palates in the mouth. I love The Frog (carried a Sesame Street News Flash Kermit instead of a teddy bear as a small child), and I think the “erk” is terribly important to his personality. Anyone know if there’s a Kermit available without a hard palate? Possession of such a thing would allow me to die a happy woman.
Another thing that makes the Muppets so great is that they manage not to talk down to anyone - even the kids in the old Sesame Street bits. (I haven’t seen Sesame Street recently, so maybe these guest kids still take part in the show…?) And there’s the whole aspect of appeal to all age groups, too. When you see celebrities on the old Muppet Show, it doesn’t seem like they’re there to just make an appearance - they seem genuinely enthused to be there with this goofy bunch of characters. As for what creates the physical distinction of Muppet-ness… well… what everyone else said. There’s a good section on it, iirc, in The Works, an excellent, excellent book about the Muppets and the Hensons.
They all have such distinct personalities that are just so apparent, even before they open their mouths (or have them open). Fozzie looks like he’s not quite the sharpest marble in the drawer, Miss Piggy just has that rich pig look, and Animal… well, doesn’t he look like he would say:
I had a science teacher once who was definitely Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. Gonzo always reminded me of Klinger, on MASH. Not just the nose, but the way they both had their own schtick, and were utterly impervious to other peoples’ scorn.
If the Muppet Movie comes out on DVD, I am so getting it.
Kermit: [whispering] This is the patriotic part.
Robin: Should we stand up?
I hate myself for watching a behind-the-scenes program on the Muppets. I should’ve made myself turn it off. I mean, as an adult I know those things are puppets with people behind them, but I honestly enjoy being consciously naive about that fact.
Lampchop, although not a muppet at all, always seemed vaguely muppetesque to me.
The trouble with Lambchop (whom I do like quite a bit, BTW), is that Shari Lewis is almost always there with her. You know Lambchop is a puppet, and Shari Lewis controls her. With the Muppets, the Muppeteers are so out of sight that you just can’t tell that they’re controlled by humans.
Kermit riding a bike in the first Muppet movie is a classic example of this. I remember seeing this when I was a kid, and thinking “Oh wow! Kermit is a REAL FROG!”
I know, I know–frogs don’t ride bikes. But still, this was some pretty amazing stuff!
I don’t have a clue but I absolutely LOVE the Muppets… any of them. Gonzo is one of my faves as well as the Aliens (Yup yuup yup) One thing I loved about babysitting was being able to watch Elmopalooza and Elmo in Grouchland to enjoy the Muppets without worry of getting teased about it if anyone found out. I am thinking of buying my own copy of them though grins
Some of the new ones are kinda neat too and a few of the ones I really love only have short stints in the movies IE the singing socks. When Elmo is washing his blankie everyone starts songing (cool song btw) and Big Bird pushes a cart full of laudry… on top of it all 3 socks stand up and start singing (well not singing but givving a beat sorta thing) one even wears sunglasses, the yellow one I believe. I also love the bugs in EinG. They are so funny.
I wish I could go back and watch all those old Sesame Streets, Muppets Tonight and Fraggle Rock shows I loved.
Oh and has anyone else seen the movie where everyone goes to the museum but Big Bird and Snuffleupagus (is that spelt right?) get lost and so everyone goes searching and gets locked in. What happens though is Big Bird and Snuffleupagus are helping this Egyptian boy (Pharoah?) to get his soul weighed against a feather to see if he is worthy to join his parents among the stars…