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SXSW Review: Muppet Guys Talking

Score: B+

Director: Frank Oz

Cast: Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, Jerry Nelson

Running Time: 65 Minutes

Rated: NR

It seems so simple: just a group of extremely creative people sitting on couches talking. But this format is sadly underused. The last time I remember was for 2011's Talking Funny, an HBO special that featured Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Ricky Gervais and Louis C.K. chatting about stand-up. It was funny and insightful, and so is Muppet Guys Talking, which features the surviving puppeteers from the early days of the Muppets, plus the "new guy," 20-year veteran Bill Baretta.

While the execution of the numerous sketches, variety shows and feature films was painstaking, the vibe here is blessedly laid-back. Frank Oz directs and guides the conversation, as they each take turns sharing fond memories and near-death experiences. (That last part's not a joke. Several set-ups for shots definitely put the cast and crew in danger.)

They all have nothing but rapturous praise for Jim Henson, who truly was a creative genius that only comes around once in a long while. He was both the brains and the gentle soul behind the Muppets. Even when things weren't working, he never got angry with the people who were screwing up, only encouraging them to try again. It's no wonder so many people miss him.

That gives the film an air of melancholy, which is only exacerbated by the presence of Jerry Nelson, who died after filming but before the film premiered at SXSW. He was the performer of the Muppets' wackiest characters, including Count von Count, Lew Zealand and Uncle Deadly.

One of the best parts about the film is they don't dedicate too much time to the characters everyone already knows, shining the spotlight on the lesser-known Muppets and exploring the psychology that led to their creation. (Almost all mention a deep insecurity that comes through in their most beloved puppets.)

The film is a real delight for long-time fans of The Muppet Show and the first two feature films, as well as the younger generations who grew up in the '90s and miss the short-lived Muppets Tonight (like me). Basically, this movie is for everyone, even if they're not crazy about the Muppets but just want to hear about the creative process behind quality comedy and live performance.

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About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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