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.