The Muppets have a long history of putting their own spin on adaptations of classic fairy tales. In 1972, the Muppets retold the German fairy tale The Town Musicians of Bremen that was recorded by the Brothers Grimm. This time, it took place in Louisiana and was aired under the Tales from Muppetland banner. The basic story is that a donkey, a rooster, a dog, and a cat have grown past their prime and are about to be mistreated and thrown to the curb by their ungrateful owners. They each leave their respective abodes and eventually cross paths while happening upon musical instruments. They decide to become musicians and head to the German town of Bremen. On their way, they find a cabin. They stand on each other and start playing their instruments, hoping to obtain food and shelter. However, the cabin is full of thieves who are easily spooked by the bizarre noise of their music and run away. The animals enjoy a nice meal at the cabin and decide to rest there. During the night, one of the thieves returns and in a 3 Stooges-like maneuver manages to get scratched by the cat, bitten by the dog, kicked by the donkey, and chased by the rooster. The thief is convinced he has been attacked by an ogre, a witch, a giant, and even a judge. The thieves abandon the cabin forever and the group of animals lives happily ever after. This traditional fairy tale is a great choice for the Muppets. The heroes and main characters are animals, so they are able to merge well into the menagerie of animal Muppet characters. One of the central themes of this story is that drudgery will wear you out and eventually destroy you. In order to escape this drudgery, the characters take a journey and choose to become musicians. Just substitute the donkey, rooster, dog, and cat for a frog, bear, pig, and weirdo, change Bremen to Hollywood, and add a Studebaker. You basically end up with the plot of The Muppet Movie! Well, kinda. Perhaps I am reaching a little, but a main theme of the Muppets is to always follow your dream and that there is strength in unity. The musicians seek freedom and happiness. It is through their unity that they are able to achieve this dream by banding together against the robbers. The robbers also depict the worst part of mankind. In this adaptation, they are cowardly, easily angered, and greedy. In fact, one of the robbers is named Lardpork. As you can imagine from his name, he is obese and constantly eating during this special. His design was based on an earlier puppet simply called The Glutton which appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was a giant fat man who stuffed his face and was subsequently eaten by a larger version of himself! This special is visually unique among the other Muppet works. First off, typically the Muppet characters are designed based on simple geometric shapes like circles, ovals, triangles, and even cylinders. They are also bright and colorful. The Muppet Musicians of Bremen is set in Louisiana. The set as well as the characters make use of more natural colors like grays, greens, and browns. The puppets and puppetry styles are unique to this special too. As with The Frog Prince, Kermit introduces the special and the characters. He has a very small, but key role. He only interacts with Leroy the donkey and the audience, but he convinces Leroy to become a traveling musician. Without Kermit, this would have been a very short program! Once again, Kermit is pretty laid back and sarcastic. I really enjoy this younger, relaxed Kermit personality as opposed to the more uptight Kermit that he would later transition into. The puppets used for the main animals are a mix of marionettes for full shots and moving shots. This allows them movement that appears more natural for animals. In close shots, they are hand puppets. Leroy and T.R. (the rooster) also have eye mechanisms that make their eyelids move and allow them to be much more expressive. Even though humans are key villains in this show, the humans are part costume and part puppet. Actors and puppeteers wear costumes and masks for full shots. This allows them more movement. It also causes there to be a more dramatic distinction between the humans and the animals. For closer shots and times in which the characters speak, hand puppets were used. This technique made it difficult to match the full body puppets shots to those including hand puppets, but Henson and his crew made it appear seamless. In fact, they did it so well that a make-up artist contacted The Creature Shop because he thought Henson had developed a new type of stage make up, when it really was just a mask! This could have been a neat technique to revisit during the song Man or Muppet? from 2011’s The Muppets, but it was not meant to be. A neat bit of Muppet trivia: this marks the first time rats and chickens appear in a Muppet special. After this first appearance, they can be found in the background of countless movies and television shows. This is also one of the few instances that the characters are not all voiced and puppeteered by the same performers; the exception being Mean Floyd and T.R. who were performed by Jim Henson and Jerry Nelson. Some fun things to watch for are T.R. changing what his initials stand for, such as “Terrified Rooster” and Catgut sounding a lot like the infamous Carol Channing, even though she was voiced by another actress. Overall, it was fun to revisit this often overlooked special. As with several children’s specials, I can see how many children would be pretty terrified of the “bad guys” and several scenes. This was just not made to be very pretty. It is steeped in browns and grays to match the farm, forest, and swamp settings. It is only an hour long, but even that seems a tad long. The best parts of the show are the brief moments Kermit appears. Maybe a few more scenes with him would have added a little more comedic relief from a story that seems a bit slow. I have to give this one 2.5 rubber chickens. This time, T.R. stands for “Tickled Reviewer!” Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.