I’m bracing myself for watching the first non-Henson, all-Disney Muppets movie. I’m going to get one thing out my system now so that when it comes to the review proper, I can simply refer to my concerns in this post
With The Muppets, I fully expect to be both outraged and delighted in equal measure.
Outraged because reading about the VFX, the Muppets are going away from the traditional route that Jim Henson was renowned for – live Muppet effects through the use of mechanical or electronic means rather than “fixing it all in post”. He did practically everything in-camera, and came up with a combination of traditional and brand new techniques to hide the puppeteers. Sure, he did use optical effects on the likes of Labyrinth to do the whole Fireys routine and even then, it was much closer to traditional theatrical puppeteering than what was achieved through Disney’s Muppets and CG VFX. Similarly for full-body Muppet effects, he used mirrors, mechanical and other means that were performed on set with no
Now it’s all arm rod removal, computer, computer, computer and computer. Post production is taking the magic out of The Muppets. It’s bad enough that few of the original Henson puppeteering team remain, but the lazy approach to VFX post is something that I am deeply saddened to see happen to the Muppets. I can’t be far off when Disney sanctions that the day of physical felt and fuzz is finished with and it’ll all be CG real-time puppeetering (which, BTW, Henson themselves do wonderfully well for the shows that they produce – but it’s not something that the original Muppet characters need to be exposed to). I can imagine The Muppets as produced by Disney’s Pixar division (ironically, two former Muppeteers have previously worked for Pixar as CG animators).
The beauty of The Muppets – for me at least – was that you knew full well it’s a man with his hand/arm up a felt character’s backside. The arm rods were part of the charm of the characters. Now it’s all about turning them into full characters and forget about that they are puppets. The charm and lack of sophistication that made The Muppet Show so damn appealing to both children and adults alike.
I do not like real time foam-based puppetry intermixed with CG. It’s a massive cheat. Also disappointed to learn that Brian Henson actively encouraged rod arm removal via CG back on Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets in Space. I honestly think it is something that Jim Henson wouldn’t have necessarily approved of. He seemed to embrace technology in that provided theatrical real time performance right there on set. Little of his work contained massive amounts of post-production to fix the performance.
For crying out loud – whatever little mechanical Muppet effects themselves appear in this film aren’t carried out by the Creature Shop – it’s a third party neutral facility now.
I’ve spent 6 years in an all-digital VFX facility and despite earning my bread and butter from it, I am still firmly of the opinion that not everything should be “fixed in post”, and The Muppets is one such franchise.
With all that out the way, I look forward to seeing what they’ve done with the characters (technicalities aside) and the story..