Muppets Now premiered on Disney+ July 31, and of course I had to check it out. Unfortunately, something about it felt off.
I appreciate the intent, and it certainly comes closer to the mark than the misconceived Muppet series on ABC a few years ago. But it’s just weird to watch the Muppets stringing together what’s essentially a collection of YouTube videos.
At first, it struck me as anachronistic. Perhaps the Muppets simply belong in the ’70s and ’80s.
But that’s not it. The Muppets are supposed to be theater folk, always just barely pulling together a show in a specific, solid place. A theater not only gives them a home, but it also makes them timeless.
A streaming-based show feels very current year. A theater-based show can be any and every year. The only thing dating a Muppet show should be the very special guest star. Kermit singing “Happy Feet” on the original Muppet Show entertained me in the ’80s, and I’ll never forget my oldest niece cracking up at the same sketch circa 2013.
Muppets are ageless, and in a way, they almost exist outside of time. Muppets Now has potential, but I’d rather they stick to the formula of the original series and aim for another timeless classic.
Speaking of The Muppet Show, why isn’t that on Disney+? And why didn’t the fourth and fifth seasons ever come out on DVD? The world needs classic Muppets.
I watched the earliest Disney movies recently. I was curious
from the historical perspective, particularly after having read the excellent
biography of Walt Disney by Neal Gabler. I’m about to spoil these movies, but
you’ve had eight decades to watch them.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937): Walt’s labor of love, and a movie with massive cross-generational appeal when it was released. The animation is indeed superb, but I couldn’t get into the story, perhaps because Snow White never really triumphs at all. The last thing she chooses to do is bite into the poison apple. She doesn’t save herself. She never defeats the evil queen.
There’s really no reason for the queen’s failure. What are the odds that lightning would strike at exactly that wrong spot at exactly that wrong time? Or that seven dwarfs would want to look at a dead girl for several months instead of burying her? Or that Prince Charming would want to kiss a girl who’s been dead for that long? Some evil queens have all the worst luck.
Pinocchio (1940): This movie was far less successful during its initial release, but I found it to be more interesting than its predecessor. It’s incredibly dark at times. That Pleasure Island scene is a horror movie within a children’s movie. All those boys turn into donkeys and never turn back. They clearly know what they’ve become and retain the knowledge of who they were, but it’s too late, and they’re sold to perform slave labor for the rest of their lives. The movie has multiple villains, and none are brought to justice. As Pinocchio gets his happy ending, they’re all still out there, looking for their next victims. All I could think of was the catchphrase of Melisandre from Game of Thrones: “The night is dark and full of terrors.”
And let’s not overlook Pinocchio’s death. He dies even more thoroughly
than Snow White did. Though he can breathe at the bottom of the ocean, he’s
evidently unable to breathe at the top, so he drowns to his death. We see him
face-down in the water, dead. He’s eventually reborn better than ever, of
course, but he has to literally die to become a real boy.
Earlier, we also see him getting high off a cigar. This
movie pulls no punches. The kids of the ’40s were a hardy lot, and adults clearly
didn’t bother hiding the fact that the night is dark and full of terrors.
Fantasia (1940): The perfect movie to have on in the background as you’re doing something else. Though an interesting experiment, it’s no wonder the format never caught on, and it’s no surprise that the best segment is the one with the strongest narrative. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is excellent. The rest varies.
Dumbo (1941): Dumbo is an even more passive protagonist than Snow White (if you can even call either of them protagonists). Other characters shun and humiliate him, and he just takes it. His mother sticks up for him, and she gets locked up for it. His mouse friend hypnotizes the ringleader into giving him a chance, but Dumbo is too hesitant to properly seize the opportunity given to him.
Poor Dumbo is trapped in a downward spiral until he
accidentally drinks a lot of alcohol and wakes up in a tree, leading to the
realization that he can fly. Then, like Spider-Man before Uncle Ben’s murder,
Dumbo uses his super-power to pursue fame and fortune. The End.
It’s an odd movie. Pinocchio’s journey had a clear purpose—to
teach kids life lessons through metaphor (and perhaps scare them straight).
Cigars nearly make a jackass out of Pinocchio. Alcohol leads Dumbo to a
breakthrough of self-discovery. The message is supposed to be about believing
in yourself, but there had to be better ways to get there.
Also, Disney+ warns that the movie “may contain outdated cultural
depictions.” “May”? Are they on the fence about the roustabouts and crows?
If you, like me, were a child of the ‘80s, you probably enjoyed the cartoon Ducktales in between rounds of Nintendo. The show was actually based on a classic comic book series by legendary cartoonist Carl Barks. Yes—Scrooge McDuck and many other denizens of Duckburg are natives to the comic book medium.
I’ve never collected Uncle Scrooge comics, but I have randomly acquired a couple of issues. One, Uncle Scrooge #275, is dated 1993, but it reprints Christmas-themed Barks stories from the 1950s and 1960s.
The first story is a clever ode to capitalism. Through an escalating chain reaction of events, Scrooge’s greed ends up benefitting his grandnephews, Donald Duck, and the entire town, spurring the economy into action. Lest any young readers get the wrong idea, though, the one person who ultimately doesn’t benefit from Scrooge’s greed is Scrooge himself.
The second story involves mistaken-identity hijinks, as Donald and Scrooge pretend to be each other for different reasons. And the comic also includes a couple of one-page stories that could have been Sunday newspaper comic strips (for all I know, maybe they were at some point).
It’s all classic, well-crafted cartooning from one of the greats, and it’s good clean Disney fun for kids. For adults, it’s mostly a nostalgic curiosity or an interesting bit of pop-culture history.
Now I want to listen to the Ducktales theme song.
Writer/Artist: Carl Barks
Cover: Jim Franzen and Dave Hunt
How to Read It: back issues (and there are all kinds of Carl Barks collections out there)