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Disney's "The Muppets" soundtrack mixes fun new songs with old favorites

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Disney's "The Muppets" soundtrack mixes fun new songs with old favorites

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Okay. If you're a longtime reader of JHM and/or if you saw that two part Jim Henson's creative legacy story that I posted on the Huffington Post last week, you already know that I'm kind of a Muppet geek. Which is why - when Walt Disney Records sent me a digital review copy of Disney's "The Muppets" original soundtrack yesterday evening - I literally dropped everything that I was doing to then go give it a listen.

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Why For? Because ... Well, like a lot of Muppet fans out there, I'm kind of concerned about Disney's "The Muppets." There's so much riding on the success of this James Bobin movie. If it connects with a large enough audience over the coming holiday season, the Mouse will then throw all of its marketing might behind the Muppets. Which will then hopefully translate into a complete creative rebirth of this once-hugely-popular franchise.

On the other hand, if Disney's "The Muppets" stumbles at the box office next month ... Given that the modern day Walt Disney Company already has an awful lot on its plate (i.e. Pixar & Marvel & ESPN & ABC & DreamWorks' live-action releases plus -- of course -- the ongoing revival of Walt Disney Feature Animation), it could be quite a while before Miss Piggy & pals get another shot at the spotlight at the Mouse House. Which is why it's kind of crucial that Disney's "The Muppets" makes a very big splash next month.

And - of course - an original soundtrack which has a couple of very hummable tunes would go an awfully long way towards helping to raise Disney's "The Muppets" profile. Which is why - as I was downloaded my review copy of this upcoming Walt Disney Records release - I crossed my fingers and quietly said to myself "Please let this be good."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And after listening to the entire original soundtrack of Disney's "The Muppets" as well as doubling back on the original songs that Bret McKenzie of "Flight of the Conchords" wrote for this film, I was pleased to report that this recording is surprisingly good. With Bret's new tunes being a particular high point. Which (I'm hoping) bodes well for Disney's "The Muppets" itself when this movie hits theaters next month.

Don't get me wrong. There are a few wrong-sounding-Muppets sprinkled throughout this recording. Which will occasionally pull you out of a song and/or a bit (One very big plus for this soundtrack is that it features lots of interstitials which are loaded with great character interludes). But taken a whole, the original soundtrack of Disney's "The Muppets" is a skillful mix of new material, clever covers of old Muppet favorites with a couple of 1970s / 1980s hits (i.e. Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" and Starship's "We Built This City") thrown in for good measure. Which makes this upcoming Walt Disney Records release eminently listenable.

I have particularly high praise for "Life's A Happy Song," the tune that McKenzie wrote which serves as both the opening & closing number of this movie. Which just does a flat-out beautiful job of establishing the proper tone for this motion picture. Putting you in just the right mindset to watch a brand-new Muppet movie.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But if I had to pick a favorite out of the new songs that have created for Disney's "The Muppets," it would probably be "Pictures In My Head." Which wasn't actually written by Bret McKenzie. But -- rather -- Jeannie Lurie, Aris Archontis and Chen Neeman. This talented trio has produced a lot of great music for the Mouse House over the past few years (EX: the title songs for Disney's "Shake It Up" and "Sonny with a Chance." Not to mention those numbers that they wrote for that Disney Channel Original, "Lemonade Mouth"). They also contributed to ABC's 2005 TV movie, "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz."

Anyway ... The rueful tune that Lurie, Archontis & Neeman have written for Disney's "The Muppets" is in the tradition of those Muppet classics "It's Not Easy Bein' Green" and "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday." It's for that (SPOILER AHEAD) that moment in this movie where Kermit the Frog has to admit that he's been estranged from his old friends for quite a while. Which is why he first talks about how "... my green is feelin' gray" and then admits that " ... even frogs have rainy days."

Mind you, there's one set of lyrics from "Pictures In My Head," which - given everything that's riding on Disney's "The Muppets" - are particularly poignant.  Where Kermit, as he's contemplating getting the old gang back together in order to save the Muppet Theater, wonders ...                           

Kermit and the gang perform that Muppet anthem, "The Rainbow Connection." Photo by
Scott Garfield.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

If we could do it all again,
Just another chance to entertain,
Would anybody watch or even care?

Well, me personally, I'm hoping that a lot of people will watch & care once Disney's "The Muppets" rolls into theaters nationwide on November 23rd. I know that I'll be there on opening weekend to catch this new Walt Disney Pictures release. And I'm hoping that a lot of JHM readers will go out of their way to see this new Muppet movie as well. If only to see Kermit, Miss Piggy and what sounds like every Muppet on the planet sing a heartfelt rendition of "The Rainbow Connection."

Of course, if you'd like to see Disney's "The Muppets" ahead of everyone else, you should probably consider signing up for the Muppet Fan-A-Thon. Which will then put you in the running for some free tickets to a screening that will be held well ahead of this film's official release date.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The original soundtrack of Disney's "The Muppets" arrives in stores and at online retailers Nov. 21, 2011. 

The article was updated / corrected on October 21, 2011 to fold in additional information

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  • Hey Jim, just a small correction, Pictures in My Head (which is in fact the best song in the movie) wasn't written by Bret McKenzie, but rather Jeannie Lurie, Aris Archontis and Chen Neeman. I believe they've been involved in a few other recent Disney projects, including (I think) having written much of the songs in Muppets Wizard of Oz.

  • having seen the movie last weekend, my first impression was that the songs were not nearly as memorable as The Miuppet Movie. They did grow on me (some of them) and I wondered if my memory was fooling me and that the first movie had the same effect, and I just forgot.

    Anyhow, it is a fun movie, especially for those nostalgic for the Muppets. I also agree that voices being "off" threw me. I am pretty sure they were all Frank Oz, which makes me wonder why...

  • I really wish people would stop using the whole "wrong-sounding Muppets" thing. It's highly annoying, ridiculous and untrue.

  • RE: "Wrong-sounding-Muppets" claim being " ... highly annoying, ridiculous and untrue."

    Really? Okay. When you pick up your copy of the original soundtrack of Disney's "The Muppets," listen to how Doctor Teeth sounds. Whoever's handling that character these days is doing a grade-school-pageant approximation of what Jim Henson used to do with the good Doctor. It's close ... But still off just enough that -- as you listen to Doctor Teeth talk & sing these days -- you actually think "That's not how that character used to sound."

    Look, I know. Jim Henson's dead. As is Richard Hunt. Frank Oz no longer works with the Muppets. And Jerry Nelson is retired. So if the Muppets are actually going to continue, new puppeteers are then going to have to step in and voice and perform these characters.

    The reason that I brought this issue up is that people have actually been talking about this issue for the past 5 years or so (That "Family Guy" joke didn't come clear out of the blue, you know). And since the Muppets are now owned by The Walt Disney Company (which actually has a character voice department that is dedicated to maintaining consistency when it comes to vocal style & performance. Especially when it comes to Disney's evergreen characters like Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Snow White et al) ... It just seems kind of strange to me that Disney hasn't addressed this issue yet. At least when it comes to items that will (in theory, anyway) have very long shelf lives, like the  Disney's "The Muppets" soundtrack recording.

    Perhaps if this Walt Disney Picture release proves to be a hit, Disney's character voice department will then step in and offer Muppet Studios a hand when it comes to finding just the right performer to voice each individual Muppet character. Where this might get a little tricky is ... Well, the folks who actually puppeteer the Muppets have traditionally been the people who then get to voice these characters. So -- in order to get all of these characters sounding like themselves again -- that may then mean that Muppet Studios has to now step away from this 50+-year tradition and perhaps begin doing some looping of individual Muppet characters as these movies & TV shows move through their post-production phases.

    Again, just to be clear here, it's not all of the Muppets who sound off. Just a few individual characters here and there. But if you're a longtime Muppet fan as I am, something like that is just enough to sometimes pull you out of a movie or a TV show for a moment or two. And given that a lot of what the Muppets do actually depends on the suspension of disbelief (i.e. that's not a piece of felt at the end of some guy's arm. That's a living, breathing character), a tiny glitch like that can sometimes prove to be pretty deadly.

  • I did not realize Frank Oz was no longer involved. That would explain why i kept  thinking fozzie's voice was a bit too high.  I did think Kermits voice was the best it has been since Jim Henson passed away.

    The cut I saw was not all the way through post production, but I don't know if voice clean up would be part if that.

    Again, still a fun movie for those who grew up with the Muppets

  • Muppets are everywhere, so cool. GLEE will be covering a Muppet song on the Novemeber 1st episode. Can't wait!

  • Well, Mr. Hill, there's more to a character than just a voice. It's about the "performance". And the current performers have been giving great performances.

    Who cares if the voices sound slightly different from the originals? Would you prefer a stale dead-on copy?

    Saying the ever-so-stupid "wrong-sounding Muppets" thing is exactly the same as if someone were to say that Mickey Mouse has sounded "wrong" since Walt stopped voicing him or that Donald Duck has sounded "wrong" since Clarence Nash died, thus it would be like slamming Wayne Allwine, Bret Iwan, Tony Anselmo, etc., which would be awfully wrong.

  • I would agree with Anonymous that perhaps "wrong sounding" is too harsh a term. it did throw me a bit to hear some of the voices different than when I grew up.. I suppose this is something I will get used to...

  • Kaz & Anonymous AKA Duke Remington --

    So let me get this straight: When it comes to Dr. Teeth, my choices are A) a vocal performance that -- to be honest -- doesn't sound all that much like the way Jim Henson used to portray this character and B) "a stale, dead-on copy" ? Really? Those are the only choices? The folks at Muppet Studios can't -- say -- look around and possibly find another puppeteer who might do a better job with voicing & performing this particular classic Muppet character.

    And please don't interpret my review and my two response to comments that was made in response to this review as some sort of veiled attack on Bill Barretta. I have huge respect for this guy as a writer, director and performer. I also love the Muppet characters that Bill himself has brought into the world (i.e. Pepe the King Prawn, Bobo the Bear) as well as the work that Barretta does with Jim's old characters like Rolf the Dog and the Swedish Chef.

    But does that mean that I absolutely love everything that Bill Barretta does? No. To be honest, I've always found Johnny Fiama to be kind of annoying. He's kind of a one-note / one-gag character. At least to my way of thinking. Likewise Bill's work at Dr. Teeth -- I feel, anyway -- is a pale copy of what Jim used to do with this extremely colorful character.

    More to the point, please remember that my "wrong-sounding-Muppets" comment keyed off of listening to the original soundtrack of Disney's "The Muppets." And I think that -- if you listen to "Pictures In My Head" and pay very close attention to how off Dr. Teeth sounds in that particular song -- that you'll see that my claim (i.e. that something seemingly small can then pull you right out of a song), at least in this case, can be seen to be true.

    And speaking of small things ... Can you guys please stop pretending that a relatively minor aspect in my review of the Disney's "The Muppets" is somehow this huge insult to all of the talented puppeteers who actually  perform the Muppets these days? I mean, you do realize that I'm not the one who came up with the phrase "wrong-sounding Muppets," right?

    I understand that -- as longtime Muppet fans -- how you might find this particular turn of phrase offensive. But that doesn't change the fact that -- as people like Jim Henson & Richard Hunt have passed away & folks like Frank Oz & Jerry Nelson have stepped away -- the puppeteers who are voicing & performing the Muppets these days are now having their work compared to the talented men who came before them, who originated these characters. And occasionally their work has been found to be lacking. Hence the complaints from me and other longtime fans about "wrong-sounding Muppets."

    But rather than ending this comment on a negative note, let me instead end with a compliment. Eric Jacobson's vocal work as Miss Piggy (Jacobson has been voicing & performing this classic Muppet character since about 2002. Which is when Frank basically walked away from  The Jim Henson Company to concentrate on his career as a film director) is superb, especially in the verse of "Rainbow Connection" that Piggy basically has to sing all to herself.  This is a dead-on impression of the work that Frank used to do with Piggy that still manages to make this character seem fresh & alive.

    So -- as you can see -- while there are sometimes wrong-sounding Muppets, most of the times (thanks to a dedicated group of performers who are determined to honor the work of the men who originated these classic Muppet characters by maintaining and preserving a consistent vocal quality & performance style) there are right-sounding Muppets.

    Now do you guys get where I'm coming from?

  • Hey, Jim - if you read my comments, I agreed with you that it threw me to hear the voices not-quite-right. I think that is the one thing that kept going through my head when watching.

    I still thing "wrong-sounding", while may be how you feel, may be a stronger word than I would have used. I personally would not go as extreme as anonymous, but I understand what he's saying...

    I don't expect the voices to be dead-on, but I was just stating that it was one of the things that kept popping into my head while watching the movie.

  • I know you didn't create the "wrong-sounding Muppets" term, Jim. I just think that it sounds extremely harsh and that it should not be used. That's all.

    P.S.: I never knew you actually visited the Muppet Central forum.

  • Hey, Jim - I understand. I am not one of the die-hard fans, but I am a fan.. I hadn't heard that term before.. and I am glad to see you give the soundtrack a good review. As I mentioned, none of the songs stood out as memorable compared to The Muppet Movie at first listen.

    And I also agree with you - after seeing this movie, my co-workers and I had the discussion about the movie's appeal outside of die-hard fans. I think some of the cameos may help (I actually felt old for not knowing all the actors!), I just hope there is enough in there for kids who don't know the Muppets to like.

    Keep spreading good words about his movie! :)

  • Kaz --

    My apologies. I don't mean to seem as though as I'm coming down hard on you and/or what you've posted here on JHM's discussion boards. Truth be told, it's Anonymous AKA Duke Remington's somewhat inflammatory posts here and over on Muppet Central's discussion boards that kind of set me off.

    More to the point, I'm sorry if you think that using "wrong-sounding Muppets" is far too strong a term to describe what's been going on with these much-beloved characters over the 10 years or so.

    But that said, I used the term "wrong-sounding Muppets" because that's how people outside of the Muppet fan community are actually talking about this issue. Like it or not, that "Family Guy" joke resonated with the public and still lingers in the zeitgeist because it does have an element of truth. For a lot of people, the Muppets really don't sound the way that they did when these folks were growing up. Which can be kind of off-putting to the casual Muppet fan.

    Don't get me wrong. I recognize that the particular turn-of-phrase that I used in my "The Muppets" original soundtrack review may be slightly upsetting to hardcore fans and the Muppet purists. But to have someone like Anonymous AKA Duke Remington now pretend to be horrifically offended by the allegedly "harsh" language that I used to discuss this relatively minor issue isn't going to make "The-Muppets-don't-sound-like-they-used-to-when-I-was-a-kid" issue go away for members of the general public.

    In order for "The Muppets" to be a huge box office success (which will then guarantee that The Walt Disney Company actually stays in the Muppet business in 2012 and beyond), Walt Disney Studios needs more than just the hardcore fans and the Muppet purists to come out on November 23rd. All four quadrants have to come over the Thanksgiving Weekend. And if would-be moviegoers wind up kind of hanging back, taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to "The Muppets" because ... Well, you know, the whole The-Muppets-don't-sound-the-way-that-they-used-to-when-I-was-a-kid issue ... That's going to be a problem.

    Let's remember that this is The Walt Disney Company that we're talking about here. Which is not exactly noted for its long-term loyalty. Don't believe me? Then ask the folks at Walden Media. Who -- back in February of 2004 -- made a deal with Disney to make 7 "Chronicles of Narnia" movies. Only to then have the Mouse suddenly pull the plug on this co-production deal just two pictures in.

    Which is why it kind of makes me crazy to have someone like Anonymous AKA Duke Remington now trying to pick a fight with me over something as stupid as using the phrase "wrong-sounding Muppets" (which -- like it or not -- is how people outside of Muppet fandom actually do talk about this issue), completely overlooking the fact that I gave the original soundtrack of "The Muppets" a very positive review.

    I mean, shouldn't that really be what a true Muppet fan should be trying to do right about now? Getting some positive word going out there about "The Muppets" ? Rather than wasting time & energy on provoking & then prolonging a petty squabble about a particular turn-of-phrase that no one outside of the Muppet fan community actually considers to be all that harsh?

    Anonymous AKA Duke Remington needs to see the forest for the trees here. He should be happy that I gave the original soundtrack of "The Muppets" a positive review and then suggested that people actually go out on opening weekend to go see this new Walt Disney Pictures release. Rather than focusing just on my "wrong-sounding Muppets" comment. Which -- again, like it or not -- is how people outside of the Muppet fan community really do talk about this issue.

    Again, my apolgies, Kaz, if you got caught in the crossfire here. That honestly wasn't my intent.

    Anonymous AKA Duke Remington --

    Actually, the reason that I went over to Muppet Central and then saw your comments about me supposedly slamming Bill Barretta is that you linked back to my "The Muppets" original soundtrack review. JHM actually has software that keeps track of where traffic for individual stories is coming in from. And when I saw a number of Muppet Central readers clicking in here to check out this particular article, I followed the trackback to see what was compelling these folks to come on over to JHM. Which is when I found your post on that site's discussion boards.


    And just for the record, if you're looking to make a genuinely anonymous post on JHM, going over to the Muppet Central discussion boards and then writing "I ... left an anonymous comment on Jim Hill's article, stating my distaste for the 'wrong-sounding Muppet' term" may not have been your smartest move.

    I mean, I didn't exactly have to then be Sherlock Hemlock in order to figure out that you were the one who was suggesting that my review of "The Muppets" original soundtrack and my follow-up comment was somehow some sort of attack aimed at Mr. Barretta. When anyone who actually read my review & follow-up comment knows that that's not even close to being the truth.

    In short, stop trying to provoke fights / invent conflict where there is none, okay? There are far better ways to waste one's time then by pretending to be offended by a relatively innocuous turn-of-phrase like "wrong-sound Muppets" in a generally positive "The Muppets" original soundtrack review.

  • I was very happy to hear Bill Barretta's Dr. Teeth sounding very  much like Jim Henson during Bohemian Rhapsody.  I don't know what it took to make that happen, but it was a good starting point.

  • The other Anonymous sounds like a whiny kid. Dude, chill. Below there be spoilers:

    Jim doesn't have to defend himself. The voices DO sound off. People notice it, so deal. I saw a screening of the movie myself, and I agree with Kaz that the movie will probably appeal most to people nostalgic for the Muppets. The problem is, the film leans very heavily on that. If you're not well-acquainted with them, I think you're going to have trouble caring about what's going on or maybe even staying awake. The film wasn't finished, of course, but there was enough there to make a judgement of it. Getting back to the voices, Kermit's and Miss Piggy's sound the most authentic (most of the time). Rowlf isn't bad either. Everyone else just sounds wrong. Fozzie's voice is terrible. Statler and Waldorf's are the second-most terrible. Scooter, forget it. When you hear him, you can't help thinking, oh yeah, that guy's dead too, just like Jim and it does take you out of the movie for a second. Gonzo of course is done by the same guy who's been doing him from the beginning, so he sounds great.

    Kermit and Miss Piggy are the best things about the movie, so it's a good thing their voices sound okay. Piggy comes off better than she's come off in years, so Segel seems to know how to handle her. Kermit is fine, but it would help if he wasn't being held up as a demigod by Walter - that gets a bit sticky at times. And speaking of Walter, he's blah, more of a plot device than a character, but he's not unbearable. Jason Segel is also bearable, (I'm not a fan of his), while Amy Adams hasn't much to do. She's not terribly photogenic in this movie for some reason. Maybe the lighting was the issue but she doesn't look her best here.

    The movie tries very hard to push emotional buttons and belabors the idea that the world is a sad, sad place because the Muppets aren't famous anymore and every other form of entertainment just sucks. It kind of makes the movie sound like a cross between a 90 minute plus commercial and a revival meeting. I understand what Segel was trying to do, but I wonder how many people are going to buy it? It certainly comes off as a hard sell in the movie. I think the Muppets are fine, but I didn't quite like how hard they were being pushed. I will say that the frankness of the storyline - that they've gone downhill and gotten old and shabby - was kind of gutsy. Also gutsy was that a major question about another Muppet movie - "The Muppets Take Manhattan" - is addressed and answered, and that took me by surprise. That scene was handled pretty well. It's perhaps the best scene in the movie. The whole Kermit/Piggy thing has a lot of heart, and it's good to see them back in form.

    The songs are serviceable. The villain, Chris Cooper, is barely serviceable (not exactly menacing, certainly not the equal of a good Disney villain like Jafar from Aladdin.) The rest of the actors and cameos are fine.

    If I were to grade the movie, I'd give it a B. When it comes out in finished form in November,  I doubt I'll go to the theaters to see it. Once, even in a rough form, is enough. As I said, I think the Muppets are fine, but I'm not a fanatic. Your mileage may vary.

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