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You’d Be Muppets To Say No: Let the Muppets Host the Oscars…

UPDATE: Well, time marches on. Sometimes by the hour. It’s Billy Crystal. Not that I expected the gang to get a look-in. Still, I think the points stand.

There are days when it seems like the internet is about to explode. Somebody has a random thought, posts it or shares it, and it just catches on like wildfire. Before you know it, it seems like half the world is saying “that’s actually not a bad idea!” and the other half is saying “that’s a great idea!” The campaign to have the Muppets host the Oscars is one of those things that has just come to life, like a phoenix from the ashes of Brett Ratner’s resignation and Eddie Murphy’s departure. I generally don’t comment on these things, because they speak for themselves, and I don’t like to just run a post saying “everything these guys are saying is true!”, but this is the exception rather than the rule. I want to see the Muppets host the Oscars. I know it isn’t going to happen, but damn if it isn’t the most outrageous, ambitious and insane idea that has been suggested.

And that, my friends, is exactly why it should happen, even if it probably won’t.

Okay, let’s get some of the initial criticism of the idea out of the way. It has been suggested that the strains of live television would be too much for the Muppets, and that they simply aren’t technically suited to format. This sounds like a convincing practical argument – after all, these are puppets, and it’s easy to imagine something going wrong – a statue slipping, a hand showing up on-screen, one puppeteer of the bunch missing a cue. However, I don’t think that’s a valid argument. Even ignoring the fact that the Cookie Monster could appear on Saturday Night Live, one of the most notoriously “tightly-developed” shows on television (try turning that out inside a week), the Oscars aren’t exactly delivered on the spur of the moment.

The Oscars traditional open with a large musical number, and feature one or more throughout. These are staged live, with impressive troupes of dancers, each required to move in perfect harmony. I reckon that there are as many variables in those musical numbers as in the Muppets, requiring any number of individual factors to produce a unified result – whether it’s Hugh Jackman transitioning through the Best Picture nominees in a rapid-fire fashion, to the individual lighting cues, they demonstrate that the Oscars don’t just happen. They are rehearsed and planned and practiced. And there’s no reason they couldn’t be rehearsed and planned and practiced with puppets. The puppeteers working the Muppets are as skilled as any dancers, and as familiar with the quirk and rhythms of their individual puppets. I don’t think that’s a valid argument.

It’s also been suggested that the entire show would have to be written around the Muppets. Again, there’s no real change here. It isn’t as if Eddie Murphy would have shown up and just spouted whatever came into his head. The entire show is scripted around its host, and his or her personality, with a minimum of improvisation on the night – what little improv there is comes from a room full of writers in the back, and is never too elaborate or complex. Again, nothing that conspires to make a Muppet Show logistically impossible.

The only reason to argue against allowing the Muppets to host is because you don’t like the fundamental idea, not because it’s simply unworkable. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a legitimate position to have, in that everybody has their preferences, but it’s the same problem we’d see with any other host. People don’t like the Muppets, just like people don’t like Eddie Murphy, just like people don’t like James Franco. It happens. I just don’t like trying to disguise personal preference as an argument based in fact. I find it disingenuous to suggest “I have nothing against the Muppets, but…”

Anyway, I like the Muppets to host. I can imagine a lot of the “old guard”, those critics to whom the Oscars are still a sacred institution, will object on the grounds that it “denigrates” the ceremony, or some nonsense like that. I don’t think that’s really valid, considering that the Oscars featured James Franco in drag for a cheap laugh, had Hugh Jackman sing “I am Wolveriiiiiine!” and hired the guy from The Nutty Professor. That boat has sailed. And, you know what, a lot of those were significantly “cheaper” than the Muppets, who have been an entertainment institution since 1954.

But, here’s the thing, the Muppets are one of those things that have long-lasting appeal, and manage to appeal to both young and old. The vast majority of the fans signing up to the twitter or facebook campaign are significantly younger than the creations. There are people who became Muppet fans after seeing Muppets Take Manhattan, standing alongside those who had the joy of seeing The Muppet Christmas Carol as their first Muppet film, and hopefully alongside those who are going to count the upcoming version of The Muppets as their first Muppet experience.

The Muppets are, if you’ll pardon the pun, ever-green. My parents love the Muppets. My brother loves the Muppets. My college mates love the Muppets. My gran loves the Muppets. It’s a trait that the troupe share with Bob Hope, the most iconic and successful of the Oscar hosts – an act that the producers have tried to emulate. There’s a reason Bob Hope was an icon, and a reason he was a popular entertainer for so long – renowned not just for his performances in movies, but his work in general (or what might be pejoratively described as “light”) entertainment, putting on shows for the troops, and generally being a good sport. He wasn’t even the kind of prestigious big screen movie star that the Academy likes to hand out the awards to, famously joking that Oscar night was “passover” in his household.

The Muppets are bright, and colourful, and lively. They’re the kind of people that ordinary people recognise, not movie fans or bloggers or film buffs, but regular people – that mythological group the Academy claims to want to court. I love James Franco, but my mother doesn’t have any idea who he is. They seem like a risk because they are puppets, and that’s a very odd decision for something as prestigious as this, but they aren’t a risk. There’s no chance of any disaster on the night, but they hint at something new – which, to be honest, makes them the perfect fit. The Academy wants to seem in-touch or in-tune. That was the whole reason for hiring two young-and-up-and-coming stars last year, instead of banking on old names. And it failed, because Franco and Hathaway simply weren’t those kind of performers. The Muppets are.

The Academy doesn’t want to do anything radical. It wants the gravitas and the excitement of taking a creative risk, without the danger associated with it. Eddie Murphy was a huge coup, and he added the faintest hint an edge to proceedings – there was a time when Eddie Murphy was something new and daring, but he’s since been toned down and “Disney-fied” in a manner far more severe than even Steve Martin. People remember Raw and Beverly Hills Cop, so he seemed like a gusty choice, but he’s just as much an institution as Steve Martin is – and that’s what the Oscars want. They want something that grabs your attention, and gets you talking – and gets you watching – but with no real risk. They aren’t going to ask Charlie Sheen to host, for example, because that would be insane. They won’t let Sacha Baron Cohen host in-character. If Trey Parker and Matt Stone ever get to write for the ceremony, they’ll be on a very tight leash. The Muppets are something that seems like a choice out of left-field, but they’re as safe as houses.

I honestly don’t think there’s a better choice than the Muppets – not because they’re so different from what came before, but because they are so close in spirit. Bringing back Billy Crystal would be an attempt to literally recapture the magic of his long-term position as “host of choice”, and it seems poorly judged. You can’t go home again – particularly when the Academy is trying to seem more “with the time” of late. Instead, look at the factors that made Billy Crystal and Bob Hope work in their day. The Muppets are the only choice.

3 Responses

  1. Missed opportunity of the year, hands down.

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