A must-see for any Muppets fan, “Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched” offers a coveted look behind the scenes of the legacy built by Jim Henson and his quirky and creative team of puppeteers. This 65-minute film offers a first-ever group interview that includes Frank Oz (who’s memorably played Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Yoda and many more), Dave Goelz (The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Boober Fraggle), Fran Brill (“Sesame Street’s” Prairie Dawn and Zoe), Bill Barretta (Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, and Earl Sinclair of “Dinosaurs”), and the late Jerry Nelson (Count Von Count, Harry Monster, and Robin the Frog). With these characters assembled, “Muppet Guys Talking” has a lot of charm, loads of insight into the Muppets’ wild personality, and some tender meditations the late Henson and his legacy. However, it’s less a structured documentary, and more an illustrated conversation between some of the Muppets’ most renowned performers.
Oz, who also directs, acts as host, sitting at the center of the group in a relaxed living room setting. He guides the discussion from origins to favorite characters, to the ludicrous challenges of being a Muppeteer. Nelson with a warm smile recalls how the Count who loves to count (ha ha HA!) was pitched to him: “He has a real jones for numbers.” And just like that, we time travel back with this lot to a heady youth where puppet shows were aimed at kids and adults in an earnest bid to bring a bit of joy, “abandon and lunacy” into a world that too often requires escapism.
It’s a sheer delight to hear this group describe the creatures they originated and then brought to life on television and a string of movies. With relish, Goelz shared the defining features of his most famous roles, saying, “Gonzo is crazy, but free,” and, “Bunson is very specific, but loses site of the big picture.” Stroking the white beard upon his chin, Oz said of the wild Animal that he only thinks of “drums, sleep, food, sex and pain,” adding, “You know he goes out in the middle of the night and you don’t know where he’s been, and you don’t want to know!” Of the iconic Miss Piggy, he declared that despite all her bravado and glamor, “She’s really a truck driver underneath.”
The Muppet Guys’ tone turns to awe as they remember Henson, describing him as “a force,” and a man who seemed eternally in a good mood. They recounted how more than anything he loved the work of The Muppets, how he’d perform the thankless chores of costume characters (Henson can be spotted playing one in “The Muppet Show”s opening credits!), and how he’d spent an entire shoot day crunched in a claustrophobic metal barrel in a water tank dressed like a swamp to perfectly capture the opening number of “The Muppet Movie,” where Kermit is introduced playing banjo on a floating log while singing “Rainbow Connection.” Rough but whimsical sketches showcase how setups like this and the astonishing drainpipe climb from “The Great Muppet Caper” were accomplished. Simple sketches also animate the silly stories like that of an office prank that led to an exploding desk. Whatever the subject, this giddy group is alive with a positively contagious enthusiasm.
With the rousing laughter, surprising behind-the-scenes details, and welcoming reminiscence, “Muppet Guys Talking” boasts an easy vibrancy and radiant joy in this conversation that we feel lucky to be the fly on its wall.
“Muppet Guys Talking: Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched” made its World Premiere at SXSW.