“There’s so much attention being brought to these things, which is fantastic for me just to see … there’s a whole new generation of people to grow up with it,” he said.
The Muppets aren’t just for kids
Part of why it’s so easy to return to the Muppets’ oeuvre is because it still holds up — and oftentimes, it evolves with its audience. The characters are deceptively witty, often telling jokes that fly right over the heads of younger viewers like Gonzo’s beloved chicken Camilla, to be uncovered on repeat viewings.
“There’s definitely something comforting about all of those different franchises we have loved at one point in our life, so going back to them, we get to rediscover that love, which is a beautiful thing,” he told CNN. “You can rediscover it at different points in your life and find new joy in it.”
Take Hennes — as a kid, he fell hard for the rascally Ernie and naive Big Bird. But as he’s gotten older, he better appreciates the curmudgeons of the Muppet world, like Ernie’s stickler foil Bert, the dreadfully serious Sam the Eagle and eternal grouch Oscar. As he’s grown up with the Muppets, he’s found new wrinkles in their lore to explore on ToughPigs — and new characters to identify with.
“Jim Henson always had his eye on narratives that could speak to people of all ages, not just children, and he never saw puppetry as merely children’s entertainment,” Garlen said in an email to CNN. “There are levels of social commentary, comedy, metaphysics, drama, and psychology in these stories that make them speak to a very broad audience; you’ll also see different things if you revisit them over many years.”
Graham, a senior lecturer in English at the University of North Alabama, said that as a kid, she picked up that the Muppets were speaking to both children and their parents and felt that style bridged a divide.
“It meant that somewhere along the line those two halves could connect,” she told CNN in an email.
That’s why it’s so easy to fall back in love with the Muppets after some time apart: Graham said Henson’s works “remind the grown-up audiences of the value of play and nonsense not as a by-product of nostalgia but as a part of their everyday lives.” If we can adopt the Muppets’ zany, whimsical streak ourselves, we might be better for it.
Nostalgia reels us back in
“I just think the Muppets are something so timeless,” Gillespie said. “And I think the reason why is they’ve never tried to be timely. They’ve always been sort of irreverent.”
As animated as the Muppets can be, they’re also mirrors for viewers to better understand themselves. Frankie Cordero, a puppeteer who plays Rudy on “Sesame Street” and Purple Panda on the PBS series “Donkey Hodie,” said he related to Gonzo, an oddball whose origins are probed in the film “Muppets from Space.” As a person of mixed Puerto Rican, Mexican and Spanish heritage, he often felt othered by his young peers, much like Gonzo is (though the Muppet finds a family with Kermit and the gang).
“This was an incredibly diverse group that would work to stick together as a team to defeat huge obstacles in their world,” Cordero said. The jokes grabbed his attention as a kid, but it’s the characterization that kept him as a fan — and helped him determine that he wanted to make a career in puppetry.
“The Muppets are always going to be the Muppets,” Hennes said. “They’ll always have that opportunity to surprise us with something new or bring back that feeling of joy.”
The Muppets teach us how to keep going
“Life’s like a movie — write your own ending,” Kermit sings. “Keep believing, keep pretending, we’ve done just what we’ve set out to do.”
The Muppets cobbled together a film out of debris and chaos — one could say they thrive on chaos (that’s kind of Animal’s whole M.O.), or have at least found a way to work through it. Revisiting their funniest pratfalls or most touching musical numbers through older, hardened eyes returns to us “a bit of hope,” Gillespie said.
Elmo was Gillespie’s constant companion while he recovered from heart surgeries. Now, Elmo’s a hero among Gillespie’s peers once again for standing up against a pet rock who took the last oatmeal raisin cookie. And the cycle continues.
“Right now we need that comfort … that things are gonna be okay, because, well, Kermit the Frog says it’s gonna be okay, I think it’s gonna be okay then,” he said. “I think it’s gonna be all right.”