S. Steven Struble
I was really disappointed that I was unable to attend MuppetFest. I knew it would be amazing to see those puppets in reality. I was depressed, because I knew that being so close to even a nameless one would be a geek-equivalent of a religious experience to me. Why didn't I save up the money? Why didn't I just quit my job? Why didn't I book a flight, and sleep on the street just to see them? I was quite literally kicking myself over missing it.
Imagine my delight when I learned that there would be a Muppet panel at Comic-Con International, a con I attend every year for work. I was incredibly excited. In the weeks leading up to the con, my friends could not get through a single conversation without me bringing it up. Finally the day came. I made sure to arrive at the panel really early. I wanted to make certain I got a good seat so that I could record it. The panel featured writer Jim Lewis, executive producer Mike Polis, and Muppeteer Victor Yerrid giving a puppetry demonstration and performing Goggles and Croaker.
The lights went out, and, from underneath the table, a small toad wearing glasses popped up. He introduced himself as Goggles. "Welcome to the Goggles' Swamp Years panel," he said. "It appears there has been some confusion in the advertising for this panel." Then he went on a rant about how he isn't featured very prominently in the movie and how he was not invited to help out on the Muppet Christmas Special. Sort of a Rodney Dangerfield "No Respect" routine, if it had been done by Woody Allen. "I knew Yoda when he was a puppet."
GOGGLES: Now you could probably sit here and listen to me all day couldn't you.
AUDIENCE: Yeah (applause)
GOGGLES: Thank you. But actually we do have other panelists here. First of all there's a man named Jim Lewis. He is a man and his name is Jim.
GOGGLES: He actually started writing for the Jim Henson Company 14 years ago. And now, 14 years later, he's a writer for the Jim Henson Company.
AUDIENCE: Laughter and applause
GOGGLES: Somehow he managed to weasel his way into an executive producer credit on this movie as well. So let's have a big hand for executive producer, Jim Lewis.
GOGGLES: Oh, he's so handsome and attractive.
GOGGLES: We also have our other executive producer here with us today, Mike Polis. Now, I won't be making any jokes about Mike Polis because he's very strong and sometimes he steps on the smaller toads.
GOGGLES: Actually he's, he's uh, our vice-president of marketing, a senior vice-president of marking for the Jim Henson Company. And he's also a scooter enthusiast. Let's welcome -- from the back -- give it up for Mr. Mike Polis!
(Polis rides down from the audience on a Zappy scooter)
GOGGLES: Oh careful Careful OK Jim, you talk now.
(Jim speaks but is unheard as his microphone is turned off)
GOGGLES: Can we have the microphone on Jeff please, so Jim can say things?
JIM LEWIS: Hello? Hello?
GOGGLES: Oh there he is. Thank you Jeff.
JIM LEWIS: Goggles, thank you so much. You know I wasn't invited to be in Kermit's Christmas movie either.
GOGGLES: Aww, yeah.
JIM LEWIS: So I'll see what we can do. We'll write you a Christmas movie.
JIM LEWIS: Yes.
GOGGLES: Oh, that would be fantastic. You know I got some script ideas here underneath.
JIM LEWIS: OK.
JIM LEWIS: And while you're down there if you could bring up
JIM LEWIS: Muppet performer Victor Yerrid.
GOGGLES: Oh sure. I think he's down here somewhere.
AUDIENCE: Laughter. Applause as Victor appears.
GOGGLES: Why are you guys looking at me? Now you're supposed to say things. I already said all the jokes.
JIM LEWIS: No, you were very good.
GOGGLES: Jim wrote that Yoda thing by the way. That was his brainstorm.
AUDIENCE: Laughter and applause
GOGGLES: He's brilliant.
JIM LEWIS: Thank you. I take, uh, full blame. I didn't know I was going to get credit as well.
(Awkward silence and mild laughter from audience)
GOGGLES: He-he well.
JIM LEWIS: I'm funny for other people not myself.
GOGGLES: Oh, I see. Talk into the microphone.
JIM LEWIS: Sorry.
GOGGLES: Go ahead.
JIM LEWIS: Kermit Swamp Years is coming out on
MIKE POLIS: it's coming out on Starz on August 18th at 6:30 PM and then it will run on video and DVD on September 3rd. Look for that on Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment.
GOGGLES: That's a fascinating tale you weave, Mike.
MIKE POLIS: Thank you. It's all part of the charm.
JIM LEWIS: It started a couple of years ago, when I think I passed the world record for watching The Muppet Movie. And I was watching it with my son and thought about the very beginning of the movie. I'm sure most of you know, Kermit's playing a banjo, sitting on a log. And I suddenly thought, "How did he get to that point? What brought Kermit to that point?" And you know there's a whole conspiracy about the nursery, and Nanny, and the whole Muppet Babies
JIM LEWIS: But you know I think that's I think that was some kind of like J.R.-Bobby Ewing flashback.
JIM LEWIS: Uhm
GOGGLES: That was just excellent.
JIM LEWIS: This is this is
MIKE POLIS: It's an Elseworlds. (Referring to the DC comic's line of out-of-continuity "what if" stories)
GOGGLES: Sorry, go ahead.
JIM LEWIS: This is an alternate history and this is what we hope would be the first of several movies that follow Kermit and his friends from the swamp.
GOGGLES: Like myself.
JIM LEWIS: Like you. Who will be featured more prominently.
GOGGLES: Thank you, Jim.
JIM LEWIS: and how they became who they are. And specifically Kermit's Swamp Years is about the first time that Kermit ever leaves the swamp, and ventures into the outside world. I guess we have
MIKE POLIS: We have a trailer we're going to show you .of the movie.
GOGGLES: Do we get to watch the trailer, Mike?
MIKE POLIS: I think we get to talk about it a few minutes.
GOGGLES: Oh, I'm sorry.
JIM LEWIS: Let's go right to the trailer.
GOGGLES: Oh. Okay.
(Kermit's Swamp Years trailer is shown)
GOGGLES: You don't have to just applaud for me. That was so wonderful.
JIM LEWIS: You were really tremendous. Don't think of this as an adventure, because I really don't want you gassy while you're up here.
Yeah that does tend to happen.
JIM LEWIS: This is well everybody knows Kermit from that clip. And you've gotten to meet Goggles. Kermit, actually if you look at the clip you may say, well that's Kermit but he actually is a well, what we were saying Kermit is a 12 year old. And if you actually held him next to the Kermit, he his head is a little different his arms are a little more gangly. We really
MIKE POLIS: Fewer points on his collar.
JIM LEWIS: Yeah, points didn't come in, cause that doesn't happen until puberty. Which he hasn't been...
GOGGLES: I can't say puber
GOGGLES: I can't say that
JIM LEWIS: And so there are those differences. And Do you want to get Croaker?
GOGGLES: Oh yeah, sure. He's down here.
JIM LEWIS: Croaker is Kermit's other friend. Goggles is sort of afraid of everything. And Croaker's afraid of nothing. And Kermit is the happy medium. And it's these three that are kind of make a Moe, Larry, Curly kind a thing going on.
CROAKER: Yeah yeah right. Moe, Larry, Curly good reference.
JIM LEWIS: Croaker.
CROAKER: Hi, hi how are you folks? I'm much tougher than the other. Goggles is a little kind of scaredy-boy. I'm more macho.
JIM LEWIS: You're kind of like a Jimmy Cagney on steroids.
JIM LEWIS: But, so you'll see these characters and how they develop and their friendship. We've found they're really a great trio. But the other thing about the movie that we're really excited about if you're a Muppet fan there's tons of stuff in here. And now I'm starting to sound like an infomercial. But, there's tons of stuff in here for little hidden treasures, things from Well, I'll give you one of them. The license plates on one of the cars is Jim Henson's birthday. We have references to Sam and Friends and to some of the great performers who worked with Jim over the years.
CROAKER: And if you act now, we will not only throw in these references, but also Jim will come to your house personally. Jim Lewis.
JIM LEWIS: That's right you can win me and the scooter at the end of today.
CROAKER: He's lonely, he's very lonely.
JIM LEWIS: And I don't think I'm giving too much away but the climax of the movie takes place in a High School biology class.
AUDIENCE: Moans and laughter
JIM LEWIS: It's totally it's safe. It's a beautiful, really. It's right In the third movie on the series Kermit finds out the biology teacher is actually his father. It's really a weird thing.
MIKE POLIS: He doesn't lose his hand though.
JIM LEWIS: No, he doesn't loose his hand. The other fun thing about doing this production is it's the first thing that of anything that I've done were sort of the DVD extra stuff is built in was built into the whole plan of it. So there's a featurette about the making of the film. And of course, we didn't do the standard featurette. We have a we hired an Armadillo, Joe the Armadillo. You can actually go, when you get to your computer, go to joethearmadillo.com. And check out his website. He produced that little featurette all about the making of the film.
MIKE POLIS: He does catering too, on the website. He's got catering. What else?
JIM LEWIS: Music
MIKE POLIS: Touring show.
JIM LEWIS: Yeah, actually Joe the Armadillo dot... Joe the Armadillo World is opening up in Orlando, I believe. So you can check that out, and there's also a lot of outtakes, a lot of great outtakes. And probably this, you're not going to hear it here, but this really rocking version of Rainbow Connection.
MIKE POLIS & JIM LEWIS: You'll hear that in the credits. It's great.
JIM LEWIS: Just trying to entice you.
GOGGLES: It's very exciting.
JIM LEWIS: So let's see the little Joe the Armadillo and
MIKE POLIS: So if you roll the next
JIM LEWIS: and the behind the scenes outtakes.
GOGGLES: There is a website if you want to see more of my behind.
GOGGLES: That was Jim's idea.
JIM LEWIS: Speaking of behinds
GOGGLES: Good segue.
JIM LEWIS: We're going to go to Question and Answer a little later on. But first we want to give Victor here
Victor: Oh me?
JIM LEWIS: a chance to see if we have any future Muppet performers out in the audience.
Like at MuppetFest, Victor chose several audience members to try their hand at puppeteering with several Muppet Whatnots and background Fraggles. First up was Amy. Victor and Amy demonstrated the element of lip synching and manipulating the puppet to maintain eye focus. Second, Christina and Victor work on voice and character development. Victor demonstrates by using a Cookie Monster voice to use with his puppet. Victor then chose Javier to teach the element of using the arm rods. Victor shows how a puppet can be used to show action such as walking just by implementing movement of the puppet's arms. David is next chosen from the audience to help Victor teach the importance of improvisation. Lastly, Jana and Dave join Victor in their own recreation of The Muppet Show theme. Like at MuppetFest (only on a smaller scale) the "rookie" puppeteers each took turns entering and exiting the camera view to simulate the opening of The Muppet Show. After Victor's puppetry demonstration, the panel transitioned into a Q&A session. Here are some of the highlights.
VICTOR: Oh, Croaker?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Croaker. He didn't have them today. I was wondering if you could tell us a little about that.
JIM LEWIS: That's basically plastic surgery.
JIM LEWIS: Uhm no, those markings come from uhm, an incident that occurs in the course of the movie. That, as I said that Croaker is confident and not afraid of anything Well, he meets something that he's afraid of. And it causes tire tracks on your midsection.
JIM LEWIS: But he's OK.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: One question I'm sure a lot of people have is Muppets are made out of fabric. How long does it take one to dry out after doing a water scene?
JIM LEWIS: You should have heard the Muppet Workshop when they said, "You want to get 'em in the water?"
MIKE POLIS: That was early on in the shooting too which scared quite a few people.
JIM LEWIS: But the blow dryers were working around the clock pretty much. It's something they avoid at all costs and when you do usually do it. You do it with a Like if it's Fozzie, you get a sort of second or third generation Fozzie that isn't going to have much more use. But there is only one Fozzie, of course, but it's stunt Fozzies.
JIM LEWIS: We can edit that out right?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, I was just wondering if any other Muppet characters were going to do any cameos in the movie? Like say, Pepe? Or Gonzo? Cause I really love Pepe. Like he rules! I loved him in Muppets In Space.
JIM LEWIS: Yeah, he's uhm
AUDIENCE MEMBER: That's one of my favorite movies of all time.
VICTOR: He's very sexy, okay.
MIKE POLIS: Did you see did anyone see the Long John Silver commercials we did with Pepe?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And the Weezer video?
AUDIENCE: Cheers and applause.
MIKE POLIS: He -- unfortunately for this movie -- will not be making an appearance. However, Bill Barretta, who performs Pepe, is the puppeteer for Croaker. So you'll see quite a bit of his humor sprinkled throughout the film. He's a fantastic talent.
JIM LEWIS: And Pepe does have a major part in the Christmas movie that we're shooting up in Vancouver right now. That's going to be on NBC. I don't know the date, but if it's around Christmas and you see Muppet in the title, that's probably it.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Will Miss Piggy be in it, as a piglet?
JIM LEWIS: In this In Swamp Years?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah.
JIM LEWIS: This is Kermit's first run-in with a pig, and there's some people contesting I don't know if you saw it in the trailer, he gets chased by a pig. Some people say that's Piggy you know, after extensive prosthetic make-up. And some people say it's Piggy before she puts on her make-up. So technically no She does not appear in this movie.
GOGGLES: Jim, I'm noticing a pattern in the questions. Has anybody failed to notice that I am in the movie?
GOGGLES: Why would you Why would you want to see Miss Piggy and Pepe?
JIM LEWIS: I think everybody's failed to notice that you were in the movie.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: My question is about Miss Piggy again. Isn't it
GOGGLES: (Slams head against table)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: isn't it a little disturbing in the Denny's commercial that she orders two Grand Slam breakfasts?
AUDIENCE: Laughter and applause
GOGGLES: We'd like to refer this question to our attorneys.
MIKE POLIS: It's a puppet.
JIM LEWIS: The other thing is, she actually responded she's the whole pork thing is immaterial because she's 100% Botox now injections, really. No it's uhm it's an interesting question.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I would make the frog feel good if I came in later How did you like being in the movie? And then I have another question. What did you like about it?
GOGGLES: Oh, that was very kind. You did make me feel good just by looking at me. What was your question? Oh was oh yeah, it was great fun to be in a movie. Who doesn't want to be a star of a movie? I had a good time. Jim, you had a good time?
JIM LEWIS: Yes, it was good. And you had another question?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah, it's more of a generalized question though. I know with Henson's passing he did a lot of different voices, but it seems there seems to be a trend for a lot of the original characters to start falling into the background. Just kind of cameos here and there, or you know, with a lot of the newer characters taking the forefront, what is some of the reasons for this happening?
GOGGLES: We're better actors!
JIM LEWIS: Some of it has to do with you know It's tough enough for George Lucas to get Frank Oz to do Yoda. Some of it is availability. But we're actually working on it. And, you know, trying to just The Henson, you know, it's not like who does the voice, and who performs it. It's one person who performs that character. So some of it is availability. Some of it is a character, like Pepe, who you like. It's a great new character. It keeps it fresh and it's not something old. We're going to take how many more?
GOGGLES: We only have time for 32 more questions and then we have to move on.
MIKE POLIS: We have time for a couple more questions, but we do have a contest that we're doing for the Kermit the Frog imitation. Which there will be fabulous prizes we're going to pick I believe we can pick seven people to try out. But the winner which will be decided by all of you will win this fabulous Zappy scooter.
JIM LEWIS: (Interrupts) So let's get like two more questions.
MIKE POLIS: If you want to check out Zappy scooters, go to zappy.com.
JIM LEWIS: I'm sorry. I didn't know so many people...
MIKE POLIS: Thanks to the folks at Zappy. They provided us with this scooter which Kermit does ride and well he's not riding this actual scooter, but he does ride one just like it in Kermit Swamp Years. And you can check it out at zappy.com.
JIM LEWIS: That's a Zappy scooter.
MIKE POLIS: So uh, why don't we do two more questions then roll right into the contest.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: OK well uh, I kind of have two questions. One of them is, can I be one of the people participating in the contest?
GOGGLES: If you get picked.
At this point, Victor hurriedly picked six or seven people to participate in a Kermit-imitation contest. They were all asked to say "Hi ho! Kermit the Frog here. Welcome to Comic-Con International 2002. Yaaaay!" Then, by a show of applause, the audience voted on them. One guy was dead-on in his imitation. He, of course, came in first and won the scooter. In second came a little girl -- who couldn't have been much older than three -- that didn't sound anything like Kermit, but tried her little heart out anyway. Everyone that competed won a prize.
After the panel was over, I walked up as close as I could to the box with the lifeless Muppets in it. Other people went up to talk to Jim, Victor and Mike, but I just stood there, looking at the puppets. It was amazing to get to be that close to actual Muppets. Other people walked up to get a closer look at them, and we discussed how the Muppets were made.
As I walked out of the meeting room, they were handing out Kermits Swamp Years posters. The posters are similar to the DVD cover except it includes some extras like a cast and crew list and "Available on VHS & DVD".
From the clips that were shown, Kermit's Swamp Years looks to be a cute movie. The interaction between Kermit and his childhood friends is very entertaining. After years of just thinking of them as images on a screen, it was amazing to see real Muppets interacting with people in the same room.
Oh, and my friends still can't get me to shut up about it.