Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"The Muppets" Fisher Price Little People

After seeing The Muppets twice last week, I realized that something was missing in my life. It was making my own Fisher Price Little People versions of some of the breakout characters. At some point, I had made Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, the Electric Mayhem, Rowlf, Scooter, and everyone else I felt was important; now with this new movie, I had to add three more characters: 80's Robot, Walter, and Uncle Deadly.

80's Robot, Walter, Uncle Deadly

80's Robot is one weird little dude, but he stole several scenes. I love his retro design, his dated offerings of Tab and New Coke, and his sweet sweet modem. It wasn't until looking more closely at his design on Muppet Wiki that I noticed some of his details, like a floppy disk drive in his torso. While perhaps not technically a Muppet, and more a remote control, since he's voiced by Muppet performer Matt Vogel, he's Muppety enough for me.

Walter is the character I was most worried about in this new movie--the biggest role in the movie, and a total newcomer. Watching him, I recognized myself over and over and over--an obsessed Muppet fan who wants to see them succeed, and is willing to do anything to make it happen. I decided to put him in his Kermit the Frog t-shirt; I would have included his Kermit watch too, but since Fisher Price Little People don't have any arms, that would have made for awkward placement.

Uncle Deadly, while not a new character, has been absent from the Muppet family for decades, and even when he was around, he was always lurking in the shadows. Another of Matt Vogel's new characters, he was a henchman to the villain in the movie, and has to decide if he's a Muppet or not. I've always loved his creepy look, and I think he turned out okay, given my elementary school sculpting skills.

If you haven't seen The Muppets yet, you really really should. It's funny, it's sweet, it's got some great new characters, and all the old ones that you've missed. It's good for your heart. Like oatmeal. But less messy. Usually.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Muppets (2011)

I've been a fan of the Muppets for as long as I can remember. A true child of the 70's, I grew up watching Sesame Street, and some of my earliest memories involve Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, Grover and Kermit the Frog. Ah, Kermit. When people ask me who my favorite Muppet character is...a question that comes up more often for me than it probably does for you--my response is usually something along these lines:

"Well, I love Gonzo. Gonzo's like a brother to me. I understand him, I love him. But Kermit is what I aspire to become. A leader, a friend, a kind, generous, loving person." Those of you that know me know that I have a long way to go to becoming more Kermitlike, but that's my aspiration. I literally look up to a puppet. Part of that is the role Jim Henson had in taking the puppet-television format and folding into something both educational and entertaining; part of it is his larger vision of peaceful harmony with people (and species) that are different from you, so evident in Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and Fraggle Rock; part of it is simply that I think the Muppets are funny and make me happy. So when Jim Henson passed away two decades ago, I think I probably took it harder than was psychologically good for me. And it's taken some time to get over that loss. It's only been since getting married and having kids of my own that I'm able to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol without spiraling into a period of mourning (good thing I don't drink)(yet) for both Jim Henson and performer Richard Hunt, who died shortly after Jim did.

Each new Muppet project after Jim passed away moved me a little more into accepting a "new" Kermit, and eventually a new Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, etc. If I want the Muppets to continue being "alive," then I need to accept new performers for old favorite characters...but I want them to be performing something good--something I want to see, and recommend to friends without couching it in "well, it's good for me, because I'm a Muppet fan." And even though each new project--Muppet Treasure Island, Muppets From Space, It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, and even Muppets Wizard of Oz--had moments that were great, on the whole, they're weaker than any of the "Jim Henson era" movies. Until now.

The Muppets opened about 72 hours ago, and I've already seen it twice. I'm sure I'll see it at least one more time in theatres before it's off the big screen. Most people who see movies or watch television have seen trailers or commercials for this movie over the last few months, but obsessed Muppet fans like me have known about the pitch and planning and making of this movie for four years now. The anticipation, excitement, and fear has been building for that long. Which can make the first viewing more an exercise in checklists than anything else. "How many lines will Rowlf have?" "Will Janice say something inappropriate about nudity?" "Will Crazy Harry get to blow something up?" ...when it's twelve years between Muppet movies, there are a lot of pent-up lists.

To get to the review part of things, I loved it. I loved this movie. I don't think it was perfect (for some reasons I'll get to in a minute), but I loved it. It made me happy. It reminded me of all the many reasons I love the Muppets. I laughed out loud, I was moved, it made me reflect on my own life in ways that I didn't think a Muppet movie would.

I loved that instead of playing pirates or Dickensian urchins or Munchkins, the Muppets are themselves. They're back. And that incldues characters that haven't been seen much since Jim Henson and Richard Hunt passed away. Scooter, Rowlf, Janice, Sweetums, Dr. Teeth--they've all been relatively mute for about twenty years. Seen in the background, but mostly absent. They're back, and they have new performers, and Scooter in particular has as much to do here as he's ever had in any Muppet movie. Even though those characters aren't, and will never be, as high profile as Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, or Miss Piggy, they're part of the family, and to have them missing in action for twenty years was sad. Having them back is a major win for Muppet fans.

Even more remarkable is the incredibly obscure characters that writer/co-star Jason Segel got rebuilt and back into the movie that haven't been seen since the earliest days of The Muppet Show: Uncle Deadly, a blue dragon-like character is a major villain in the movie; the singing duet Wayne and Wanda get a big laugh when the power goes out; even the freakishly enormous (bigger than Sweetums) Thog. After every Muppet movie/tv special up until this point, I've found myself saying, "yeah, it would have been better--more Muppety--with this character, or that character..." Not this time. I was amazed at how many characters were worked into this production.

The songs, written by Bret McKenzie (from Flight of the Conchords) are fun, funny, and very...Muppety, even when the Muppets aren't the ones singing them. My favorite new song is probably "Life's a Happy Song," which both opens and closes the movie. Others are the heartbreaking "Pictures in My Mind" that Kermit sings, and the song "Man or Muppet," which hits the nail on the head a little too precisely for my comfort. Which made me laugh at myself, and Jason Segel, and Walter. More on him in a second. There are also versions of some of the Muppets' greatest songs: "Rainbow Connection," "The Muppet Show Theme," and "Mahna-Mahna" are all in the movie, so there's a good chance there'll be something there for any Muppet fan, old or new.

There's one new Muppet character worked into the mix, and I was prepared to hate him. Walter is Gary's (Jason Segel) brother in the movie, and he's a Muppet fan. Like...a huge Muppet fan. Like...me. And my weirdo internet friends. He has Muppet stickers on his bed, and posters on his wall, and a Kermit watch, and shelves full of Muppet toys. He has dreams about Muppets, he wants to be a Muppet. And holy crap, it's like Jason Segel (who seems a bit like Walter himself in interviews I've seen with him)(frog bless him) gets what it's like to be that guy. I was waiting for a joke to go too far, or for a dig to be too personal, but man. Walter IS me. And even if you're not a Muppet fan, you understand that level of love and fandom for whatever it is that you love--through Walter. He's a sweet, well thought-out character who seems as real and human as anyone else, but still as silly and fun as the Muppets themselves are. He's got a simple design, but it's really the writing, and the amazing performance by Peter Linz that makes Walter live. I went in with a big chip on my shoulder, because how DARE they try to push some new kid into my Muppet family, but I ended up loving him. And it didn't take long.

My only real problems with the movie are things that I think are so nitpicky and obsessive and fannish that they wouldn't be noticed by, or wouldn't annoy, your average moviegoer/casual fan of the Muppets. And that's just that several elements of the plot are recycled. "Let's get the gang back together and put on a show" is part of The Muppet Movie, The Muppets Take Manhattan, and It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. And that's an enjoyable part of those movies. I didn't feel like I needed to see it again. That said, the way they handle it in The Muppets, and the twelve years since they've been on the big screen, make it a little more poignant. And doing it via montage made it pretty darn funny. Then there are things on my own personal checklist, like me wanting Janice to say something inappropriate, or Gonzo being a little wackier, or wanting Link from Pigs in Space to have a line or two...things that don't matter nearly as much as the big picture.

That big picture is that the Muppets finally feel like they're back. For possibly the first time ever, I don't think I ever thought, "well, this isn't the Jim Henson Kermit, this is the Steve Whitmire Kermit." He was just Kermit. And it didn't matter that Frank Oz wasn't involved, because Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear and Animal are in good hands, and they are funny, and poignant, and loved. This is the Muppet movie I've been waiting for. Not just for four years, but for twenty. I'm so glad Jason Segel pushed for it. I'm glad Disney made it. I'm glad the performers did such an amazing job with it. They put everything they had into this one, and it shows. I'm proud to be a fan of such a great movie. Thanks guys.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

LEGO Star Trek

I had to wait until 1999 for LEGO to start making Star Wars toys, and when two of my favoritest things came together, well, it was worth the wait. I'm not holding my breath and waiting around for LEGO to make Star Trek toys, because I don't think the market's there for it. But wow. If it were, I'd be first in line. A line filled with other geeks, obsessing over tiny pointed ears and phasers. For now, these customs will have to do.

Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy -- one of my favorite trinities.

Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura.

A little bit of backup from Nurse Chapel, Yeoman Rand, and Transporter Chief Kyle...or possibly just a Red Shirt to die on an away mission. Depends on how the day is going.

The biggest challenge for me this time around was the hairpieces. The men were pretty straightforward, but the women had distinctively 1960's hairstyles that I wanted to try to represent. So I sculpted new hairpieces for all three women. Janice Rand's beehive was the most elaborate, but I think it's also the most successful of the three. Most of the time she was just delivering coffee to Captain Kirk, but she can still rock the 'hive.

I do like how Uhura turned out--she has her own hairpiece as well, and I added those green hoop earrings to the sides of her head. It's a good look. She deserves the best.

Boldly going where no minifigure has gone before!

The problem of course is that my OCD is having a hard time letting this be a complete set. Where's Captain Pike? Dr. M'Benga? Sarek and Amanda? And what about the villains? Klingons, Romulans, Tholians, Khan, Gorn...well, let's just say that if I started, I wouldn't stop.

And then there's Picard, Riker, Data, Geordi, Dr. Crusher, Counselor Troi, Worf, Wesley, Tasha, Guinan, Ro, Q, Borg, Sisko, Kira, Dax, O'Brien, Quark, Odo, Bashir, Dukat, Cardassians, Rom, Nog...I need to stop.

Live long and prosper, OCD. Live long and prosper.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Doctor Who Fisher Price Little People

I swore I'd never do it. But after acknowledging that friends and family members were right, and I should have been watching the British sci-fi series Doctor Who for the last five seasons, I finally got on board. And now that I have...I need to start making some good Doctors. As is fitting for a time traveling television show, I'm starting with the last Doctor first, and I'll get around to others later.

River Song, The Doctor, Amy Pond, Rory Williams

River Song is a character that's really grown on me. We first met her in a few episodes in a previous season, and each time we see her, the mystery deepens. As portrayed by Alex Kingston, she's smart, funny, and every bit a match for the Doctor. I chose to make her in a Season Six costume, partially just because I dig the Western thing she has going on. She's got a gun in a holster on one hip, and her own sonic screwdriver on the other. The biggest challenge was her hair--the insanely beautiful curliness of it, and the fact that it changes color depending n what light she's in. The Doctor (Matt Smith) was another challenge, and another hair sculpting issue. But he came out okay. I tried for a tweedy texture in his coat, but don't know if I really achieved it. In any case, bowties. Bowties are cool.

Amy and Rory were both easier in a lot of ways...Amy's short short skirt was easy enough, and I like the red scarf. Rory was another matter--I wanted his red shirt and black puffy vest from the Vampires in Venice episode, but have YOU ever tried to make a vest for a person with no arms? I have. And I might have failed. But it was either this or the Roman Legionnaire, and I didn't want to do that. Rory's Rory. His nose.

Coming soon: more Doctors. More companions. Villains. Tardises. T.A.R.D.I.S.es even.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

LEGO Death Eaters

I like a fair fight. So when I ended up with Harry Potter, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hagrid, and dozens of other Hogwarts heroes, I needed to bolster up the ranks of the Death Eaters to try and even the odds a little.

Here are the results.

Four random Death Eaters, flanking Voldemort (I know LEGO has released a few, but this custom was easy enough to make...)

Together with his psycho almost-girlfriend, Bellatrix LeStrange...played by my psycho almost-girlfriend, Helena Bonham-Carter

My custom-made Scabior minifigure, based on the most recent movie, alongside LEGO's official Fenrir Greyback minifig.

And my lovely two-toned Narcissa Malfoy, alongside Lucius Malfoy. Where's Draco when they need him? Let's say...Hogwarts.

The Death Eaters on the march. Mudbloods and Muggles, beware!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Toy Story LEGO: Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head

I love Toy Story. Since 1995, when Pixar first rocked my world, every Pixar movie has been a masterpiece--but the Toy Story family of characters is still the best of the best. Last year when LEGO started making Toy Story sets, I looked forward to completing that family, and they were off to a good start with Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie and Bullseye, Rex, Hamm, and even the Little Green Army Men and the Aliens from Pizza Planet were all made pretty quickly. They soon came home, and it was like Andy's Toy Box all over again.

The Official Toy Story LEGO Minifigures...

But there were a few of those family members missing. Mattel was able to fill in some of the gaps with their Toy Story Buddies line of action figures--close enough to the LEGO scale and style that Bo Peep and Slinky Dog fit right in, even though LEGO isn't making them as minifigures.

Bo Peep and Woody

Slinky Dog joins Rex and Hamm

The real heartbreaker was the lack of Potato Heads. I'm assuming Hasbro was asking for too much money, or that the legalese between Hasbro, LEGO, and Mattel was too complicated for a "minor" character, but that sarcastic tuber has been in all three of the Toy Story movies, and Mrs. Potato Head in the last two. They're a sweet and disturbing couple, and should be a part of the Toy Story LEGO lineup!
They weren't included in the LEGO sets, so I thought I'd try my luck with the Toy Story Buddies from Mattel--no dice. So then I shopped around on eBay for Potato Head keychains, figurines--anything that would fit in close enough to the LEGO minifigures to complete my little plastic family. The closest thing would have towered above Woody and Jessie, and after months of looking in vain, I was left to my own devices. Here are the results:
Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head are sculpted completely from Sculpey polymer clay, and are baked around a set of "stubby" LEGO minifigure legs. This lets them stand on LEGO baseplates with the other Toy Story characters; even though the rest of the potato-shaped figure isn't LEGO, I wanted part of them to fit in with the others.

The size was a tricky issue--the scale of the Toy Story LEGO minifigures is inconsistent, with the Army Men being the same size as Buzz Lightyear, and the the Aliens being just a shade shorter. Woody and Jessie scored with unique long arms and legs, and--it's a crap shoot. I wanted the Potato Heads to be shorter than Buzz Lightyear (a standard minifigure) and taller than the Aliens, who are their adopted "children." ...and it's not until you've sculpted a Potato Head yourself that you realize what a disturbing, disproportionate, and bizarre creature they really are. Those lips... *shudder*
My other problem was their arms--in the movies, as on the toys, they have spindly long arms with gigantic white hands. That wasn't going to work in either LEGO or Sculpey form, so I compromised and gave them big white hands that are on either side of their body-head-torso-potato. Weird.
Anyway. Once they were finished and painted and "home" with the other figures, I pretty much love them. I think they're some of my favorite custom work I've ever done--not necessarily the quality of the work, but the empty spot that they fill is one that needed to be filled. And now...they're home.