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Kermit's Swamp Years

Boo, get off the stage!
Melissa Yowhan (8-19-2002) - Over the years, there have always been references to Kermit's early days in various Muppet projects and now the Jim Henson Company gives us a whole film about the young frog called Kermit's Swamp Years. The film recently premiered on Starz! this past Sunday before the film makes it's direct to home video debut next month. I must say I found a lot of pleasant little surprises in this film that is geared mainly towards the younger Muppet fans, but not without the magical blend of Muppet charm and wit that the older fans love.

The story focuses on a young, 12 year old Kermit and his good friends Croaker and Goggles on a search to discover what lies outside their swamp and instead turns into a very wild adventure! Without giving too much away, Goggles and Blotch a bossy bullfrog are kidnapped by a pet store owner and Kermit and Croaker must set out to save their friends. This adventure gives us a great opportunity to first off, see the Muppets back in the real world, something I always enjoyed about the early Muppet films. Second, it introduces us to a lot of fun, new characters particularly those in the pet store scenes. From a pair of wisecracking turtles (whose banter reminded me of Statler and Waldorf) to a deadly snake, the pet shop scenes were amongst my favorites.

Another aspect of this film I really enjoyed was the variety of Henson sight gags that any die hard Muppet fan will notice right away, including a pet food package in the pet store that reads "Salmon Friends" to a Hartis movie theater whose namesake is Muppet builder Paul Hartis who was heavily involved with this film. There was also a touching scene where a young Kermit briefly meets a young Jim Henson which I loved to know that the man behind the frog to this day is still not forgotten.

The puppeteers did a fine job on this film. Steve Whitmire who has always been a favorite of mine performs the young Kermit with the perfect blend of innocence and simplicity that makes Kermit....well, Kermit! His vocal performance despite that he's performing Kermit at a younger age is dead on to Jim's Kermit. Steve has come a long way with Kermit and this film is a true example of that. Bill Barretta who is another favorite did a great job with Croaker with this sort of serious facade which is what makes the character in my opinion, funny. And Joey Mazzarino, whose character Stinky the Stinkweed I always got a kick out of on Sesame Street brings the same insecurities to the character of Goggles, the neurotic, hyper little frog.

Overall, this film is a real treat. My only gripes about this film are that the human actors were terribly overacted, and the title is misleading: Kermit's Swamp Years, when really the film focuses only on one day's adventure. I know they can't fit YEARS into a film, but I would've liked to have seen a story that perhaps focused more on Kermit and his family whereas in this film we only get a glimpse of his mom and siblings. But this film had a lot of nice surprises for a die hard fan like myself, to me it echoed a lot of the same themes that were present in The Muppet Movie: Kermit's wanting to go into show business, the magic star, and the simple theme of friends being the most important. This movie will definitely entertain the younger set as it seems that's where this film is aimed for, but it's another fantastic job by the Henson team and that's always a plus in my book!

Jackie O'Donnell (8-19-2002) - The worst Muppet project of all time...

That's how I would describe Kermit Swamp Years. I didn't have any expectations going into this movie. I knew it wasn't going to be the best Muppet movie I've ever seen, but at best I thought I would get some Muppety fun, silliness, and wisdom. I got none of the above. The Muppets have always been about treating children like they were adults. I think this movie insults children by being poorly made. The acting was atrocious, by the humans and puppeteers. The adventure was boring. The special effects were wasted on boring shots. The music and songs seem like they were written in 5 minutes. Worst of all, the script was horrible.

Usually the human actors at least try to do a nice performance. This time there wasn't even an effort. Maybe it was their direction and lack of material to work with because they looked like they could have had some potential if given the chance. It was just not good. The wonderful characters of Goggles and Croaker were awesome yet completely wasted. They just didn't do anything of value. Steve Whitmire and Bill Barretta tried to add some humor and silliness, but the bad script just killed everything.

Where was the adventure? Aren't adventures supposed to be...adventurous? This one definitely wasn't. The story had no entertaining aspects whatsoever. We spend the first hour walking on a dirt road, and the rest of the movie having a scalpel battle. At one point I saw a ray of hope when Kermit trips and falls, and is helped by a stranger, then my heart sinks again. Somewhere in the middle Kermit grabs some balloons and sees the world. We never get to see what he sees. What was the point? There wasn't even a payoff at the end of the movie. It was the dumbest conceived ending in the history of movie endings and I hope little preschoolers don't start doing battle with scalpels in the near future. So much could have been done with the script that was just completely thrown out the window. I don't get it.

Every single musical number was terrible. Nothing was catchy about any of the tunes. Whoever wrote the songs really dug down to the bottom of the trash can to pull them out. Usually at the end of a Muppet Movie, and even a Sesame Street movie, you have some of the songs stuck in your head. They have some cool meaning that inspires you or makes you sad. The only thing I can remember is when Bill Barretta as Croaker sang this one line in this terrible song that had nothing to do with the movie whatsoever during the finale nonetheless: "If you have an itch, you've got to scratch it." This completely came out of left field and made me laugh out loud. It was a purely stupid line in a meaningless song.

Some people would describe this movie as cute. I do not see it that way at all. A current episode of Sesame Street is cute and even has better acting, writing, and music. I say "Tale of the Bunny Picnic" was cute. Now that special, made with a smaller budget is a much better quality. The Muppets need new writers and they need them fast.

I think the problem with the Muppets today is absolutely 100% due to the writing. That script could have been made into something great, but there was nothing there. It was just words being said. No messages, no humor, no nothing. All in all, if it weren't for the extra footage and commentary on the Swamp Years DVD, I would not buy it. That is saying a lot because I am a Muppet fiend when it comes to videos and DVDs. This movie was just not worth it. I do not recommend it to anyone. I do not see the appeal, not even for the diehard Kermit fans. I'm sorry to say that I was disgusted by this movie. The Muppets have lost their edge and I wish there were some way to save them.

Off to watch my Follow That Bird DVD...

Artie Esposito (8-20-2002) - I'll be honest. I turned on Kermit's Swamp Years not knowing what to expect. The truth is, based on most of the reviews I read, I wasn't expecting much. But as a loyal Muppet fan and professional puppeteer I felt it was only right I give it a fair shot. And I'm glad I did. I was pleasantly surprised. If you haven't seen it yet, then don't read this as it is "spoiler filled".

Rather than bore everyone by giving an entire synopsis of the program, I've decided to simply break it down to what I liked and what I didn't. I did enjoy it as a whole, so in the interest of ending on a positive note, I'll be starting with the things that I didn't care for.

Things I didn't like:

  1. The CGI Bug: I didn't feel that this character was needed. I understand that they wanted a "snappy" way to open and close the program, but I found it more annoying than anything else.

  2. The Singing Rabbit: What bothered me about the rabbit more than the fact that he was annoying was that he was so generic. Maybe that was the point, but I think it was a mistake. This was a chance for them to introduce a new, entertaining character, an all knowing, master of the Pet Shop. Instead it seemed like they reached into "the bag 'o Muppet rabbits" and said "Hey Steve, just throw him on and see what you can do."

  3. Poop Jokes: I guess they're funny for today's audience. Poop jokes are what are known as "cheap laughs." It's what you do when nothing else seems to be working. That said, I don't feel like they were in a position that they needed to resort to this type of humor. In fact, most of "fecal humor" seemed forced and out of place.

  4. The Red Truck: Oh, and can we please have just one more shot of that red truck driving somewhere? Please! It had more screen time than Kermit.

  5. Most of the human actors: They were lacking and talking down to the audience, especially the scientist. And the "Wizard of Oz" jokes? Why? They weren't funny. They were just completely random.

  6. The Rowlf joke: This was also kind of random.

Now don't get me wrong, there just as many things that I loved!

  1. Steve Whitmire: As always a brilliant performer. In fact, I think his voice and characterization almost fit better for younger Kermit than for his older rendition.

  2. The "Real Swamp" shots: The shots over the swamp in the opening really put me in the "Swamp Years" world. It really harked back to "The Muppet Movie." In fact, if I didn't know it was filmed in Florida I would have believed that they went back to the original "Muppet Movie" swamp.

  3. Arnie the Alligator- Just liked the fact that they used the character. It made a nice connection to "The Muppet Movie".

  4. Kermit's Mother: Loved the scene where she speaks to him. The warmth and love in her voice show you how Kermit could grow up to be such a good guy.

  5. Foreshadowing and Film References: Statler and Waldorf, Kermit having the banjo in his bag at the end and "The Pig Joke" especially. These were quick and simple, yet fun. In fact, my main suggestion to the writers for future prequel projects is this: Beat me over the head with more foreshadowing references! I love them! The pig joke was great! Give me more. Talk about Bears, Chickens, or whatever. Show Kermit learning to play the banjo, falling off his bicycle. Show us his brother (Robin's dad). Talk about getting an apt in NY when he grows up, or being a reporter.

  6. Paying Homage to Jim: The obvious reference was great, but so were some of the more subtle ones, like "Welcome to Leland" and the license plate on the truck "JMH-924" (James Maury Henson-September 24th). But my one question is what did "DG-529" stand for? I thought it might be for Dave Goelz, but his birthday is in July.

Overall I have this to say. The draw of the Muppets has always been that they appeal to children as well as adults. Kermit's Swamp Years, although directed toward kids, still manages to follow in that tradition. If you didn't enjoy it, you might want to go back and watch it again. You'll probably find some stuff you missed the first time. I did. In fact my original review was very negative, until I went back and watched it again. Viewing it a second time and remembering that the audience for this specific project was children helped me to appreciate it much better. They had talked about possibly doing a TV series (or series of videos) if this took off, and I think that they should give it a shot. Kids might be drawn to it.

Alex G. Bowman (8-20-2002) - My review of Kermit's Swamp Years takes an in-depth look at each main character.

Horace: The opening sequence could have done without a computer generated fly singing. Desecrates what is so special about the Muppets. However, we are lead into the story by Kermit himself. This was a very appropriate way to introduce the audience to the surroundings.

Croaker and Goggles: At first I was a bit taken aback at their simple and droll appearances. They grew on me as soon as their mouths opened. These are two characters who have already found a home within the Muppet universe. They are wonderful characters. I was able to start caring about them right off the bat.

Kermit's family: I really wish we could have seen more about Kermit's family. A full shot of his mother would have been nice and his brothers and sisters needed a few names and personality touches, and maybe an explanation about why Kermit's father wasn't seen.

Dr. Krassman and Mary: Humans in the Muppet films have most often been used as a novelty. Celebrity cameos were a wonderful touch in the previous films. These humans are terrible. They are NOT funny in the least. Since there were no cameos by people like Cloris Leachman, Carol Kane or Steve Martin. We should have had the few main human characters portrayed by some decent character actors. We've had Charles Grodin, Tim Curry, Charles Durning, Michael Caine and Jeffrey Tambor in the past. Where's our classic arch-enemy here? He's nowhere to be found.

Wilson: Same thoughts on the pet store guy as I mentioned above. Even though he and the teacher's assistant become "good guys", where's this film's Austin Pendleton?

Pilgrim: Annoying for the most part. Also the realistic dog puppet clashed with the cartoon appearance of the frogs and other animals.

Blotch: I liked him. He was a little too gruff at first, but I was glad to see he warmed up toward the end.

Young Jim Henson: This was a nice touch, but a little too brief. I thought maybe he might have met up with Jim in high school. Maybe Jim would have been the student that helped them out in the science class, and formed the beginning of the relationship.

Cameos: Where was the young Rowlf (aside from the name cameo) in the pet store? We get to see an Animal keychain and a young Statler and Waldorf, but where is young Janice and Floyd sharing a shake in the background, a young Lew Zealand fishing in the pond, or a young Fozzie on the Discovery Channel? Maybe the Swedish Chef buying lobsters at the pet shop or a young Gonzo or Animal in cages? And do I even have to mention young Piggy?

The Pet Store: I enjoyed the other frogs in the tank. However there should have been more distinct personalities other than their main spokesfrog. Jack Rabbit was pretty plain looking. I know he is a pet, but he looked rather boring and his song was a little goofy. It was interesting however that the other animals liked being pets, kind of had a cult feel to it. The two tortoises I enjoyed as well. Rather Statler and Waldorfish I thought, only more Jewish. The snake was a good idea. It just didn't work out that well for me. Vicky? She wasn't fleshed out very well, even for a background character.

All in all the film was very enjoyable. I hoped to have seen the grown up versions of Croaker, Goggles and Blotch at the end. They would make three wonderful additions to the Muppets' world. And I am very picky about what characters belong and what characters don't. Thanks for listening to my opinions, can't wait for more Muppets!

M. Peckham (8-21-2002) - The movie started out somewhat promising, with Kermit arriving on his scooter (which was interesting but not as great as the bike bit from The Muppet Movie). I enjoyed all the little "behind-the-scenes" features on Starz before and after the film (about five minutes worth).

When Horace D'Fly was leading us on a musical trip into the swamp, I had to turn away as I was getting major motion sickness, and even the kids said that it was a little annoying. My first good laugh during the show was when Goggles (voiced by Joe Mazzarino) was "drowning" in less than three inches of swamp water when he, Kermit and Croaker (Bill Barretta) are playing as young frogs. We soon realize that Goggles is a very insecure toad who has a poison gland on his foot. This will come in handy later on in the movie. Croaker decides that the boys should leave the swamp to find what's in the outside world after Kermit (Steve Whitmire) tells them of lately "hearing somebody calling my name."

There are a lot of inside jokes that viewers of Muppet movies and shows will enjoy, including such as the "Rainbow Connection" connection above, and seeing Arnie the Alligator, who rescues the boys from the evil Dr. Krassman (John Hostetter) and his assistant, Mary. We sort of see Kermit's mom, and some of his thousands of brothers and sisters onscreen, and we find that he really enjoys centipede and barley soup. Must be an acquired taste.

There are a number of songs in the movie, but very few are really fully played to their completeness, thus the viewer isn't treated to the great sounds and songs that they have come to know with previous Muppet movies. "Follow Your Star" could be a great tear-jerker, as it takes place when Kermit and his mother are discussing what he should do in life, but we don't hear more than a snippet of it until the end of the movie. Goggles is a great laugh, especially with his vivid nightmares, and the "mooning" scene with Blotch, a bully of a bullfrog, is a hoot. Blotch is voiced by John Kennedy.

The story mostly revolves around Kermit and Croaker heading out into the outside world to rescue Blotch and Goggles after Mr. Wilson, a pet store owner, snatches them from the middle of the road near the swamp. The song "Let it Roll (Down the Highway)" plays as they are taken further away in the back of the truck. Kermit and Croaker are joined by the stray dog, Pilgrim (Cree Summer), who tracks the truck for them.

Kermit has a quick meeting with a young boy named "Jim" who lives at the Henson home in Leland. Mr. Wilson uses an Animal keychain in his truck and also gives a squeaky toy to Joey and his dog, Rowlf. Kermit uses helium balloons from JimJo Toys to fly over the town to try and find "the red metal beast" that took their friends. He, Pilgrim and Croaker enjoy the movie "Swords of Fire," and Kermit realizes that what is going on onscreen is what he wants to do with his life. Croaker has a great comeback for his thoughts though.

Arriving at the pet shop, a sassy boa named Vicky tells them their friends have been taken to George Washington, where pets never come back, and earlier a rabbit had told Blotch and Goggles about the great life they can have as pets in the rousing song, "Life as a Pet." There are lots of inside jokes in this song, but you have to be quick to catch them! At George Washington we are treated to more music, but again, mostly snippets (James Brown's "I Gotcha!" and one called "In a World so Complicated").

The "rescue scene" left much to be desired, but anyone loving Muppet Treasure Island will enjoy the skills Kermit acquired in his early years. We are even treated to a quick "flashback" in Dr. Krassman's life that includes an older Kermit Muppet (the flashback and the movie "Swords of Fire" are both in black and white), but this still seemed a bit "pat" for the end of a climax. To be honest, it was like walking up to get the mail and nothing was there. It's almost a waste of time. There have been better "rescue" scenes in all the previous movies. I don't know what happened here. We are finally treated to a very peppy version of the song "Follow Your Star" while everyone returns to the swamp and the story is wrapped up.

On the Starz airing, the movie ended with some great outtakes, so stay until the bitter end. Personally, our family laughed harder and more often at the outtakes than during the whole movie! I did like the movie, but with a rating of five being best, I would only be able to rate it at a 3. There are some great moments, but they are too quick and fleeting to really give Kermit's Swamp Years more. The outtakes, however, get a 10!


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