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December, 2011

  1. The Muppets – movie thoughts

    December 29, 2011 by Ryan

    Tonight I watched The Muppets.

    I know, I’m a little late to the party. The movie has been out for over a month. I don’t get out to the movies much.

    (Insert Statler and Waldorf heckle here: “Lucky!”)

    I would describe myself as an above-average Muppet fan. I’ve seen the movies, watched the TV series (at least what has been released to DVD so far), and I admire Jim Henson’s work. I know the names and stories of many of the Puppeteers, and I listen to the Muppetcast Podcast as a passive-listener.

    Going into the movie, I was worried about two things.

    One: the plot is the old over-used Muppet formula — the gang has gone their separate ways, and must be brought together. It was done several times already, and would it work to do it again?

    Two: Only one original puppeteer, still performing his own characters, remains from the Muppet Show days (Gonzo’s performer Dave Goelz). Every other major character is performed by a replacement puppeteer. Would they remain true to the characters and vocals?

    So here is my reaction, after seeing the movie for the first-time:

    Knowing this, the performances were great! Rowlf the Dog (who was the original Muppet to rise to popularity on The Jimmy Dean Show, even before Kermit the Frog) had a very brief speaking role, where his voice unfortunately sounded completely wrong to me. Fozzie Bear had more speaking parts, and didn’t sound right about half of the time he spoke. Despite these expected vocal differences in nearly all of the characters, they stayed very true to their personalities.

    It felt like most of the singing and dancing was done by humans. As I left the movie, that struck me as odd. The songs were catchy, and the lyrics were just right to fit a Muppet movie. They took advantage of the talent in human Amy Adams by giving her a couple of great singing moments. But overall it seemed like it was out of balance with other Muppet productions, with too many humans driving the musical numbers.

    A couple of times in outdoor scenes, we saw a billboard for Cars 2. That is a different franchise, and a movie which had its own critical problems with many fans. I know they filmed the Muppet movie about the time that Cars 2 was released and being promoted, and it does make sense to have another Disney movie on the billboard, if they are going to have anything at all. But by the time The Muppets reached theaters, Cars 2 was old news. I’m not sure what I would have replaced it with, but it will forever remain something that add a date reference to the movie – something most movies (but especially the Muppets) have always tried to avoid. Likewise the billboard for the iPad 2. In a movie that otherwise avoided modern technology (again dating the movie), why was this present? Maybe these things were unavoidably part of the outdoor shots they filmed – or Apple paid to have product placement in there?

    The above-average Muppet fan in me is pretty sure that unseen announcer during the telethon is Jerry Nelson. Jerry had to retire due to health issues, but still does some vocal work for Sesame Street. It sounds like him, and I was pleased to think that he was given the opportunity to be part of the movie.

    Finally, what happens next? As expected at the end of the tried-and-true formula, the gang is back together, and the show went on! Now that it is over, what happens? I would love to see a return of The Muppet Show now that this movie has proven that the performers have what it takes to make new Muppet entertainment! We now know that the Muppet theatre is rebuilt, and the brand is safe. The audience has been primed for the series to begin again. So I hope somebody at Disney is listening, and seriously things about resurrecting The Muppet Show format again. It could be fantastic!

  2. Just Passing Through…

    December 22, 2011 by Ryan

    Several times each day, as I walk through the building at my place of employment, I pass the kind receptionists who work at the front desk.

    At once, I feel both admiration and sorrow for them. They sit at the desk, day after day, and represent our company to all visitors who wander through the doors. Their work is open for all to observe.

    The pressure is on.

    They must look professional. Even when the rest of the company is enjoying a casual day, they must take their casual attire up a notch.

    They must smile. Even when people they might not like personally walk through their “office” or approach their desk to ask for assistance, they just keep smiling.

    They must remain friendly. Over 400 people walk by their desk in any given day. I imagine that when each of those 400 individuals say hello to the people at the desk, they expect to be greeted warmly in return. These receptionists manage to learn most or all of the names of these people, laugh at their jokes, and treat them as a friend.

    They must be knowledgeable. Because they are positioned in the open, at the front of the building, they are asked for absurd knowledge expected to know far more than their job description requires.

    They must be prepared. People frequently ask them for supplies – pens, notepads, markers, hand sanitizer, etc. I have to imagine that they cringe inside when someone, coughing and sneezing, approaches and asks for a box of facial tissue. However, see the rules above concerning smiling and remaining friendly.

    Which brings me to my dilemma.

    As I mentioned, I must pass their desk several times a day. What should I do to acknowledge their presence? And at what point do I become a pest to them?

    If occasionally I need to walk through a smaller office of an executive in the building, it becomes very obvious that I am “in their space” and so a word of greeting is certainly appropriate. The front desk is, in a sense, the largest (and least-private) office in the building. Whether I am going to the restroom, crossing the lobby to the other side of the building, or headed to the stairs, I am passing through their space. They are living, human beings, and deserve some sort of recognition, right?

    Since I must pass this way several times a day, should I extend a “hello” or prepare a witty comment for each stroll? If I did, would that not quickly put me on the list of people that annoy them? Or quite the opposite, would they consider me to be one of the friendliest workers and delight each time I came along? I’d never really be sure, because – remember – they are expected to keep smiling all of the time.

    So, to attempt to gain perspective, I reverse the situation in my mind. I wonder if, for some reason, they needed to come to my desk to ask something of me, how it would play? Would I smile and greet them as a treasured friend, and give them everything they requested with a smile and a song? I’m sure I would try to do so. But what if they randomly came through my workspace and said “Hi, Ryan! Hope your day is great!” as they continued on? After several occurrences, would I start to feel like that was disingenuous? Or creepy?

    Yet if as a coworker they always passed my desk without speaking, would I start to wonder if they were upset, unkind, or simply unimpressed with me or my work?

    And so, I’m left wondering – what is the proper greeting or acknowledgement of the hard working people who act as the public face, and work to make the company look good?

    I have not yet decided what is right. If you figure it out, will you let me know?

    You can leave a message for me with the front desk.

  3. Mild He lays his glory by

    December 22, 2011 by Ryan

    God himself – moved by love for His very often unlovely and ungrateful creatures — chose to live among mortals in hopes of redeeming us by His grace. “Mild He lays his glory by,” sings the Christmas carol, in a line far too easily passed over.

  4. The Only Sure Way

    December 17, 2011 by Ryan

    “Nearly two thousand years ago a perfect Man walked the earth—Jesus the Christ. … In His life, all the virtues were lived and kept in perfect balance; He taught men truth—that they might be free; His example and precepts provide the great standard—the only sure way—for all mankind”

    Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 8

  5. That Star in a Precise Orbit

    December 10, 2011 by Ryan

    ‎”The same God that placed that star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the Babe has given at least equal attention to placement of each of us in precise human orbits so that we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others but warm them as well.”

    Neal A. Maxwell