Last week saw the reboot of“The Muppets.” In this new series, The Muppets produce a talk show starring Miss Piggy while a film crew documents it. Think “30 Rock” funneled through “The Office.”
The internet went ballistic. Shouts of betrayal and “not my Muppets” filled social media.
Statistically, it’s doing a little better. “The Muppets” pilot episode is sitting at a 67 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
The general consensus is that it’s too adult, too depressing and that the Muppets are supposed to be a theater troupe and not T.V. producers. Since their creation in the seventies, the Muppets have had multiple shows and films with very little continuity between them.
In “The Muppets Show” (1975) they were a theater troupe in a sketch show, but “The Muppets Movie” (1979) was a roadtrip film about the Muppets making a movie themselves.
In fact, every Muppets movie has had the Muppets doing something different such as journalism and acting. So, why the hostility? Franchises change all the time. In order to grow, franchises need to take what made it unique to begin with and fuse it with what the modern audience wants.
A good example of this isthe“Batman” franchise. If one looks at the most famous Batman projects, “Batman” starring Adam West (1966) and “The Dark Knight” (2008), these two pieces have nearly nothing in common.
Both the Batman and the Joker look and act like completely different characters; but one isn’t more ‘Batman’ than the other. Batman hit this weird sweet spot where one could take the character in nearly any direction and still work.
This is due to multiple factors. Being based on a long running comic character, allowed multiple writers to work on him over the years, each one bringing out a different aspect of the character.
Also, there was a lot of time between the different Batman adaptations. The most important thing about Batman is not based on characters, but on mythology and history. Mythology can be reinterpreted in many ways to fit the time.
On the other end there is the “Superman.” franchise. While Superman also had a long list of writers and a rich mythology, one would think the character would be varied as Batman, but the public seemed to latch on to the Richard Donner film as their main idea on how Superman should be.
If writers stick too closely to the original portrayal of the character, many characteristics may not age well. “Superman Returns” (2006) is a good example of this phenomenon, while if you stray from the norm as writers did with “Man of Steel” (2013), people tend to freak out.
Spiderman, on the other hand, is a good example of a franchise that didn’t stray enough from its original film. “Amazing Spiderman” (2012) was not well-received despite being well-made and remaining true to the Spiderman character.
The problem was that it was too similar to “Spiderman” released a decade earlier. Both films have a similar tone and hit the same beats story-wise.
Hopefully the next Spiderman movie, which will forgo the original story and feature Spiderman interacting with other Marvel characters, will shake things up and serve as the much needed modification to the franchise.
The key to keeping a thriving franchise is time and variety. It’s good for franchises and characters to experiment with new ideas.
Not every go at it will be a success. Remember when the “Looney Tunes became “Loonatics Unleashed?” It was awful, but sometimes one just has to try to change things up. You might shine a light on an old property and bring it to a new generation.