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Amid the hoopla over the 40th anniversary of "Sesame Street," somewhat lost in the ceremonial shuffle of felt and ping-pong ball eyes was another, related pop cultural landmark: The 30th anniversary of “The Muppet Movie.”
The video underscores the diverging sensibilities between the cousin franchises, bridged by the hop of their common character, Kermit the Frog. "Sesame Street" works on different levels for the pre-school set and parents. With the Muppets, we're all more or less in on the same (invariably silly) joke.
Jim Henson, in “The Muppet Show” and its spinoff movies, tapped into the trippy counterculture spirit. There was a rock-and-rock attitude to be sure, thanks to Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. But a gentle irreverence took the place of the drugs and sex part, keeping things fun and family friendly.
The parody works, in good part to the enduring appeal of both the Muppets and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Queen's classic song – and video – came out in 1975, just a year before the TV debut of "The Muppet Show." The Muppets’ video hit YouTube on Nov. 23rd, a day before the 18th anniversary of the great Freddie Mercury’s death, in an apparent tribute.
The video shows the Muppets as an integral part of the pop culture they’re satirizing, displaying and utilizing the breadth of characters the much-missed Henson gave us: Gonzo the Great, Fozzie Bear, Statler and Waldorf, to name a few.
The Keith Moon-like drummer Animal groans primal screams of "Mama!" Sam the Eagle declares in his usual authoritarian manner, "No! No! No! No! No! No! No!" The marble-mouthed Swedish Chef almost makes sense as he belts out something close to “Mama mia! Mama mia!”
Miss Piggy, of course, co-ops the final line of the mini-opera in a fat-lady-sings moment (“Nothing really matters to moi!”), while Kermit, for once, gets the last word, with the post-song punchline.
YouTube, it turns out, is a great medium for the Muppets, whose vaudeville-style humor works well in quick bites. That's not to say of course, larger doses aren't welcome. "The Muppet Movie," after all, kept moving right along.
So does this video, largely thanks to Twitter, Facebook and other social media. It’s shaping up as the biggest YouTube hit since Susan Boyle's Cinderella story began on "Britain's Got Talent" and went viral on the Internet. Boyle's first album, incidentally, just set a U.K. record for a debut offering.
Her success is a sign of our multiple-media age. The Muppets have always played well on various platforms –TV, movies, albums, toys, games. They took Manhattan, why not YouTube?
If there were any fears the franchise would get watered down after Disney bought the Muppets, the video is a promising sign of good things to come. So is the news that Jason Segel, of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” fame, is writing a new movie for Kermit and the crew.
So the Muppets live, even if the anti-hero of "Bohemian Rhapsody" didn't enjoy as fortunate a fate. If you haven't seen the Muppets' take on the song, check out the video below, and see what all the wokka-wokka-wokka-ing is about.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.