“Muppet Guys Talking” opens with a shot of drainage pipes. It’s a close-up, so all you can see is accumulated rust and what looks to be mold. Yet as the camera slowly pans out, clearer images take shape — colorful smiles and patches of orange fur that look mysteriously like hair. It’s a Muppet! And, oh look, another one! The pipe is covered with them — images of the Muppets.
Frank Oz then enters the frame and reminisces about the pipe — how it was decorated in the early days of his career and how it represents the very essence of the Muppets: turning the ordinary, and oftentimes the ugly, into the exceptional with a little glue and buckets of creativity.
That statement is one that also best describes “Muppet Guys Talking.” Oz, who stars in and directs the documentary, is joined by original Muppets veterans Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, Jerry Nelson and Bill Barretta in an hour-long conversation that ranges from talking about bad first marriages, favorite memories and gender equity in Hollywood.
And that’s it. No gimmicks, no Kermit the Frog cameos — just five old friends sitting on a couple of couches, chatting about a shared past.
Inside jokes and memories abound. Nelson and Oz are constantly making eye contact, and the second Goelz begins talking, the rest of the cast breaks out in laughter because they clearly know where he’s going with this. They know each other so well that it is almost alienating at times to be privy to such intimate conversation. Yet everyone involved is so damn funny that you can’t help but enjoy their jokes even when you have no idea what is going on.
This simplistic authenticity embeds itself into every piece of the work. The documentary is edited as if an eighth-grader somehow got hold of their dad’s iMovie software and learned how to use it in a day — and that is a compliment. It’s delightfully low-budget and makes everything going on seem very real. You would never know that Oz actually shot nine hours of footage; the film is at once streamlined and amateur-looking while never sacrificing authenticity.
At one point, Brill even interrupts a flowing conversation midway and asks, “Emily, did the coffee come?” to an offscreen staff member. What follows is three minutes of Brill, Oz and the others getting coffee and talking to the production crew.
Luckily, the scrappiness of the film means that “Muppet Guys Talking” never leans too far into being just fan service. While there are behind-the-scenes reveals — such as how Miss Piggy’s signature took weeks to perfect — these moments are usually undercut with a “remember that one time” or a “that was great when,” returning us back to the non sequitur conversation that constitutes the rest of the film.
If there is one main thread throughout the film, it is the goodness and heart of Muppets creator Jim Henson. “Jim was a force,” “He was fearless,” and “A boss,” are all statements muttered admiringly by the five actors.
The Jim Henson they remember was someone who always prioritized people over profits, and as each original member reminisces about a certain memory or indulges in the past, the tone of the documentary shifts to a melancholic, heartfelt one. It’s easy to get the sense that these individuals are connected by more than mere coincidence — the fact that they’re a group of comedians who worked at the same company at the same time.
You don’t have to be a Muppet fanatic to enjoy “Muppet Guys Talking.” In fact, if you are, this probably isn’t the film for you. What Oz offers is a film that is low-budget, incredibly uninteresting to look at, uninformative but infinitely endearing. Similar to the pipes that Henson and Oz revamped at the beginning of their careers, “Muppet Guys Talking” doesn’t look like much at first, but the more you focus, the more color, magic and joy you will find.
“Muppet Guys Talking” will release online on Friday.
Contact Nils Jepson at [email protected].