Most of us when we go to the movies are there to actually watch the movie.
I mean, I like cup holders and adolescent groping as much as the next guy. But if I’m going to spend the yearly wage of a Nike factory worker to sit in a darkened room for two hours, I want to watch Tom Cruise possibly fall to his death from a dumb plane stunt. Not the idiot in Row 5 texting his mother.
Same deal at the parks. When the lights go down and the butterfly curtain flaps away, our eyes are glued to the fantastic theme park performances on stage or screen.
Unless we’ve been there a hundred times.
We’ve written more tips than Cosmo about ways to spice up your ridemaking. But shows are trouble. Rather than an ever-changing three-dimensional vista of pillaging pirates, it’s often the same static bench in the same faux aquarium, listening to the same turtle factoids in the same phony Australian accent.
That’s why it’s often easier to ride Haunted Mansion all day long than it is to see Beauty and the Beast Live On Stage twice in the same decade.
But what if I told you crazy fans that there are secret shows hidden in plain sight?
Great theme park performances that 99% of the audience never sees?
Animatronic actors pouring their entire soul into their role for nary a scrap of recognition?
I’m not talking an occasional unnoticed sight gag. These are full-length on-stage theme park performances that run non-stop throughout the day. These guys are emoting their hearts out, with more stage-time than the stars of the show.
And you never noticed them, you godless heathen.
To find them, you have to look in a place you never would have guessed.
You have to watch the audience.
It’s a surreal situation, like reading Moby Dick from the point of view of the whale. But if you have the fortitude, you can step through the looking glass and watch other characters watch the show.
The Country Bear Jamboree
You all know Blood on the Saddle, the Bear Band Serenade and the rest of the classic show. You can sing all the carols from the Christmas version and may even quote the skunk’s lines from Vacation Hoedown.
But do you know who gets the first lines and the last lines in the show?
Yeah. It’s that terrific troupe of talking taxidermy. Melvin, Max, and Buff.
And since they’ve got nowhere to hide, they have to watch the show. Again. And again. And again.
Which means while Henry is off adolescently groping Teddi Berra in the attic, Melvin, Max, and Buff are listening to the same corny numbers they’ve been hearing since 1971.
Sometimes they nod along in time to the music. Sometimes they roll their eyes. Sometimes they even whisper to each other. Oh, and Max hides a chuckle at the antics at multiple points in the show.
Try it next time. Try watching the entire Country Bears show while staring at the right wall.
Not only will you creep out everyone around you, but you’ll also see an entirely new Magic Kingdom show that you never knew existed.
Muppet Vision 3-D
MuppetVision 3-D is that rare exception to the rule, where the jokes come fast and furious and the sight gags are rewarding even on the tenth viewing.
But if you are one of those people whose gaze habitually gravitates to the fluffy chickens roaming through the Muppet Labs foyer at the beginning of the film, you’ve probably seen the movie enough times to try this.
And you don’t even need 3-D glasses.
Just like Melvin, Max, and Buff, Waldorf and Statler have minor roles in the main show. And just like in Country Bears, they get the opening and closing lines.
But for the most part, they are there to watch.
If anything, their theme park performance is even more fascinating than Melvin, Max, and Buff. Statler’s mouth is forever falling open in abject shock at the hijinks on display. Both of them spend so much time ducking and rattling from all the shenanigans, you’d think stuff really was flying off the screen.
In a brilliant instance of animated puppetry, Waldorf and Statler will actually turn to face the theater when Waldo, the Spirit of 3-D, flies in close – as if that zany creature was actually hovering over people’s heads.
Speaking of which, watch them bob their head with every bounce as Waldo plays pogo on top of the audience. Or wince in time with Beaker whenever the MuppetVision paddlewheel cracks him in the skull.
And sometimes they simply can’t help looking at each other in horror at what they are being subjected to.
It’s an entire show unto itself.
I was surprised at how engaging this is for a long-timer. It takes some discipline to remain focused on these peripheral theme park performances, when everything from the music stings to the lighting cues is geared to focus your attention on the stage.
It would be great if someone skilled at low-light videography would just set up a tripod and put the entire performance of Melvin, Max, Buff, Waldorf, and Statler up on youtube.
But until that happens, you’ll just have to go to the parks and try it yourself.
It really is like discovering a completely new show.
Interestingly enough, earlier this summer when I saw Muppet Vision 3D for the umpteenth time, I did notice those details of Statler and Waldorf and ended up keeping an eye on them for most of the show instead. They really do interact with everything that goes on around them, if something is suppose to come off the screen and into the theater, they will take their eyes off of the screen if the object is suppose to be in the theater. They even can go so far as to try and reach out and touch something. It was really amazing to see that, and just as someone else said, Muppet Vision 3D is the gift that keeps on giving.
Also, welcome back.
Thanks Robert! It’s good to be back! And yes, MuppetVision is surprisingly layered in its detail for a 3-D movie.
Good post. I think some of the “whispering” that Buff, Melvin, and Max are doing is actually the politically incorrect dialogue that was eliminated in 2012 from Trixie’s number. (They removed the audio but didn’t change the programming of the animatronics, I believe.)
I’ll have to pay attention to Statler and Waldorf next time–I never noticed some of the stuff you point out here.
Good call, John! I’ll have to pay attention to that. Apparently it’s still okay to auction off women, but not okay to make fun of pudgy animals.
Always thought Ulysses Grant gave the most restrained and powerful performance. It’s not what he doesn’t say but the way he doesn’t say it. So riveting.
I thought I was the only one who takes a glance at Max, Buff, and Melvin bobbing their heads!
The attention to detail reminds me a lot of the different moves by the commanders in chief at the Hall of Presidents. I used to love how Andrew Jackson would shake his head and lean over to whisper something to his colleague. I always imagined him saying he that he had whooped guys much bigger than half the guys on the stage.
I went back over the summer and I watched for him to lean over and whisper only to be disappointed. I guess he is getting tired of talking to the guy next to him.
The Presidents are great at this! Andrew Jackson may not be whispering as much, but some of the other ones do. Thanks for remembering this one!
Agree – Muppet vision gets taken for granted after the 11th viewing , but it is a masterpiece of details from the fountain out the front to the Swedish chef’s cannon. But Crush is a Californian surfer dude, doooood
Yeah, Crush is California. But he’s also in Australia, so… I never let facts get in the way.
Hey Shane. Would love to hear ya’ll’s thoughts on the new Hollywood Studios announcements…..
Why? Is something coming???
Oh, just something about some movie from the 70’s or something.
Come on, Griff. The Country Bears movie is from 2002!
I think he was referring to your all-time favorite, “The Black Hole.” Best sci-fi movie ever!! It had an actor named Maximilian and an evil robot character named Maximilian! Plus, Ernest Borgnine was in it. Pure genius!
Welcome back from your sabbatical, Shane! As always, enjoyed the article. I’ll definitely be looking at these characters the next time we’re there.
Thanks Greg! Sometimes life just intervenes, but I’m hoping to post more now.
Muppet Vision 3D is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to this sort of thing. Just recently we sat in the front row to watch the penguin orchestra and it’s the hardest I’ve laughed in some time. Fantastic detail in their performances.
It will be a real shame if we lose Muppet Vision at the Studios.
Yes! The penguins are fantastic, but since they raise and lower throughout the show, you can’t watch them constantly.
And I think Muppets at WDW are safe for the moment. But at DCA they may be gone for good.