This fall saw the release of the latest project from The Muppets. While it isn’t as grand as a television show, a new theatrical movie, or even a show-stopping grand live show as done earlier this fall at The Hollywood Bowl, it deserves much attention in many rights. The latest project is a brand new book titled Muppets Meet the Classics: The Phantom of the Opera, and is the first in the series of Muppet-themed books taking on classic stories and literature. The Muppets are no stranger to adding their own spin on famous stories, considering that two of their theatrical films are based on classic works, The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island. Now, The Phantom of the Opera is quite different from both those projects, but its creation consists of an interesting story and a promising start of a new series for Muppet fans.
Speaking with Erik Forrest Jackson, the author of Muppets Meet the Classics, just a few weeks ago, we learned a lot about what was behind some of the motivation in creating this new story, and how previous Muppet projects helped shape what is found within this new book. “The first challenge was presenting the humor in a written manner since The Muppets are largely visual”, Jackson explained to us. “The first thing was learning how to crack Muppet humor through just words. I had to try to find everyone’s voice, in some instances I needed to create one for those characters who don’t necessarily speak during their screen roles.” This is because Phantom of the Opera uses a large number of obscure characters that haven’t been seen (or mentioned) in over 20 years or had few speaking roles, so creating roles for those characters became a challenge for Jackson immediately.
Working with obscure Muppet characters is a major challenge in of itself because, as most fans will know, most things in the canonical world of The Muppets never make a lot of sense. Because often, some movies will feature characters within different roles, and story that was established in previous movies don’t necessarily connect with other films. The same goes for obscure characters, who have had minuscule roles and sometimes, their names would change when needed. “There were many discrepancies because certain monsters would morph over time and their names would change as their designs would. I tried to be as authentic as I could in those instances too”. Other rarely-seen characters caused similar problems for Jackson as well, including using the rarely-seen character Mama Fiama, the mother of Muppets Tonight’s Johhny Fiama, the in-house singer at KMUP TV. “I recall that once I got stuck on a topic which was “what was the exact color of Mama Fiama?”, because digital files are sometimes magenta, and sometimes grey. Through the Muppets, I went to original puppet builders, archivists, and designers, and they gave me the original color chip to know her exact color. So we went very deep at times to ensure that everything in the story was authentic.”
Taking on classic works is nothing new for the characters, but this book certainly set to follow in those footsteps and set itself apart at the same time.” Like Muppet Treasure Island and The Muppet Christmas Carol, I took the idea that anything could happen at any time, but also that we were riffing on a classic story, and that story was Phantom of the Opera. We had to remain truthful to that story most of the time, basically sandwiching it all with this great Muppet bread.”
Erik Forrest Jackson has been a Muppet fan for pretty much all of his life, explaining that he grew up on The Muppet Show and saw The Muppet Movie upon its release. Jackson also did work for The Jim Henson Company at their legendary Henson Townhouse, which was located on the Upper East Side in New York City. Therefore, working on The Muppets Meet the Classics has come full circle for Jackson, now bringing his fandom and work experience to provide this project to fans. Blending Muppet humor with the story of Phantom overall, really works pretty well, and its thanks to a lot of work and fan-service done for this book that allows it to come together fairly well.
The Muppets Meet the Classics is off to a great start with Phantom of the Opera and we’re excited for what Jackson will bring to the series with his second installment next year. The book is available to purchase online today.
Mitchell Stein is the founder and operator of the Disney-fan based website The Mickey Mindset which is a leader in delivering Disney news, articles and opinions across the company. He can be contacted by following him on Twitter @MitchellStein1.