May 19, 2024

Five Out Of Five Jamon Serranos

The Muppets Take Mahoning Again
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
Last year's The Muppets Take Mahoning event was such a rousing success that it was turned into a two day event for the 2024 season.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

Last year's event featured two movies featuring the cast of The Muppet Show, but they did things a little differently this season.  The first movie of each night was one of the traditional Muppet films, but the second half of each of the double features was a movie that featured Jim Henson creations that fall outside of Kermit's world.

Show poster by Gene Barretta

The poster for this weekend's event was designed by artist Gene Barretta.  He has worked on several Muppets and Sesame Street shows over the years, and his brother Bill has been a writer, performer, and producer for The Muppets since 1991.  We haven't met Bill, but we've become friends with Gene and his son Ben, both of whom are regularly a part of our right-front row crew that has developed over the years.

As he did at last year's event, Gene was the host/mc of The Muppets Take The Mahoning Again.  He had a table set up in the snack bar where he met with fans and signed copies of the children's books that he wrote and illustrated.  He also took a lot of pictures with and of the fans in attendance, one of which was from the roof of the digital projection booth.

His son Ben reminds me of The Kool Aid Man for his ability to pop up out of nowhere, create some sort of havoc, and then disappear just as quickly.  His first reaction to seeing his dad up on the digital booth was to steal the ladder to leave him briefly stranded.  It also inspired him to spend the rest of the weekend climbing on top of whatever building he could find.

The story above played out something like this:  Ben asked for permission to climb on top of the concession building to take a few pictures of the lot.  To his credit, Ben doesn't engage in most of his mischief unless he has permission, but this plays out kind of like the vampire plot device where they can't enter your home unless they're invited.  Once he gets permission, all bets are off.

Virgil apparently told him it was ok to go up and take a few pictures.  It's not completely unheard of.  Folks have done it before, but they're usually staff members at the Mahoning, not hyperactive college kids who are on a sugar high.  I'm not 100% sure if Ben was wondering if he could jump off of the building or if he was staying up there a little longer than he ideally should have.  What I am sure of is that Rob (the projectionist) was frantically following him around with a ladder asking him to climb back down.  Thankfully, Ben heard the tone in Rob's voice and knew that he meant business, and he climbed down before any tragedies could ensue.

Naturally, that wasn't the end of his climbing days, as he and his friend had resumed their climbing before the night was over.

Part of the Muppets Weekend at the Mahoning was a puppet show and a costume contest.  I didn't take part in either, but I most definitely had a puppet with me.  The little grey fellow is Bernie, a bagel-loving grouch from Conshohocken that our friend Kate made for me at last year's Muppet event.

Puppetry is most definitely in Kate's wheelhouse.  She has made quite a few of them over the years for herself and for others, and she brought a few of them to both nights.  My wife and I were incredibly proud of her for overcoming the nervousness to enter the puppet show, and of course she was awesome!

These photos are just a sample of the folks who took part in the puppet show over both nights.  There had to have been over two dozen different puppets, most of which were hand-made by guests at the Mahoning, including original creations who had their own characters developed by their creators long before this weekend.

The winner was a very talented man named Richard Gomez.  He entered the puppet show on Friday night with a group of friends and around ten puppets who sang a song that they made up on the spot (which each puppet singing something different).  That was pretty funny, but his routine on Saturday night was my favorite of the two.  I forget the names of the puppets, but the round green one said that he ate something that disagreed with him, after which the little blue one came out of his mouth and said "I'm sorry, but I can't support his politics".

The costume contest across both nights was also a lot of fun.  Again, these photos are just a sampling, but my favorite one was Gonzo wearing a chicken hat and carrying a chicken purse. 

There were intro videos from the cast and crew of the films on both nights.  I didn't record any of those, but I made a point to capture this because it's become a favorite at the Mahoning.  It doesn't play every night, but you'll see it at just about every family film weekend. 

The first movie of Friday night was the 1981 classic The Great Muppet Caper.  This wasn't my first time seeing it, but it's not a movie that I grew up with either.  I'm pretty sure that Angie introduced me to it sometime over the past ten years.  It's a fun story that I'm glad to have had the opportunity to see on 35mm.

While I wasn't overly familiar with The Great Muppet Caper, I'm very well acquainted with the second half of Friday night's double feature: The Dark Crystal.  This is a 1982 fantasy film that was co-directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz.  The cast is entirely made up of Jim Henson's creatures and was billed as the first live-action film without any human beings on screen.  Like the Muppets, these characters are made from animatronics and puppets that were controlled with rods and cables, but the similarities end there.

I saw The Dark Crystal for the first time as a teenager when I worked at Blowout Video and I immediately fell in love with it.  It's not a movie that I'd recommend to everyone, but if you're a fan of things like The Lord Of The Rings, Game Of Thrones, or The Neverending Story, I think that there's a lot about this movie that you would enjoy.

Saturday night's double feature kicked off with Muppets Most Wanted, which is simultaneously the reason why we almost didn't come to this event and the reason why we ended up coming after all.

My wife is a huge fan of the Muppets shows and movies that she grew up with in the 80's and 90's, but she's not an especially big fan of the stuff that has come out since she became an adult.  Frankly, it's all the same to me because I didn't grow up as a fan of The Muppets and I watched all of this stuff for the first time as an adult, but she has a hard time getting past the changes in the voice actors.  I can see where she's coming from.  I love the classic Loony Tunes, but I still to this day have not watched Space JamBilly West is an incredibly talented voice actor, and I'm sure all of the others who have voiced Bugs Bunny over the past thirty-odd years are as well, but the change in voice talent and the changes in writing and animation style make it just not the same to me.  I've liked the little bit of "new" Loony Tunes things that I've seen, but I can't really say that I loved any of it, so the desire to dig any deeper into it just isn't there for me, and for the most part, that's how my wife sees the "new" Muppets.

Two things changed our minds on this.  Ben told us during the off-season what Muppets movies would be screened this year.  My wife told him that we'd definitely be out on Friday, but we were going to skip Saturday because she's not really into the newer Muppet films.  He seemed crushed because it's his favorite Muppet movie, and he was the one who requested that it be included in this year's lineup.  Angie was tempted to say that we'd go to Saturday too, but she stood her ground.  The things that really tipped the scales was when Rob played the trailer for Muppets Most Wanted during Opening Weekend.  My wife found herself laughing at it and saying that she wanted to see it, so I replied "then why don't we just go see it on the big screen?"  I guess that was pretty tough logic to argue with, so we got tickets.  Ben and Rob may not have seen eye to eye on the rooftop debacle, but they unknowingly worked together to bring us out to the lot on Saturday night.

I'm glad that we did come out for this because Muppets Most Wanted is hysterically funny!  Angie ended up loving it, and honestly, I think it might be my new favorite Muppets movie out of the ones I've seen.  Sometimes the new stuff isn't too bad!

The final movie of The Muppets Take The Mahoning Again was the 1986 classic Labyrinth.  This was the original reason that I tried to talk my wife into overcoming her initial objections to Muppets Most Wanted.  Labyrinth is one of my all time favorites, but we already saw it at the Mahoning during the last weekend of the 2022 season, so I didn't push the issue.  I figured that I might go see it solo, or I might stay at home, but in either case, I had already gotten to see it on 35mm not too long ago.  Still, I'm glad that she changed her mind and we got to enjoy it one more time on the big screen.  It was the perfect way to close out the weekend at the drive-in.