In response to The British Correspondent’s obscene misuse and abuse of this blog over the past week, I, the Intern, have confiscated all control from him. Furthermore, I have taken over—at least temporarily—his article series on Muppet villains. Thankfully, Ryan will be returning soon, and everything will be back to … I would say “normal,” but that word should never be used to describe anything related to the Muppets.
Sesame Street Saturday / It’s Not Easy Bein’ Mean: Part 7
Lisa Alexander – Sesame Street’s first feature film, Follow That Bird, has at least three groups of characters that could be considered “bad guys”; Miss Finch of the Feathered Friends, the Dodos, and the Sleaze Brothers.
The Dodos are the dim-witted foster family Big Bird is assigned to. They’re not so much evil as they are dumb. Granted, they’re not terribly loving or welcoming for poor Big Bird, and they do forbid him from seeing Snuffleupagus on the basis that his friends should be birds, but they don’t mean any harm; they just don’t know any better. Between that and the fact that they’re only in the movie for about fifteen minutes, I don’t really consider them to be the bad guys. They’re more like glorified plot exposition. So with that, we move on to the real villains of the film.
Miss Finch is the social worker (of sorts) who places Big Bird with the Dodo family so that he can be with his own kind. Then, when he runs away, she chases him—first to bring him back to the Dodos, and then to find another bird family for him. (She apparently realizes at some point that the Dodos aren’t a good fit for Big Bird.)
Our BC is right in pointing out that Muppet villains are often a warped reflection of the Muppets. When the news breaks that Big Bird has run away from the Dodos and is walking back to Sesame Street, all of Sesame Street immediately comes together to form search parties and go find him, and the audience cheers them on. When Miss Finch hears that Big Bird has run away, she immediately gets in her car to find him and bring him home, and the audience frets. But hold it, audience—isn’t Miss Finch doing the same thing as Sesame Street?
Think about it. Surely, Miss Finch has things to do with her time. Aren’t there other stray birds she needs to place? Yes, she’s probably obligated to check in on Big Bird, but in a situation like this I would think all she really needs to do is keep an eye on the police investigation. (That is, if the police were involved, which they don’t seem to be, because that would get in the way of our heroes.) Instead, she drops everything to search for Big Bird, just like everyone on Sesame Street does.
At the end of the movie, Miss Finch says to the residents of Sesame Street, “You DID go to look for him, so that MUST mean you care.” Shouldn’t the same logic apply to her?
But that’s much too cut-and-dry for one of these articles. Let’s dig deeper.
Miss Finch has tunnel vision for most of the movie. Birds must be with birds. No real reason is given for WHY birds must be with birds; that’s just the way it is. By her logic (and the logic of the Feathered Friends), Big Bird can’t possibly be happy on Sesame Street, because he’s not with any other birds.
Yet Miss Finch doesn’t seem to have much of a support group of her own. She has a nice big car to drive around in, but she’s the only one in it. The Feathered Friends we see at the beginning of the movie never seem to talk to Miss Finch, and are then never seen again. (Except for the owl who thinks Big Bird looks happy. He turned into Hoots and moved to the Street.) If she’s so dedicated to birds being with their own kind, then why is she all alone?
Here’s my theory, which you are all invited to disagree with: Miss Finch grew up without a family as the only bird in town, and was bullied endlessly by the other kids. As an adult, she probably had trouble finding employment for similar reasons. As a complete outcast, she surely longed for someone as feathered as she was.
Then she stumbled upon the Feathered Friends, who respectfully treated her as an equal. Maybe they didn’t welcome her with open wings, but they didn’t chase her out the door, either, and that was new to her. She therefore became convinced, based on her own bad experience, that birds can only be happy with other birds. She started placing stray birds in good bird homes, hoping that ending their loneliness would somehow also end hers.
She might feel an extra connection with Big Bird, who has no other birds around him, and she assumes he is bullied and mistreated as much as she was. Why she feels compelled to place him with the Dodos, I have no idea, but aside from that she seems to go out of her way for him.
What makes most villains so villainous is that, when given the option to change their ways, they don’t. Miss Finch is different. When she wants to try once more to place Big Bird in a new bird home, she gets a lecture on acceptance and diversity from Sesame Street. (“We have ALL kinds!”) Seeing that everyone on the Street is happy, and that they care about each other, Miss Finch realizes that not all friends need to be feathered. It’s a happy ending for everyone, with the exception of…
THE SLEAZE BROTHERS
These guys are actually evil. Sam and Sid Sleaze run a traveling unfair fun fair, featuring such attractions as an invisible gorilla and a rigged dart game. They randomly decide to charge double for a round-trip ride on the Ferris wheel, and they steal an apple from a kid. Then they ALSO decide to follow Big Bird, but while everyone else wants to bring Big Bird home, the Sleaze Brothers want to kidnap him and make him into their next big money-maker.
But we shouldn’t just lump these two together. They are two very distinct characters, even if you’re not sure which is Sam and which is Sid.
Sam is the relatively smart one. He does all the planning, driving, and money-counting. Sid prints flyers, runs the Ferris wheel, blows up balloons, gets bullied by his brother, and dreams about the Wizard of Oz. Is one more evil than the other? Yup. Sam is definitely the head villain. Does that mean Sid innocent? Nope. He revels in the villainy his brother instigates.
Sam is motivated by money, money, and money. He also likes to break the rules, which explains the whole villain thing, and he doesn’t like to use his brain. Sid is motivated by the fact that if he doesn’t do what Sam says, he’ll probably get beat up. Yes, Sam is a bully. He’s also the kind of character that makes me glad I don’t have any brothers.
These are the real bad guys of the film. I would do an in-depth analysis of them, but to be honest, depth is hard to find with these guys. I would guess that for one reason or another, their parents aren’t around anymore. As kids, Sam probably defended Sid on the playground, only to beat him up at home for starting trouble. Sid has never grown out of the younger-sibling phase of living for the older sibling’s approval, so he assumes he’s happy following Sam’s lead. He’s a little too dense to figure out that he could choose his own path, but at the end of the movie we do get a hint that he knows he’s not REALLY happy with the bad-boy life. “But I don’t WANNA be a man!” he sobs to the state trooper who’s about to arrest him. He’ll probably go on to cry his way to a light sentence.
Ruthlessness: 9 (They made Big Bird cry! The only thing keeping them from a 10 is that Sid cried, too. Twice.)
Sidekick: 8 (Sid treads a fine line between being a sidekick and being a co-villain. He’s a great sidekick, but the Sleaze Brothers tend to be lumped into one entity, so is he really a sidekick? Stop me before I make myself dizzy here.)
Evil Appearance: 5 (All points exclusively awarded to Sam’s hat and his general disgustingness when Linda is sneaking the keys away from him. Sid’s hat cancelled out all other possible points. I mean, a baseball cap? Really? What’s evil about a baseball cap?)
Talking the talk: 7 (Sam’s shouting is evil enough, although it’s almost exclusively directed at Sid. Points deducted for Sid sleep-talking about Toto. Points added for Sam barking at a couple of kids to scare them away from Big Bird.)
Likability: 5 (Sid is likeable. Sam is not. The score is out of ten, so divide by two, and there you go.)
Returnability: 4 (Sid could potentially show up selling balloons or something. Sam is getting locked away for life, thank you, and if he does somehow get out, his next scheme probably won’t cross paths with Sesame Street.)
Likelihood to Create an Infomercial for Completely Useless Products: 10 (Call now, and they’ll throw in the invisible rubber wrench ABSOLUTELY FREE!)
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier