The 1980s saw an outbreak of an insidious disease that ravaged the entertainment industry: the plague of Muppetitis.
Muppetitis is characterized by the appearance of nauseatingly cute cartoon characters in an otherwise entertaining work of science fiction or fantasy. We’ve all seen the impact of this disfiguring disease. Adorable robots. Hand puppets masquerading as strange aliens. Saccharine-sweet “monsters” indistinguishable from stuffed animals.
The early signs of the affliction seem innocuous enough. We all chuckled at a certain Pat Morita-faced puppet as it bounced along, offering fortune cookie wisdom in the voice of Fozzie Bear. But the symptoms worsened rapidly, and the Star Wars universe would never be the same.
Muppetitis isn’t limited to the Star Wars universe; it’s a scourge that transforms the wonder and majesty of nearly any sci-fi or fantasy into an animatronic Chuck E. Cheese concert. And yet, not every cute critter is a sign of incipient Muppetitis.
Wall-E was adorable, but that was the tone and the intention of the movie. It excelled in that regard. However, insert Wall-E into Alien or Blade Runner, and you’ve got an unwatchable train wreck on your hands.
Cuteness has its place, and that place is rarely in science fiction. I love Muppets in Space. I can’t stand Muppets in my space opera.
Despite its sad history, many filmmakers remain ignorant of the dangers of Muppetitis. That’s why we must spread awareness of this blight, and prevent the next outbreak before it starts. The consequences of inaction are too terrible to contemplate.