Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Ever watch a drummer perform? I mean really watch them? Their hands are the key to their performance, but that's not what I find myself paying attention to. From Buddy Rich to Keith Moon, I find I'm zeroing in on their facial expressions and body movements. It's no different when watching Animal. I think puppeteer Frank Oz realized that. "Fever" with Rita Moreno, from the first season of The Muppet Show, is perhaps one of the best examples of puppet drumming in action.

When "Fever" begins, we're not expecting it to turn into a comedy bit. The camera begins by focusing in on Floyd as he plucks the bass line. It doesn't take long for the camera to tilt up and focus on Moreno with Animal in the background. That's the last we see of Floyd. He's just there to establish the mood, once his job is done, he's outta there. Otherwise, he'd just clutter up the scene.

As the song progresses, Animal keeps the beat as Moreno sings. His head is down, his eyes are closed, and he gently bops his head up and down. When the time is right Animal inserts his own drum fill, which startles Moreno. Take note of how Oz illustrates this, he doesn't focus on Animal's hands, but on his head movement. We hardly even see the drum sticks hit the skins.

After being startled, and probably upstaged twice, Moreno goes back to have a word with her drummer...in Spanish.

Animal looks up at her, but halfway through her speech he turns and looks at the audience, as if to say "Is she serious?" The Muppet performers have always been great at seizing on moments like this to draw their audience in. However, it's Moreno who wins out by grabbing Animal by the nose and turning his attention back to her.

As Moreno heads back to her place, Animals mocks her. When she turns to glare at him, he quickly turns his attention away. Oz really goes to the extreme here, turning Animal's nose to the air and twisting his body into an uncomfortable looking shape. It's great! Animal isn't even trying not to get caught. In fact, he's rubbing Moreno's face in the mud.

As the song continues, we see Animal slowly building up towards another big drum moment. Moreno catches him, and he freezes for a moment, but really it just makes things worse. When he finally let's it rip there's no stopping him. He begins playing wildly. Again, what makes it believable is Animal's head and body movements. It's not wild and uncontrolled. The movements compliment the actual drumming and make you really believe this foam and feather creation is actually playing these instruments. Again, note the hands. At times they are nowhere close to the drums they are supposed to be striking. We either don't notice or don't care because of the character that's coming through the body movements.

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