Singin' and shillin' with the Muppets

"Menah menah" anyone?
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I had a revelation while watching Muppets Music Moments: Statler and Waldorf are the reasons I became a film critic. As a li'l Muppet-freaked kid in the late '70s and early '80s, I lived for their curmudgeonly peanut-gallery zingers. But there's plenty of stuff I didn't remember from The Muppet Show, or that I couldn't pick out as examples of Jim Henson's wonderfully offbeat sense of humor — like, say, a brigade of pigs in full leather-daddy garb singing "Macho Man." And surreal numbers, like that same brigade of pigs dressed as Eskimos, belting out "The Lullaby of Broadway," or a sequence in which Kermit's hospital-room tableau morphs into a full-on jungle scene (complete with witch doctors) as the ensemble rips into Harry Nilsson's "Coconut." Also, there's plenty of just plain weirdness — like, did you ever notice that the Swedish Chef is the only Muppet with actual human hands? I don't have to say any more, except that this program is essential viewing for anyone who worshipped The Muppet Show cast albums ("Menah Menah," anyone?) — or for folks with kids who are too young to have otherwise developed outrageous Muppet nostalgia.

More for grown-ups but no less entertaining is the foray into Henson's Commercials and Experiments. An early Kermit prototype shills for pork sausage and bacon (wherefore art thou, Miss Piggy?); another spot highlights singing gas-pump nozzles; an RC Cola ad features a bird puppet muttering, "I hate folk singers with messages!"; and a spot for Muppet toys offers a group of mini-Kermits sweetly intoning, "If you don't buy us, we'll bite you in the leg!" There are also snippets of Henson appearing on talk shows and demonstrating his puppetry techniques, as well as short films that are entirely puppet free — including some psychedelia, such as a delightful sound-and-image collage starring the impish Henson himself. (Cheryl Eddy)

COMMERCIALS AND EXPERIMENTS Sun/24, 7:30 p.m.

MUPPETS MUSIC MOMENTS Sat/23, 2 p.m.; June 28, 7:30 p.m.; $6-$8. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Screening Room, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org

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