One to One with Julie Andrews


Kermit conducts a (shrinking) choir.

Although, technically, One to One is the third Julie Andrews/Muppets special–after Julie on Sesame Street and Julie: My Favorite Things–it barely feels like it, as Julie and the Muppets hardly ever interact over the course of the show, other than the finale, in which two Anything Muppets stand at the back of the stage while Julie sings in the front, which doesn’t really count. It seems kind of shocking that anyone would pass up the opportunity to actually take advantage of Julie and the Muppets being in the same studio together, but there you have it.


This is also much less of an entertainment variety special than the first two. Instead, it’s an infomercial for World Vision, an Evangelical-Christian-run charity that raises money for humanitarian aid, and while its religious roots don’t play much of a direct factor in the proceedings, it’s a remarkably downbeat show. While ostensibly claiming to be a cheerful, joyous celebration of life (its ads called it the “year’s happiest family TV special”), and putting aside the fact that it does indeed feature some happy singing and Muppet appearances, it’s brought down by repeated footage of starving children narrated by a dour voice, beseeching the viewers to reach into their pockets to help, in addition to some rather sad, longing songs.


And, while it’s all certainly in pursuit of a worthy cause, it makes for an overwhelmingly didactic hour. Making the world a better place was, of course, one of Jim Henson’s primary goals in life, and being involved in this sort of thing absolutely fits his M.O., but his own productions would tend to focus on instructing through entertainment, whereas here, the message drowns out the fun at practically every turn, making for a “special” I’d really only recommend to completists such as myself. Unfortunately, it’s not currently up on YouTube, but, trust me, you’re not missing much.


After a couple of segments of, among other things, Julie Andrews singing with the Korean Children’s Choir, Kermit appears for a brief comedy sketch, in which he is conducting the children, along with a few Muppets, in a song. After hearing them all sing together, however, he decides to cut the chaff, in order to make his perfect choir. He ends up telling all of the children to leave, ending with only 4 Muppets, each of whom in turn he ends up cutting as well, until finally realizing there’s no one left and inviting everyone back again. Hey, look, now it’s perfect! The sketch is cute enough, and Kermit’s reactions are, of course, as wonderful as ever, but it isn’t the best Muppet premise, and it doesn’t really end up amounting to much, though I assume it’s meant to be a comment about everyone being needed to make beautiful music or something along those lines, though it unintentionally comes across as Kermit dissing the kids’ singing abilities since he cuts them first.


In the next scene, evangelical leader and president of World Vision at the time, Stan Mooneyham, talks to the wise guru Muppet, Brewster (performed by Dave Goelz), about the organization and how it teaches people in developing countries how to grow their own food, they discuss how people are like plants, in a way, and then that leads into a song about the chain of life, featuring the children’s choir and a number of animal Muppets from The Muppet Musicians of BremenRover Joe, T.R., Catgut, and the chickens. Their presence alone makes it interesting, as these characters weren’t often used or seen together after that special, but the song itself is rather cloying and preachy.


Kermit sings "If I Ruled the World".

Kermit sings “If I Ruled the World”.

Next up, we have what could have been an entertaining, sweet sketch, in which Kermit tells a fairy tale about the tiny Kingdom of Phumph, whose entire population is a king, queen, prince, and a single subject called Marvin (played by Leo of Muppet Meeting Films and Muppet Show Pitch Reel “fame”). The sun sadly doesn’t shine in Phumph and that seems to be due to the rulers’ selfishness. When a baby appears on a doorstep, all of them reject him, claiming they have nothing to share with him, but Marvin, despite his lack of wealth, decides to take him in. Suddenly, the crown flies off of the king’s head and lands on Marvin’s, and the sun begins to shine. Through his goodness and charity, he has brought the sun back and proven himself the only one truly worthy of being ruler.


You might guess why I said this could have been a good sketch, which is that it’s overly gooey didacticism and morality drains it of its power. From a puppeteering standpoint, the crown-flying effect is cool and effective in its simplicity, but overall the scene is so lacking in subtlety or nuance that it feels almost obnoxious. The only thing that’s kind of amusing about this is how the basic set-up is fairly reminiscent of The Land of Gorch, albeit a homogenized version with absolutely nothing naughty about it whatsoever.


Finally, before the special returns to more woefully Muppetless segments, we have Kermit singing, “If I Ruled the World,” from the musical Pickwick, a song about how the singer would fix all the sadness in the world if he had the power, even as the sad melody repeatedly reminds us that he isn’t and can’t, and while this could have been in a nice, small, melancholy moment, if it were counterpointing Muppet madness–as would happen on The Muppet Show (in fact, Kermit’s nephew, Robin, and Hal Linden duetted on it in the fifth season), and in The Muppet Movie, with Gonzo’s signature song, “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday”–here it just feels like yet another bummer note in an overall bummer special.


Next Tuesday: we return to Saturday Night Live and “The Land of Gorch”!