- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

A new life-form, the Muppet, was created in 1954. That year, the species, represented by a familiar frog, made its debut on a local television show, and Muppets have flourished ever since.

Kermit, Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear, who eventually became pop-culture icons, were the brainchildren of Jim Henson. With help from some creative puppeteers, they have spread good cheer to children around the world. Mr. Henson died in 1990, but his quirky sense of humor lives on in movies, 3-D theme-park attractions, television shows and, of course, the Internet.

One of the latest cyber-stops celebrating the Muppets presents a bandwidth-consuming Web site bringing these wonderful creations onto a family's computer screen for an interactive extravaganza of activities and belly laughs.

Muppet World

Site address: www.muppetworld.com

Creator:

The Jim Henson Co., a multimedia production studio with headquarters in Los Angeles and offices and facilities in New York and London, produced the site.

Creator quotable:

"We created this site as a compelling interactive environment, allowing fans to play with their favorite Muppet characters. As our world becomes a digitally connected virtual playground, we look forward to providing even more innovative and uniquely personal experiences for Muppet fans who visit our characters through the Muppet World gateway," says Craig Allen, vice president of Jim Henson Interactive.

Word from the Webwise:

Visitors get sucked into an on-screen vortex with rubber duckies and chickens swirling about and are taken to a futuristic room, where they are greeted by the legendary Kermit the Frog.

After a simple "Hi ho" from the amphibian, visitors enter a colorful, sound-effects-riddled, animated world that contains several places, including Muppet Studios hosted by Miss Piggy, Galactic Outpost with Gonzo, Cyberama with Fozzie Bear, What's Cooking with the Swedish Chef, Shopping Carnival with Pepe the king prawn, Bandstand with Animal, Muppet Labs with Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Vox Mupuli with Sam the Eagle.

Each area can be accessed using the handy NavCon, which pops out of the left-hand corner of every screen when clicked. Each place features complicated on-screen happenings that usually contain games, realistic-looking interaction with characters, video snippets from "The Muppet Show" and plenty of word bubbles to relay some twisted tales.

For example, stop by What's Cooking to watch the impossible-to-understand Chef prepare some culinary craziness. Visitors can move the mouse around the room to rattle some utensils hanging on the wall, get a chicken to hold up an "Eat Beef" sign and click on a boiling pot to save another fowl from becoming soup.

Further exploration provides the chance to make a sandwich by dragging and dropping cold cuts and condiments on bread; use a spoon to pluck letters from a cereal bowl to solve a message (playing off a Hangman theme); or click on the Swede's cookbook to see videos of him dealing with lumpy dough, beating on a chicken or creating a Banana Nana Na Na Split.

The more technologically adventurous will enjoy Animal the drummer's mix of musical activities, found in Bandstand. In addition to a virtual jukebox that will play from among 16 tunes (anyone for "Sax and Violence" by Zoot?) and a song-embellishment feature that lets visitors add hilarious vocal and noise effects to some Muppetized instrumentals, there's a chance to create a music video and give Animal a real aerobic workout. Titled "Bust-a-Movie," the simulation allows the director to move the insane percussionist to the groove using keyboard commands. The work can be recorded for posterity.

Other areas within the site continue the fun. Some highlights include the character biographies in Muppet Studios; a Muppet trivia quiz administered by Miss Piggy in the Shopping Carnival; the interplay among Sam, Fozzie and Rizzo the Rat; and the chance to send cyber-postcards in the Vox Mupuli area.

Ease of use:

This site was as frustrating as it was enjoyable. Visitors should have a high-speed connection, the latest Macromedia Flash and Shockwave plug-ins and a newer PC with an Intel Pentium processor. (Some of the activities were not very Macintosh friendly.) I applaud the cutting-edge Muppet World experience, but I'm afraid some visitors may curse it.

Don't miss:

Visitors with patience and the guts to install some software will be rewarded with some dandy 3-D-like simulations featuring some of Mr. Henson's buddies. MuppeToons, found in Fozzie's Cyberama, are three-minute animation sequences showing such silliness as Kermit dancing the mambo for the 30,000th time because Dr. Honeydew can't get the server to record his exploits. Another shows Gonzo being attached to an e-mail with the help of Rizzo. These cyber-skits, all of which are Internet-themed, require the Pulse Player plug-in (best compatible with PCs using Internet Explorer Mac users should not even bother).

Family activity:

There's not much for the clan to do away from the computer-based Muppet World, other than watch many of these characters on "Sesame Street," which is still aired on local PBS stations every morning.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

Lots of wordplay, letter recognition and stimulating on-screen shenanigans will give younger children a very enjoyable experience. Parents should be aware that the Shopping Carnival promotes the purchase of Muppets products. Also, the site uses technology that might befuddle many older computers.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).


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