Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Cookie is the MacGuffin

Cookie Monster is being recast as a responsible monster; Sesame Street quotes Cookie as saying that cookies are now only a "sometimes" food. Everyone seems to be aghast, so I'll play the contrarian.

I don't know how many kids are cookie-crazy due to Cookie Monster, but I wouldn't be surprised if Sesame Workshop has researched it. A generation ago, they decided to out Snuffy's existence, witnessed up to then only by Big Bird. They had discovered that kids were learning that adults won't believe a kid (since they wouldn't believe Big Bird). So, assuming Sesame Workshop has something more than an anecdote or two behind the cookie issue, I can be in favor of this change, if Cookie Monster can still be funny.

Cookie Monster has long had to deal with situations where he can't get all the cookies he wants. Most of the time, he ends up eating something else (letters, salt and pepper shakers, his bib, lamp posts, etc.). It's this craziness that makes Cookie work as a character, not the cookie eating per se. It's what he will do to get a cookie. And it's this craziness that indicates to kids that Cookie is probably nuts to want to eat cookies all day, to begin with.

If he really now accepts that he can't have cookies all the time, where's the tension? Will skits now end with Cookie accepting the situation with grace. "Me no need to eat that cookie now. Dum-de-dum-dum-dum..." (He walks away. Cut to new skit. Huh?) If he's still driven to desperation, doesn't that still "say" that cookies are like a great drug? The Sesame/Muppet folks have written some great material (or they did in my day), so I'm open to seeing how they can make this work. But it seems like Cookie needs to have the crazy factor, so he'd have to be crazy in a different way.

Cookie is hilarious. Recently I got a DVD from the library: "Cookie Monster's Best Bites". Often you'll see him in a quandary, and he'll say something like "Hmm.. Me face moral dilemma."

I particularly like a skit on there where Cookie Monster has one cookie, and has to decide whether to share it with his monster friend. Cookie sings a song about friendship, while we see flashbacks to all the good times he's had with his friend. In the end, he gives over the cookie. "Hey", his friend says, "we can share cookie!" "No," says Cookie Monster, "friend should have cookie." Pause... "Me eat... everything else! Kowabugna!" (eats wall he is sitting on).

Really, it's the timing that's funny. The cookie is just a vehicle, a setup. Watch Cookie and Kermit in most of their skits together. Cookie Monster only eats cookies at the end (if at all). Are the skits unfunny until the end? Not at all. It's timing. Personality. Sophisticated expressions spoken like Tarzan. There's a lot to work with here; I hope they can write themselves out of this fix.