Citizen Kane. Gone With the Wind. Shaft. Sometimes a movie comes along that is considered an instant classic, beloved by the overwhelming majority of the Earth’s inhabitants, and transcends mere popularity and becomes a staple in pop culture. Ladies and gentlemen… The Muppet Movie is one of those movies. It’s time to play the music… It’s time to light the lights… It’s time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Movie tonight!
The Muppet Movie
Starring: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt,
Dave Golez, Charles Durning
Director: James Frawley
Company: ITC (later Jim Henson Productions)
The Muppet Movie is an intense look into the mind of killer…
Wokka wokka wokka… just kiddin’. I would imagine most of you already know the main plot to this film, but for the uninitiated, I’ll go over the main points. This is essentially the origin story of the Muppets, told in a “movie-within-a-movie” format. After a brief opening sketch, we are transported to the swamps of Florida, where Kermit the Frog is playing his banjo. A lost Hollywood agent (Dom DeLuise) happens upon him, and suggests that he take his act out to California, stating that Kermit in showbiz could make millions of people happy. A short bike ride and a near-disastrous steamroller accident later, Kermit finds himself at the El Sleazo Café, where he meets failing stand-up comedian Fozzy Bear. Hijinks ensue, and soon they are motoring down the road, being chased by an unscrupulous businessman, Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), and his lacky Max (Austin Pendleton).
Along the way, the duo run into the likes of classic Muppet members such as Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, Sweetums, and expand their group with the likes of former plumber Gonzo the Great and his girlfriend Camilla the Chicken, the domineering diva Miss Piggy, and (my personal favorite) the musically inclined Rolf the Dog, all with the dream of one day making it in Hollywood.
The plot thickens, as Hopper escalates his plans for Kermit from merely bribing him to some sort of forced brainwashing, and finally settling at flat-out murder. Kermit and the gang set up a final showdown and, with the help of some conveniently-placed plot devices… I mean “Insta-Grow Pills,” defeat Hopper for good. Our heroes finally get to their audition, where they are given the “standard Rich and Famous contact,” and begin filming their movie, possibly the movie we’re watching right now (making this a movie-within-a-movie-WITHIN-a-movie). The films ends (more or less) with a wide shot of EVERY SINGLE Muppet dreamed up singing the final verse of the song “Rainbow Connection,” which is pretty dang impressive if you ask me.
First things first, I was simply blown away with the puppeteering in this film. It may not look like much now, but this film significantly advanced the field of puppet-controlling and physical effects. I mean, I STILL can’t figure out how they were able to make Kermit ride that bike with no visible strings! The Muppets were already more advanced than the standard puppets of the time, but this movie gave us Muppets driving cars, flying through the air WHILE still moving, and a (relatively) action-packed fight scene. I know that nowadays computers can do 10x the effects at a fraction of the time and expense, but in all honesty, I still prefer the tried-and-true physical effects of the Muppets.
Another amazing aspect of the movie is its music. The songs are all iconic, clever, and catchy as hell. “Rainbow Connection” is the most widely recognized, eventually winning some awards. “Movin’ Right Along” has some really interesting lyrics is you listen closely enough. “Never Before and Never Again” is great, and ends with a ridiculously wild last note that would later be the inspiration behind a slew of songs performed by former Space Ghost villain Brak on the short-lived series Cartoon Planet. The rest of the songs are fantastic… I mean, you just can’t go wrong with the rock tones of The Electric Mayhem or blues piano of Rowf in “Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Live Without ‘Em.”
The Muppet Movie wouldn’t be nearly as memorable without the plethora of celebrity cameos. I mean, where else can you find the likes of Milton Berle, Elliott Gould, Bob Hope, Cloris Leachman, Telly Savalas, Orson Wells, Richard Pryor, Madeline Kahn, Steve Martin, and Mel Brooks? Most of the cameos are pretty quick, and have no real barring on the main plot, the exception being Brooks’ portrayal of a mad German scientist tasked with melting Kermit’s brain with an “eletronic cerebrectimy,” whatever the heck that is. His delivery and antics would make Daffy Duck jealous. Also a standout is Martin as a needlessly hostile waiter, a scene that has made me die laughing ever since I was a kid.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiGAAHG0O1A – If you want to use a second video. Doesn’t matter to me.
But what really makes this movie for me now are the surprisingly deep and serious scenes and its bits of breaking the “fourth wall.” One of my favorites is a sequence that takes place after the group’s car dies the night before their audition. Faced with the realization that they aren’t going top make it, Kermit proclaims that he had never promised anyone fame and fortune, and has a real existential epiphany during a beautiful shot where he’s talking with himself and comes to the realization that he had promised someone the Hollywood dream – himself. That bit of seriousness is broken by the Electric Mayhem saving the day, finding them by using a copy of the script they were given earlier in the film.
Not many people know this, but The Muppet Movie is very loosely based on Jim Henson’s own tale of getting The Muppet Show on the air. In fact, the fictional film producer Lew Lord is an homage to Sir Lew Grade, the only person in television that believed that a primetime variety show starring puppets was a good idea. Thank you, Mr. Grade.
This movie was the first in a long string of Muppet films, and arguably the best of the bunch (I personally think The Great Muppet Caper narrowly wins, but whatever). There aren’t many movies that I can find no problems with (such is the curse of being a “film snob,” I guess), but I’ll tell you what… this is one of those films. So, I give The Muppet Movie the elusive 5 stars out of 5.