The Muppet Movie

The Muppet MovieSynopsis: You’ll be seeing stars (Orson Welles, Steve Martin, Bob Hope and more!) as The Muppet Movie tells the rags-to-riches tale of Kermit the Frog’s leap to fame and fortune.

It’s Hollywood or bust when a small frog in a small swamp hears about a big audition in Tinsel Town. Against all odds, Kermit hits the road to the big time with only his bicycle and his dreams.

Along the way, he meets a beautiful actress (Miss Piggy), a stand-up comedian (Fozzie Bear) and a whole troupe of talented friends who join Kermit as he heads West. It’s sure to be a lights, camera, action-packed good time!

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The Muppet Movie 7.75

eyelights: the Muppets. the zany humour. the many cameos.
eyesores: the lack of plot.

Sam the Eagle: “Kermit, does this film have socially redeeming value?”

1979’s ‘The Muppet Movie’ was Jim Henson’s attempt at transitioning his world famous Muppets to the big screen. It was an immediate success, becoming the seventh-highest grossing film of the year. It was the start of Jim Henson’s  film-making career; not only would there be more Muppet movies, Henson would help craft other films as well.

I totally missed out on ‘The Muppet Movie’ when I was a kid. I was too young, and I hadn’t really discovered ‘The Muppet Show’ yet. Amazingly enough, it took until I was in my twenties before I got a chance to see it – even though, by then, I was more than familiar with the Muppets and was already a fan of their zany humour and antics.

I fell in love with ‘The Muppet Movie’ right away. It’s hard not to.

From the start, The Muppets make us part of their own, inviting us into their screening room as they prepare to watch their movie. This self-awareness would become a staple of the film, as the characters break the fourth wall time and time again, letting us know that they are in on it too. It’s a knowing wink at the audience.

After this short intro, which re-introduces all of the characters, the movie-within-a-movie begins. It revolves around the hilariously absurd notion that a talent agent would get lost in a swamp and, in trying to find his way out, proceeds to convince Kermit that he has what it takes to be a star – and that, in becoming one, he could make millions of people happy.

Kermit then sets off to find his fortune and fame in Hollywood, meeting “new” friends such as Fozzy Bear, Gonzo the Great, Miss Piggy and many others along the way, gathering what would eventually become a merry band of Muppets. It’s a very episodic picture, with each new encounter being given a significant amount of screen time.

Along the way, Kermit and company’s journey will be hampered by the conniving Doc Hopper, whose chain of frogs’ legs restaurants is in dire need of a mascot. After seeing Kermit, he is convinced that he would be the perfect spokesfrog – and will stop at nothing to force our revolted amphibian protagonist to relent to his demands.

‘The Muppet Movie’ is a simple road movie, really, and as such is nothing ground-breaking. But it’s an incredibly fun time, fully-stocked with all sorts of gags (some corny, some clever… all a blast) and one-liners. What’s amazing is just how many the filmmakers were able to fit into each scene, giving it much rewatchability. Plus which they cover enough genres of humour to please all tastes and ages.

Also impressive is the sheer number of cameos littered throughout the film. Almost every sequence has another guest celebrities (many of whom are comedians) pop by, including: Edgar Bergen, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Dom DeLuise, Elliott Gould,  Bob Hope, Madeline Kahn, Carol Kane, Cloris Leachman, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Telly Savalas, Paul Williams and even Orson Welles.

Yes, Orson Welles.

And let’s not forget Big Bird, whom they meet on their way to Hollywood, offering him a lift. He declines politely, telling The Muppets that he’s on way “to New York City to try to break into public television”. They wish him good luck and carry on their merry way. Brilliant! Again, the meta-referential side of the film is absolutely delicious.

Armed with a moderately large budget, Henson was able to make The Muppets do things that he simply couldn’t with his modest television programme. He did everything he could to impress us, putting his technical genius on display – from Kermit playing music on a log in the middle of swamp, to he and Fozzy dancing on a stage, to Kermit riding a bicycle.

And these are mere puppets! (Look, ma! No hands!)

Even the songs are pretty good – for a musical. I notoriously loathe musical and can’t stand that breed of Disney films where the characters always have to stop to break into song and dance. But there were a few superb, if not classic, tunes in this one, such as “Rainbow Connection” and, my favourite, the silly “Moving Right Along”.

Unfortunately, none of the scenes are truly memorable to me; they’re all good, but not great. What makes the film is not the episodes themselves, but the moments within each: the dialogues, reactions, gags, gimmicks, absurdity, surrealism (the movie script bits with Dr. Teeth are total mind-bogglers). The film is so peppered with them that it works.

‘The Muppet Movie’ may look like a cheapie road movie (despite its budget), but it’s way more than that. Beneath its generic surface is a multilevel comedy filled with quirky, loveable characters. It’s such good-natured fun, that I’m loathe to imagine the kind of person who wouldn’t be smitten with it.Who could not enjoy such mad-cap silliness in one form or another?

‘The Muppet Movie’ was a fitting start to the Muppets’ movie career. And it was just the beginning. Can you picture that?

Statler: “Well, how do you like the film?”
Waldorf: “I’ve seen detergents leave a better film than this.”

Date of viewing: February 16, 2014

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