The Muppets Take Manhattan

The Muppets Take ManhattanSynopsis: Broadway bound, the Muppets take Manhattan by storm in this magical musical about breaking into show business!

Fresh out of college, Kermit, Fozzie and the entire cast of Kermit’s musical “Manhattan Melodies” head for the Big Apple with plans to turn their small play into a big hit! All they need now is someone to produce their show!

But when no one in town will even meet with them, it’s up to Kermit to believe hard enough for all of his friends that the show WILL go on! Family entertainment has never been more fun than in this comedy marking Frank Oz’s solo directorial debut.

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The Muppets Take Manhattan 5.5

eyelights: the Muppet Babies daydream sequence. the closing musical number.
eyesores: the thin humour. the reduced number of cameos.

“I’m staying! You hear that, New York? THE FROG IS STAYING!”

‘The Muppets Take Manhattan’ is the third film in the Muppets franchise. Released in 1984 on a comparably meagre budget (‘The Muppet Movie‘ had more than three times the cash) , it was a moderate box office success, becoming the second highest-grossing G-rated film of 1984.

It was Frank Oz’ solo directorial debut and the last Muppets film featuring Jim Henson (‘Follow that Bird’ is a Sesame Street film, not a Muppets one). Although he had garnered excellent experience while co-directing ‘The Dark Crystal‘ with Henson, this effort is marred by a lack of spark and a poor script.

Frankly, ‘The Muppets Take Manhattan’ feels like a TV episode. And not an episode of ‘The Muppet Show’, either: a generic TV drama. It lacks zing, magic. It doesn’t even show any signs of the cleverness that one is used to with the Muppets; almost every aspect of this picture is incredibly stale, trite.

It’s such reheated fodder that one could call it the anti-‘Muppet Movie’: it’s about the Muppets bringing their musical to Broadway and encountering hurdles along the way. There’s even a fashion designer character in it. The key differences are that this is not a road movie, and Kermit sheds, doesn’t gather friends, along the way.

It’s a slightly grim affair, soaking in discouragement; unlike ‘The Muppet Movie’ which was carefree and upbeat, ‘The Muppets Take Manhattan’ is troubled and downbeat. Even though it has an essential message for kids (“Never give up”), I couldn’t bear that Kermit was so pessimistic at times – hopeless, not happy-go-lucky.

Bizarrely enough, it’s not even funny. Oh, sure, there are half-hearted attempts at humour, but this picture is nowhere near as zany as the previous ones. Or at all. Watch Kermit dress up as a producer and coax people into reading his script. Haha. Watch the rats take over the kitchen. Haha. Watch the Swedish Chef make popcorn. Haha.

The movie is so bland, so lacking in zaniness, that it took until approximately the 50-minute mark (during the cute and inspired “Muppet Babies” musical number in a nursery) before I had any fun. And I’m not even a fan of ‘The Muppet Babies’, a show I absolutely refused to watch during its run because it was too cutesy.

…and I ADORE the Muppets.

Part of the problem lies in Frank Oz’s decision to dismiss the original script because it was “too over jokey” – a key ingredient of the Muppets. Another problem is that they had to rewrite all of the dialogues because half of their celebrity cameos dropped out at the last minute after Dustin Hoffman cancelled.

In fact, there are very few cameos in ‘The Muppets Take Manhattan’. And the few that were left over aren’t stellar. Some plain hurt: Joan Rivers does this segment in which she’s making up Miss Piggy at the make-up counter of a major store. It’s super lame and is filled with artificial laughter from both Miss Piggy and Rivers. Ugh.

Even the songs aren’t as good. Their production was decent: in fact they sound better than the early ones, but the melodies and lyrics are utterly disposable – they lack the vibrancy that made the past songs resonate across generational lines. There are no classics to be culled from this picture. Sometimes, simplicity is best.

There was one highlight in the musical numbers, though: the closing number. But that was mostly because of the quality of the choreography and production design, not because of the song. Actually, the song still wasn’t very good, but after 80 minutes of pretty drab stuff, it was nice to see something with a hint of life in it.

Honestly, the only thing that remotely resembled the Muppets’ traditional offbeat humour was the choice of having them live in a bus terminal locker for the first part of their stay. At a quarter a piece, it was much cheaper than a hotel room – and it was just the right size for them. It’s a small touch, but it’s a beacon in an otherwise bland picture.

Because, even though it’s technically a Muppet movie, even though its key players were all involved, ‘The Muppets Take Manhattan’ doesn’t really feel like a Muppet film proper (Bizarrely, some people prefer this to Henson’s own ‘The Great Muppet Caper‘.  It takes all sorts, I suppose.). It’s too bad, too, as it would be Henson’s swan song.

Date of viewing: February 23, 2014

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