Hello family! Please forgive me everyone; I know I’ve been on a long hiatus, for which I apologize. But I am back and ready to continue reviewing movies! Where were we?…Oh, yes! Muppet movies! Well, the Muppets continued producing great productions after The Great Muppet Caper. From their TV shows like Fraggle Rock (Jim Henson, 1983-1987) to TV specials like The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show (Jim Henson, 1982) to movies like The Dark Crystal (Jim Henson and Frank Oz, 1982), Henson and this team kept the Muppets busy. I do consider The Dark Crystal a Muppet movie, but since I haven’t seen it before I can’t review. However, it seemed as though Kermit, Piggy, and the gang were due for another movie when 1984 rolled around. The Muppets Take Manhattan was definitely a different tone a Muppet film. This is because this film was under the direction of Frank Oz. Even though Oz was Henson’s closest collaborator, there are distinct differences in how they create comedy. You’ll see more of that throughout this review.
STORY AND THEMES & MESSAGES: The story, in my opinion, is fine. I don’t really have a problem with it. It’s kind of like the story of The Muppet Movie, only more realistic and fuller. The Muppets are trying to make it big on Broadway with a musical called “Manhattan Melodies.” They realize, however, that breaking into Broadway is no easy feat (which is interesting – it’s much easier to get a Hollywood contract than getting on Broadway…Hmm…). Kermit feels the stress and pressure of trying to make a dream come true as well as taking care of his friends. The other Muppets notice this, and agree to leave and ease Kermit’s stress. Kermit remains in New York to try to get “Manhattan Melodies” produced. Eventually, it is picked up by a producer, and the gang is able to come back and put on the show!…Oh, and Kermit gets hit by a car and winds up with amnesia…OK.
The story isn’t what I have a problem with. The set up, on the other hand, doesn’t rub me the right way. Why the crud are the Muppets recent college grads? At the top of the film, they’re all in their senior year of college. HUH?!? Kermit’s been around since 1955; Rowlf has existed since the early 1960s, and the other characters came into existence in the 1970s. Are we really supposed to believe these characters who were so adult and mature and lived for a long time were really young enough to have graduated from college in 1984?! No? Then why give us that scenario in this film? That’s just so odd! I can’t believe these characters are all in their early 20s! That’s so bizarre!
On top of that, do Kermit and Jenny have sort of a love connection here? There are two reasons this is so weird. One, of course, Kermit and Piggy are already in a relationship with each other. Two, Jenny supposedly just got out of high school! True, she doesn’t look 18 (a product of 1980s and early 1990s films), but she says she’s applying to college which implies she’s out of high school. If Kermit just graduated college and Jenny graduated from high school, doesn’t that make their love interest…disturbing? I don’t feel good about it!
What really baffles me, however, is the message! There are a number of themes in the film. One is the importantance of being true to yourself. All of the steps we saw of Kermit’s 3-part plan made him change his personality. When he had to pretend to be something he wasn’t, things did not work out for him. When he was himself, his situation got better. This message works well enough, but I want to address the big one mentioned toward the end of the film. Right before the Muppets go onstage, Fozzie asks Kermit if their new friends can watch the show from backstage. Kermit responds by having them perform in the show instead, saying, “That’s what’s been missing from the show! That’s what we need! MORE frogs and dogs and chickens and bears and WHATEVER!” Of course, it’s cliché and ridiculous to have people perform in a show they’ve never seen or rehearsed, but let’s look at something else. Is that the message we’re supposed to get from the film, that we need to include more people (especially a diverse group of people) in our work? It’s a nice message, but how did the movie support it? Why did Kermit need MORE people? And he said there was something wrong with the script; this issue is just a production or a company problem. I don’t get it.
HUMAN CHARACTERS AND CAMEOS: This should be quick.
1) Jenny – There’s not much to say about her. Jenny is not an interesting character. She’s nice and kind, but there’s not much character to her. Aside from being a fashion designer and having a possible love connection with Kermit, I hardly remember anything about. She does help the plot and moves the story along, but she bores me.
2) Ronnie – Ronny is kind of like Max from the first movie, but without the comedy. He’s weak and puny, and he always has to answer to someone. He does get more power than Max had, though; he actually gets to have his way. He does have more of a character than Jenny had. He’s not entertaining or that memorable, but there’s more to him then there was to Jenny.
3) Pete – THIS guy is hilarious! I love Pete! He’s just so entertaining to watch and be with! I don’t know if that’s because of how Pete was written or because of how the actor portrayed him, but Pete is great! What I love most about him is his speeches that have nothing to do with anything! They are so funny, and everyone’s reaction to them are funny as well! Go Pete!
The cameos are sort of a blend between the cameos in the first Muppet film and the second film. Some of the cameo stars have a purpose, and some of them don’t. Dabney Coleman, for example, is the con artist who tries to rip off the Muppets. Art Carney is Bernard Crawford, a Broadway producer and the father of Ronnie. The rest of the cameos include Brook Shields, Frances Bergen, John Landis, Joan Rivers, Liza Minnelli, Linda Lavin, Elliott Gould, James Coco, Mayor Edward I. Koch, Vincent Sardi, Jr., and Gregory Hines. Hines is probably my favorite cameo star in the film. His scene with Kermit and Piggy is funny – his lack of knowledge in this situation is amusing; plus, he’s a great performer working with my favorite characters. I do love that we see most of the Muppets from Sesame Street! Big Bird’s there, Ernie and Bert and there, Cookie Monster’s there, Oscar and the Count are hiding in the background – most of those characters are there! Even Travelling Max from Fraggle Rock is sitting in one of the pews!…Though, why are they all sitting on the bride’s side? Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock support Miss Piggy? Hmm. OK.
SONGS/MUSIC: The music is one of the best elements in this film! The score was composed by Ralph Burns, but let’s discuss the musical numbers. I love these songs! They are so fun, so catchy, so witty, and so whimsical! They were also nominated for an Oscar! The songs in this film were written by another Sesame Street songwriter, Jeff Moss! Moss contributed other songs from your childhood playlist, like “Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood,” “I Love Trash,” and, of course, “Rubber Duckie!” Let’s go through these songs.
1) Together Again: It’s hard to talk about this song in the context of the story. We don’t know why it’s the finale of “Manhattan Melodies,” and it opens up the movie. What I can say, however, is that this is a very nice song! This is the type of song you’d want to sing or hear when you’re reuniting with old friends. It also sounds like a song from an old and classic type of Broadway musical. I love how the song begins. It starts out very simply with just a piano and Kermit’s vocals over the opening title sequence, followed by a moderate tempo and a mezzo pianissimo volume when Kermit appears on camera. I like the sound of this song.
2) You Can’t Take No for an Answer: I love the style this song is performed in. I love hearing Dr. Teeth’s gruffy voice singing throughout this number. I even love the background vocalists – who the crud even are they? This song does match the spirit of the montage we’re seeing in this scene. This is another song about endurance. The idea is to always pursue your dream despite the obstacles and nay-sayers. Kermit and the gang continue auditioning and trying to sell their musical on Broadway despite all the producers who tell them no and the fact that they’re broke and hungry. It works.
3) Saying Goodbye: I like this song a lot, as it shows the emotional side and heart of the Muppets. I didn’t know, however, that this song made a lot of people sad when they first heard it! Some people even cried! I didn’t cry or get sad when I first heard it, but I can understand why other people did. Folks didn’t want to see their beloved Muppets depart from one another! And the music and lyrics never lighten up, either! This entire song is just a depressing drag. It sounds as sad as it wants you to be! The song achieved exactly what it was aiming for.
4) Rat Scat: Let’s be real, this musical moment has no purpose to the story. There aren’t even any lyrics to this piece! The only reason it’s here is to show off some amazing puppetry (which we’ll get to later). I will say, however, that the music is great! It’s a lot of fun to listen! The jazz music here is more than catchy and memorable. I love the scat that Rizzo does. I don’t care if it doesn’t serve the story; it sounds great and I enjoy it.
5) I’m Gonna Always Love You: Much like “Rat Scat,” this song does not serve the plot. It shows off some outstanding puppetry, and it paves the way for the upcoming television series, Muppet Babies (Jim Henson, 1984-1991). But this song is, again, so great! It is entertaining! I like that a baby Piggy sings about doing adult things from the innocence of an infant. She says she’s “gonna climb the Matterhorn, but only after all [her] children are born, ’cause [she’s] going to be a good mommy too…” She also wants to practice neurosurgery on your brain! The lyrics are clever, the music is great at mimicking 1950s music, and this is just an all around enjoyable piece!
6) Right Where I Belong: Much like “Together Again,” I love how this piece begins. Kermit sings this number with such gentleness and innocence. Kermit not only recognizes his friends again, but he values them and has so much love for each of them. It is very loveable. After the tempo picks up, it continues to be another enjoyable toe-tapper like the rest of the songs in this flick. It’s good.
7) Somebody’s Getting Married: I think of this song as the anthem of engagement songs – whenever someone gets engaged, this song should play! I consider this song a celebration of weddings! The characters are all excited about this important ceremony taking place. Everyone is the town is talking about this wedding. It’s actually quite beautiful to see how much everyone supports weddings. Yeah, this is a great piece!
8) He’ll Make Me Happy: This is such a beautiful piece! If the last song celebrates weddings, this one praises marriage. The message is pure and sweet: there’s no telling what’s to come in the days and years ahead, but so long as these two have each other they’ll be happy. That’s all they need to know. It brings a smile to my face and my spirit. It’s such a lovely song, and I’ll be singing it myself when I get married!
PUPPETRY: I have mixed feelings about the puppetry in this film. It’s not bad, but there are some instances where either the puppeteers, the camera operators, or maybe even the editor become…lazy. I often spot some sign of the puppeteers in this film. After the tempo picks up in “Together Again,” you can see the top of Frank Oz’s head under Miss Piggy. When Fozzie hugs Rowlf and Scooter during “Saying Goodbye,” you see his third arm. When the Muppets first walk into Murray’s office, you see Kermit below his waist and notice he has a sleeve and not legs. When Gonzo gives Camilla CPR, you can see Dave Goelz’s hands operating the arm wires. The other movies were so good at hiding all of that as best they could, and I see these little mistakes throughout the film. Now, that being said, let’s talk about the amazing puppetry that does take place in this film. I already gave them away, but they are worth talking about in more detail. The first is the “Rat Scat” scene. Seeing the rats cooking all over the kitchen is incredible! I know they’re controlled by radio, but it still looks amazing. One rat is skating on a grill with butter, another is pouring pancake mix on the stove, and watching all of them work without any rods or performer under them is an impressive feat. The only other scene to top it is the “I’m Gonna Always Love You” number, featuring the Muppet Babies! This is absolutely mind blowing! I have no idea how the performers pulled this off! This film was released over 30 years ago, and it still blows me away! Sure, Kermit was radio controlled when he rode his tricycle, but I have no idea how they did everything else! They don’t look like they’re being radio controlled when they’re in the crib, when Fozzie’s sitting on the window sill, or when Rowlf is playing with his Big Bird toy. How in the world did they do all of this? This is what I love about these earlier Muppet films – they challenged us with their limitless creativity. I love that! It is outstanding!
COMEDY: The comedy in this movie is good. It’s not as good as the jokes from the first 2 films, but it’s still entertaining. This is obviously due to the fact that Frank Oz was in charge of this project. His humor is more subdued and reserved than Jim Henson’s. I’m more used to Henson’s sense of humor and style of comedy when it comes to the Muppets, so I prefer the humor of the first two movies. That being said, I know that Oz’s comedy style influenced the Muppets early on, but the humor under his direction is different than humor under Henson’s direction.
There aren’t any fourth wall jokes in this film, which I find distracting. I know it seems like a small thing to harp on, but think about it. When the Muppets reminded us we were watching them in a movie, the Muppets became apart of our world. It was as if they were in the theater or the living room with us. Here, we’re creepily watching their story and their lives through a screen or a fourth wall. For a Muppet movie, that’s so odd to me.
The movie does have a lot of jokes in it, but the emphasis isn’t put on the comedy here. In The Great Muppet Caper, the whole film was about making the audience laugh. Here, the emphasis is put on the story, and the jokes support the story. The jokes, like I said, are more reserved than the jokes from the last Muppet film. It’s like the difference between shouting and whispering. One of the jokes in this film, for example, takes place at the beginning of the film after the Muppets tell Kermit that “Manhattan Melodies” should be on Broadway. Gonzo replies, “Broadway of what city?” He says it quick, the other respond quickly, and they move on. Rather than cutting to a close up of Gonzo, this scene is done in a wide shot and in one take. In the last film, a lot of the jokes took their time more. They received more attention, and, again, the emphasis was on those jokes. That’s not to say we don’t have some lengthy jokes with attention in this movie or that we didn’t have quick jokes in the last movie. It’s just that we have more quick jokes here and lengthy jokes in the other film.
I will share some of my favorite jokes in the film, though: (1) Pete’s speeches. Anytime he tells someone “Peoples is peoples,” I can’t help but laugh and smile! (2) “3-D” Fish. When Lew Zealand goes to the 3-D movie, he throws his fish to have the audience think they’re jumping out the screen and into the theater. It looks like a horror scene, but it’s so funny! (3) Janice’s second nude joke. Janice made a reference to being naked in the last movie, and she does it again in this flick. After the gang returns to New York, everyone stops talking only to hear Janice tell Gonzo, “I said to him, ‘Look, I don’t take off my clothes for anyone – even if it is artistic…'” I love that joke so much! (4) Kermit’s rant toward Piggy. Right before “Manhattan Melodies” begins, the Muppets are still trying to get Kermit’s memory back. Piggy tells him he wants to marry and have children with her. Kermit’s reaction to this is outstanding! I love it! You will NEVER hear Kermit say anything like this to Piggy or anyone again, which is part of the reason it’s so funny. The other reason is just because of the words coming out of his mouth. I just can’t help but admire the puns and sarcasm they contain! It is too wonderful!
CONCLUSION: I like this movie. It’s sort of a different tone for the Muppets, but it’s not bad. I’m just too used to the tones set in the first two films. This is a good movie. The story is interesting, the songs are delightful, the puppetry really shines at moments, the comedy is good, and Kermit even has an arc in this film; I like that he has more depth here. I do enjoy watching this movie; it’s just not as good as the some of the other films. But my favorite characters are here to make me laugh, sing great songs, and convey human emotions. So long as I get to see that, I’m in a good place. This is a good movie!