YEAH, BABY!!! After reviewing some of the Disney animated films, I wanted to take a look at the films from my most favorite franchise ever: the Muppets! There’s no way I’m letting these films go untouched! I said it before, and I’ll say it again: people always associate the Walt Disney Company with magic and dreams come true. After finally giving the company a chance, I can see where people are coming from. However, it was Jim Henson’s Muppets that made me believe in all of that. A large part of the reason for that comes from this film, The Muppet Movie! When you watch the imagination and creativity that was put forth in this film, you can’t help but believe in dreams or magic all over again either!
Here’s some quick background regarding the Muppets: Henson and his company had already made a name for themselves on television. After the success of the very first Muppet production, Sam and Friends (Jim Henson, 1955-1961), the Muppets went on to guest star on late night talk shows, they produced a number of commercials, they had a hit with Sesame Street (Joan Ganz Cooney, 1969-Present), they starred in their own television specials, and they were featured in the first season of Saturday Night Live (Lorne Michaels, 1975-Present). In 1976, Henson’s real dream had finally come true: he wanted his Muppets to star on their own show. It was The Muppet Show (Jim Henson, 1976-1981), and it became the Number One show in the entire world! However, Henson found a new playground for his characters: the movies! Enter The Muppet Movie in 1979!
Since this is my first Muppet movie review, here are the categories I’ll be judging these films by: story and themes & messages, human characters and cameo stars, songs, puppetry, and comedy. Anyway, let’s shut up and get to the review!
STORY AND THEMES & MESSAGES: The story contains one of the simplest plots I’ve ever seen in a movie: the Muppets are going to Hollywood…Yeah, that’s it. Literally, that is our main story. Yeah, there are other things that happen, but the main focus is on the Muppets trying to get to Hollywood. That is so unbelievably, yet refreshingly simple. I’m glad the filmmakers knew not only to keep the focus here, but also knew better than to pad the film with a lot of other unnecessary subplots. There is one subplot involving a man named Doc Hopper chasing Kermit in order to get him to become the spokesperson for an aspiring restaurant chain, Doc Hopper’s Frog Legs…This does beg a few questions: (1) You’re opening a restaurant chain, and your main dish is frog legs? (2) You spend so much time hunting down one frog. Why not ask another frog to be the spokesperson for your restaurant? (3) You pull guns on Kermit, you hire a mad scientist to brain wash him, you gather a band of men (including a professional frog killer) to take him down…Are you sure you want to go in the restaurant business?! This doesn’t sound like the profession you should be pursuing. Heck, we don’t even see you cook anything!
One thing I keep thinking about whenever I watch this film is that half the things that take place contribute nothing to the story. I find that fascinating. The montage of the Electric Mayhem painting the car, the whole sequence of the Muppets trading Fozzie’s Studebaker, the Muppets staying at the fair for 6-7 minutes, Gonzo’s ride on the balloons, Kermit and Piggy’s trip to the restaurant – what did any of that have to do with their getting to Hollywood? How did Gonzo’s balloon ride help the gang get to Hollywood any sooner? I know there are arguments for some of the other things I mentioned: “The Electric Mayhem painted the car to help Kermit and Fozzie hide from Doc Hopper.” But if they were spotted immediately after that scene by Max and Doc Hopper, what was the point of it? Really, a great number of these sequences have nothing to do with the plot. Does that make it bad? No, not at all! Despite the fact that they don’t move the story along, they do work for the film! I can’t explain it, but there’s something about all of these sequences that just work really well for the movie. There’s a charm and likeability to them. They fit the tone of the film! I love it!
I really appreciate the satire in this film! There are a lot of unsubtle moments that take place, but it’s never accidental! The ad in the paper at the beginning of the film says, “World Wide Studios announces open auditions for frogs wishing to become rich and famous.” At the end of the film, Kermit and the gang walk in Lew Lord’s office, and Lord just gives them the Rich and Famous contract! Of course none of these things would happen in real life! However, part of the fun of the film is over the top satire. I love it! It works really well!
There are a few messages in this film when you stop and think about it. Be happy with your life. Don’t let anything or anyone hold you back from your destiny. Embrace diversity. The actions and behaviors from your youth were practice for what you’d do with your life. These are some great messages for both kids and adults! There are two other lessons that stand out the strongest for me, though. One is to base your dreams on selfless ambitions. I know that throughout the movie Kermit said he wanted to become “rich and famous,” but really think about it. That’s not what initially struck his attention when he spoke with Bernie the Agent. He was more focused on “making millions of people happy.” Hopper wasn’t concerned about that at all. We know this because he was willing to chase a frog across the country and kill him unless he agreed to be a spokesperson. And what happened to him in the end? He was nearly devoured by a verbally-challenged, mad drummer. But it goes even deeper than “making millions of people happy.” Kermit wanted to make it to Hollywood because he made a promise to himself. “I guess I was wrong when I said I never promised anyone,” he said. “I promised me.” It’s not so much a selfish ambition, but he is looking for something that will satisfy him. Performing is what he was created to do, and he won’t be happy unless he does it on the highest level he’s able to do it. Of course he wants to make people happy, and of course he wants the other Muppets to live out their dreams. However, he’ll feel empty and lost if he doesn’t get to live out his dream – his purpose. That’s something that we can all relate to! Live out your dream to the fullest! It’s such a simple message on paper, but it carries so much weight to it in the large scope of things. This is one of the best conveyances of that moral I’ve ever seen! I love that moment where Kermit talks to himself. It is so heartfelt and impactful. It may be one of my favorite scenes in all cinema!
HUMAN CHARACTERS AND CAMEO STARS: It would be pointless to talk about the Muppet characters! What could I say about them?! We already know and love these guys; they’ve appeared in a countless number of productions we’ve all seen them in! What I will do, however, is talk about the live-action human stars and the cameo stars in this film.
1) Doc Hopper – Doc Hopper is played by Charles Durning. I already talked about Doc a little earlier. I am amazed at this guy’s persistence! It takes some real dedication to track somebody down and follow them half way across the country just for promotion! Wow! To be fair, I agree with Kermit. Hopper’s not a bad person. He’s not evil or malicious or anything. He’s just confused. He doesn’t know what it truly means to be happy. You can’t be happy by making other people miserable. I do have fun watching him and seeing how he will be foiled again. He’s an enjoyable antagonist.
2) Max – Max is played by Austin Pendleton. This guy is a funny character! I don’t know how many people look back on this movie and come to that conclusion, but it’s true! Max is really funny! The reason we don’t often think of this is because Max isn’t over the top. He doesn’t go out of his way to get his humor across. His humor comes from the things he says. As kids, we often missed them or didn’t quite understand what he was always saying. As an adult, I quite impressed with how funny he’s been all along. And poor Max! All he wants, really, is to get the job done right and make sure that everyone’s safe and living. He’s a sweetheart.
This film introduced the great Muppet movie tradition of having a number of celebrity guest stars appear as cameos! I love the stars we get in this film! You have to watch out for these celebrities; if you blink, you’ll miss them. They all clearly love interacting with the Muppets, and they enjoy every second of screen time! All the stars don’t necessarily serve a purpose to the plot, but it’s great seeing them with the Muppets! Some of them have purpose, though. Dom Deluise is the agent who convinces Kermit to leave the swamp. Mel Brooks is the mad scientist who tries to fry Kermit’s brain. The great Orson Wells is Lew Lord, the man who gives the Muppet their Rich and Famous contract. Another famous cameo in this film is Steve Martin as the sarcastic and rude waiter – he gets a lot of laughs! We’ve also got Edgar Bergen and Charlie, Madeline Kahn, Richard Pryor, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, James Coburn, Paul Williams, Elliot Gould, Carol Kane, Telly Savalas, and Cloris Leachman. My personal favorite, however, is Big Bird! I LOVE his line in this film! “I’m on my way to New York City to try and break into public television!” That is so awesome!
SONGS/MUSIC: This film has the best songs to ever come out of a Muppet movie…EVER!!! All of these songs are memorable and tons of fun! The songs and score were written and composed by Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams. These two clearly knew how to make some fun-tastic songs. I can’t speak for Ascher much, but Williams, who, again, had a cameo in the film, knew how to make a wonderful Muppet soundtrack. He wrote songs for a number of Muppet projects, including another movie (which we’ll get to later). The songs and soundtrack were nominated for a Golden Globe, an Oscar, and won a Grammy! Again, though, these songs don’t really serve the plot much, but it’s OK. They work for this film. Let’s go through them.
1) Rainbow Connection: What can I say that hasn’t been said about this song before? This is as perfect as you can get with a Muppet song. I tie this number with “Bein’ Green” as the greatest Muppet songs of all time. In this number, we hear Kermit singing about something grandeur than life, something more than he’s able to comprehend. It’s sooth melody and beautiful lyrics always puts a smile on my face whenever I hear this song. It’s truly a song for the lovers, the dreamers, for me!
2) Movin’ Right Along: What song is more fitting to sing on a road trip? Hasn’t this song become the ultimate stamp in road trip adventures? The song is just so positive and upbeat, we can’t help but get invested in it. I love the jokes the lyrics contain:
“Hey, I’ve never seen the sun come up in the west?”
“We’re stormin’ the big town.” “Yeah, storm is right. Should it be snowing?” “Uh, no, I don’t think so.”
“Though, sadly, we just left Rhode Island.” “We did what?!” “Just forget it.”
And, of course, where else will you get a literal example of turning left at the fork in the road?!? Genius!
3) Can You Picture That?: My WORD, what a great song! This has got to be the best song the Electric Mayhem has ever performed! But aside from the rocking music and great vocal talent, what does this song have to give us? Well, this is basically the perseverance song. “You can do anything you set your mind to,” the song is basically saying. “There’s nothing you can’t do.” If you were able to pick that up the first time you heard the song, kudos to you. However, one problem I have with the song is that it’s very wordy. The words go by so quickly, I often have a hard time understanding what’s being said. It’s not bad, though. You are able to make out what they’re saying, but it’ll take your concentration. You can’t just sit down, give part of your focus to the song, and expect to know what the song is about. It’s fun, it’s clever, it’s rocking, it’s the Electric Mayhem doing what they do best!
4) Never Before, Never Again: This is one of the most…interesting Muppet songs, to say the least. Piggy picks out Kermit in a crowd of people, immediately falls in love, and begins singing. I know I’ve gone on in the past about the short romance cliché, but, like I said earlier, this movie is very aware of itself. Because of that, the song is really funny! Piggy sings about how the rest of her life is going to be spent with someone she just saw out of a crowd. She doesn’t even know what his voice sounds like, let alone his name, and she has a romance montage about their love life! That is hilarious! To be honest, I never stopped to figure out whether or not this song is actually beautiful. The music sounds beautiful. I never really paid attention to the lyrics because of the montage. The song itself may be a sweet love song. However, let’s be honest. What the song is supposed to be is one big joke. The joke is Piggy immediately fell in love with Kermit, who was standing in a large crowd of people, and sang a song about it. It works great here!
5) I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along: By this point, the film has introduced one of my favorite pianists in the world! This song is basically the equivalent of two friends drinking in a bar and discussing their problems. The only difference here is these two aren’t drunk and there’s a piano. What I find interesting about this number is that Jim Henson performs both Kermit and Rowlf. While, of course, he’s not physically operating both of them at the same time, he does provide both of their voices. I could be reading too much into this, but I almost see that as someone struggling with him or herself to figure out what to do about a hard situation in their life. They keep wrestling with themselves, “I know this is bad for me, but there’s something about it that I’m drawn to.” I find that fascinating.
6) I’m Going to Go Back There Someday: This was one of Jim Henson’s favorite songs, and I love this piece too. It is so beautiful and so heartfelt. I think people forget the Muppets do this, and have done this, more than often. Yes they are silly and goofy, but they are also passionate and emotional. They are very artistic and smart, and you hear it in this song. If you give it some thought, this could be Gonzo’s “Rainbow Connection” song, or his “Over the Rainbow” piece. He’s singing about returning to the place he feels the freest. There’s something about the sky that is so majestic, so welcoming, so rich, and so liberating. That actually fits the idea of what Kermit was singing about earlier in “Rainbow Connection” too, doesn’t it? They both want to go where they belong. The difference, however, is Kermit is looking for that place of belonging – that connection, and Gonzo has found his in the sky. That’s actually pretty deep when you think about it.
7) Finale: The Magic Store: There’s not a lot to say about this number. It’s wonderful to see the Muppets’ dream come true. It’s great to see everything come full circle. It’s wonderful to hear those last lines Kermit sings. The best way I can describe this piece is it’s like a dream. It sounds like a dream, but it’s happening right in front of you. Thus it becomes a dream come true. What a perfect way to end such a beautiful movie!
(This was the only really good and full version of this song I could get.)
PUPPETRY: The puppetry in this film is spectacular! It blew people away the first time they saw it! We don’t even see the rods that control the puppets’ arms! It sucked us into the illusion – we believed these characters were real! It was a critical point in this movie to show Kermit, Fozzie and the rest of the gang from head to toe throughout the film. We see Kermit and Fozzie dancing in the café. We saw them stand and turn their heads in the church. We see the characters stand, sit, and play instruments in the desert. These characters come to life like never before! There are a few moments when the puppetry really stand out to me. (1) The Big Crowd Muppet Scenes. Pay attention to the screen anytime you see a large crowd of Muppets. There’s nothing too groundbreaking or technically impressive about it. What amazes me is thinking what must be going on behind the scenes – or, rather, under the scenes. Pay attention when all of the characters are at the private screening, or watching ALL of Jim Henson’s Muppets in the musical finale. How many puppeteers did they need for that?! In fact, famous producers/directors Tim Burton and John Landis were operating some of the Muppets for the last scene. Landis said he was controlling Grover from Sesame Street. (2) Kermit playing the banjo. Kermit sitting on a log in a real swamp is already impressive, but did you see Kermit playing the banjo? His right hand really moves on the fret. His left hand really strums the strings. That is incredible! (3) The Muppets driving. It’s one thing to see Kermit the Frog sitting up on a log in the swamp, but to see Fozzie Bear drive a car is incredible! The way the filmmakers accomplished this was by controlling the car with a remote. The people controlling the car are in the trunk watching a monitor, while the Muppet performers and the puppets are in the seats of the Studebaker. That’s quite amazing. And the best piece of puppetry in this film is: (4) Kermit rides a bicycle. This is one of the most amazing feats the Muppets have ever accomplished! To see a full puppet ride a bike with no strings attached and with no performer underneath was unthinkable! That only compliments the sort of excellence and creativity this movie possesses!
COMEDY: Comedy is one of the most important elements in any Muppet production. The comedy in this film is really smart! The filmmakers aren’t just throwing random things in front of the screen, calling it comedy, and patronizing the audience’s intelligence. There was actual thought put behind these jokes. It’s obvious that the jokes were funny to the people working on the film, which is why they are funny to us as well. The characters will of course say funny things and do funny things, but there are 3 main forms of humor you’ll get in most Muppet production: irony, puns, and fourth wall jokes. Here’s an example of each of them in this movie.
Irony: MAD MAN MOONEY: But seriously, friends, Mad Man Mooney doesn’t believe in all that dealing and wheeling. No, the price that’s on the sticker is the price you pay, and never more and never less! (Sweetums swats a fly on a price sticker of a car) KERMIT: We’ll take that one for $11.95.
Puns: SECURITY GUARD: Private screening, Room B. STATLER: Private screening? WALDORF: Yeah, they’re afraid to show it in public.
Fourth Wall: FOZZIE: Kermit was living in a swamp, and then a fisherman came along… KERMIT: Fozzie, you can’t tell them the whole story. You’ll bore the audience. FOZZIE: Oh, sorry…But, uh, Kermit, the band here wants to know. KERMIT: Well, let them read the screenplay.
These jokes are genius! I love them! They’re smart, they’re creative, and they’re a huge part of the Muppets’ identity! The only joke I don’t get involves Carol Kane’s cameo. Whenever Kermit said “Myth! Myth,” Kane would come out of nowhere and ask, “Yes?” It’s funny because of the randomness and surreal factor, but what the crud does that mean? All these years, and I still don’t get it!
CONCLUSION: I love this movie! This is easily the best Muppet movie ever! This film goes far beyond being just a cute children’s movie. There’s an artistic edge to this film. There’s intelligence here. This film is timeless. It is unbelievably creative. Every aspect about the film is likeable and inspiring. It inspires us to dream. It inspires us to bring that same happiness and joy to other people. It inspires us to be bold and daring in our gifts and talents. It’s incredible how much this film still holds up. A lot of people can look at this film and may think, “It’s just another Muppet film. It’s cute. It’s funny. It’s friendly.” I, on the other hand look at this film and say, this is one of the best family movies (not kid movies – family movies) I have ever seen! It entertains both children and adults. It takes both of them seriously. It speaks to both of them on the same level. The more I look into this film, the more I determine how deep it actually is. Whether you agree with me on this or not, one thing that a lot of people agree on is that this is the best Muppet movie ever! The other films are great, but this is the best one of them all! I smile every time I watch it! God bless you, you wonderful and beautiful movie!