I was never a huge fan of the Muppets growing up. For whatever reason, they just weren’t something that was on my radar. The first time I heard about them was the Muppet Babies cartoon. I enjoyed that as a child, particularly the Star Wars themed episode. One vivid memory I also have of the Muppets was when they featured as part of McDonalds Happy Meal toys. I remember any child who wanted to be taken seriously in social circles would have had the whole collection. Finally getting Animal was one of the crowning achievements of my pre-teenhood.
Sally is obviously a huge Muppet fan, but I wasn’t really introduced to them properly until Jason Segel reintroduced the characters to a new generation in 2011. I loved the random humour on show in that movie and decided to pick up their original film when I found it in a bargain bin one day.
The film was made in between seasons three and four of the live action TV show of the 70s and 80s. The movie follows Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson) as he travels across the country to Hollywood in the hope of becoming famous. Along the way he meets up with the rest of the Muppets who join him on his journey to stardom. Along the way, Kermit must avoid a frog legs restaurant owner (Charles Durning), who hopes to turn Kermit into one of his fast food meals.
When you are watching a movie from the 70s (1979), I am always curious to see how the film holds up, particularly comedies. Comedy in general is usually very topical and based around current events much of the time. There is always the danger that something that was funny in the 70s just isn’t 35 years later. The Muppet Movie does not suffer from this problem. I think what makes these characters so timeless is they have a heart. Even though they’re puppets, the audience cares about these guys and want them to succeed. I am not going to deny that some of the jokes probably don’t land as well as they would have in 1979, but there is enough amusement to keep an audience entertained.
The film’s highlight for me though is the music. The Muppet Movie opens with Kermit singing “Rainbow Connection,” and would end up with an Oscar nomination for the song. I really like that song, so much that it proudly holds a place on my iPod now. Another highlight is when Kermit and Rolfe sing “I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along.”
I can’t talk about the Muppets without mentioning the voice of Miss Piggy. Frank Oz is also the voice of Yoda in the Star Wars movies. I didn’t know about the connection for some time, but now it makes total sense. It also makes sense how the Muppets were able to get away with having so many Star Wars references in their shows. Outside of an entire episode devoted to the movie in the Muppet Babies cartoons, several of their live action shows also featured actors from the movies. It is so strange though to think that the voice of Miss Piggy is also the voice of wise Jedi master Yoda. When you know, you can hear it, but I don’t think you’d make that connection otherwise. I certainly didn’t.
What makes The Muppet Movie work is that fact that Jim Henson and his puppeteers clearly have a love for these characters. You can’t fake the enthusiasm they bring to the screen, and it makes it easier to care about Kermit and his crew if the people involved clearly do too.
After watching The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted, I discovered that Ben had never seen the group’s film debut– The Muppet Movie. I was shocked. The Muppets were a huge part of my childhood. I grew up watching reruns of their television show, Muppet Babies was required Saturday morning viewing, and I also loved Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock. Yes, The Muppets is a perfect entrance point into their weird, wonderful world, but you still need to go back to their beginnings to really appreciate them.
The Muppet Movie is nearly 40 years old, but it’s still hilarious. There’s a timeless quality to Muppet humor that helps them effortlessly travel through the decades without feeling aged or unhip. The only clues that give away this movie’s age are some of the references, the technology used, and the celebrity cameos. Otherwise, the story and the jokes still work.
So, we’ve established that the jokes are still funny and the story timeless (Ben gives a short synopsis in his review. Also, if you’ve seen The Muppets, there are many homages to this movie in its story.). But what really makes this film special is the movie magic used to bring the Muppets into the real world. This is, I believe, the first time the Muppets ventured outside of a soundstage. The move was a risk, but it pays off. One of the most impressive scenes is the opening sequence, where Kermit the Frog sits on a log in the middle of a swamp singing “Rainbow Connection.” Today this scene might easily be put together using CGI, but back in the 1970s it was all practical effects. What you’re not seeing is Jim Henson sitting underwater in a metal box controlling our felted green hero. Oh, and it also took five days to shoot.
The Muppet Movie also boasts some wonderfully catchy songs. Of course, “Rainbow Connection” is the most memorable, and not just for how it’s presented. This song has become synonymous with the Muppets, because it embodies the sweet optimism that lies at the heart of their world. But there are other songs, such as “I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along” and “Movin’ Right Along,” that capture the irreverent humor that also defines them.
As I said before, The Muppet Movie is essential viewing for any Muppet fan. If your kids have only seen the newest incarnation, they’ll love this introduction just as much. And if you haven’t watched it in awhile, I recommend re-watching. You’ll fall in love with the Muppets all over again.