Muppet Mayhem (Part 1): The Muppet Movie

Considering the fact that there is a brand new theatrical Muppet movie coming out at the end of the month (on the day before my birthday), I thought it would be special if I were to review all of the theatrical Muppet movies (and two specials in the middle) over the course of the next few weeks. This is not going to be another 51 Days of Disney thing, so don’t be expecting daily reviews. Why not start with the beginning if you’re going to start at all?

The year is 1979 and the Muppet Show is in the height of it’s popularity and Sesame Street had been on the air for a decade, so what is next for the world’s favourite puppet performers? Why the big screen, of course!

The Muppet Movie opens with the Muppets in a screening room about to show an admittedly fictionalized account on how the Muppets were started. The movie within the movie begins with Kermit in his swamp where he meets Bernie the Agent (Dom DeLuise), who tells him that he would be great in show business. So Kermit leaves his home to begin his journey across the country. His journey first takes him to the El Sleazo Cafe where he bumps into a woman who tries to pick him up (Madeline Kahn), the piano player of the reputable estate (Paul Williams, who also did the music for the movie) and Fozzie the Bear, who proceeds to join him on his journey (“A bear in his natural habitat: a Studebaker”).

Kermit is persued throughout his journey by Doc Hopper (Charles During) in an attempt to get Kermit to be the spokes-frog of Doc Hopper’s chain of fried-frog legs. On their travels, they bump into Big Bird, get helped out of a jam by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, bump into Gonzo and they all decide to get a bigger car from Mad Man Mooney (Milton Bearle) and his jack, Sweetums, and drive to a State Fair where they meet Ms. Piggy, all while being pursued by Doc Hopper. The Muppet Movie essentially jumps from silly situation to silly situation all while bumping into big stars of the day like Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Edgar Bergman and Charlie, Bob Hope, Cloris Leachman, and even Orson Welles.

The Muppet Movie is exceptionally well written, perfectly capturing the bizarre irreverence that the Muppet Show was known for and somehow managing to write a coherent story. They constantly break the fourth wall (either by directly addressing the audience or by making very meta in-jokes), have plenty of absurd running jokes (like the myth/miss and “have you tried Hare Krishna?”), and the film even manages to capture some of the guest star’s particular breed of humour or their personal act into their cameos. Some of the throwaway word play in the movie is easily some of the funniest, though.

The music done by Paul Williams is overly cheerful, with lots of chimes and piano and the songs for the movie are exceptionally well written. “Rainbow Connection” is easily the best song in the film and really sets the mood and theme for the entire experience. With the quality of the song, it’s not surprising whatsoever that the song became the “When You Wish Upon a Star” of the Jim Henson company. “Movin’ Right Along” is a fun travelling number that I can’t help but listen to whenever I’m on a long car ride and ends up being the driving theme for the entire film. “Can You Picture That” is a fun Electric Mayhem song that feels very different from the rest of the songs in the film, but still manages to fit due to the sheer absurdity that is present in any Muppet property. The only song that I don’t particularly like is Ms Piggy’s song “Never Before” but that’s probably more due to the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of the pig.

Honestly, the real reason that this movie is special, though, is just how advanced the puppetry is. Jim Henson and his crew pushed themselves to the extent of their perceived abilities and then some to get the movie to look the way it did. For instance, the “Rainbow Connection” scene forced Jim Henson to fit into a metal tube submerged under the surface of the water in order to get Kermit to sit perfectly still on the log. What is even more amazing is that it took 5 days to film that one scene. The film even showed us a side of the Muppets we had never seen before, or as Roger Ebert put it: “The Muppet Movie not only stars the Muppets but, for the first time, shows us their feet.” They even managed to show a car that was literally driving down the road that looked like it was being driven by a Muppet, and to make it even more amazing, at the beginning of the film Kermit rides a bicycle and we see him actually pedaling it down the road. The final scene of the film had over 200 Muppet characters all being performed at the exact same time, which was something that had never been seen before at that point in time. Jim Henson managed to take everyone’s expectations on how the movie would look and turn them on it’s head.

The Muppet Movie is a funny musical romp that manages to push the field of Muppetry and somehow managed to be a movie that perfectly captures the feeling of the Muppet Show without just being the Muppet Show.

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