|The Muppet Movie (Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition)|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 29 November 2005|
When you compare the obvious innocence of 1979’s “The Muppet Movie” to the much more recent “Team America: World Police” with its edgy puppet sex scenes, you realize right away just how far cinematic puppetry has come in the past twenty-plus years or so. There’s no puppet sex here, that’s for sure. There’s hardly any romance at all, in fact, unless you consider this movie’s brief moments of pig-frog attraction shared between Miss Piggy and Kermit. Instead, this is just your typical lily pads to riches showbiz story.
It’s clear from the very get-go that Kermit the Frog, voiced and puppeteered by Jim Henson, is the primary star of this show. The film begins memorably with our green-legged wonder sitting and accompanying himself on the banjo for the Oscar-nominated “Rainbow Connection” song. It is here while he is in his home environment that a visitor comes along and convinces Kermit that he has real talent and that he should consider giving Hollywood a shot. And like a fly hovering just a little too close to tongue range, Kermit decides to take a stab at attaining entertainment business success.
What transpires after this pivotal moment is a road movie of the most sweet and silly variety. Kermit decides to drive cross-country in search of Southern California fame and fortune. Along the way, he picks up a struggling comedian named Fozzie Bear, voiced and puppeteered by Frank Oz, in a hole-in-the-wall juke joint. These two characters then morph into the primary buddies in the more buddy picture-esque portions of the film. But it’s more than just a saga about a frog and a bear. Instead, it’s a tale involving the full cast of Muppet oddball characters, and then some.
In addition to its central dynamic duo, “beauty queen” Miss Piggy (Oz again) also joins this fame train. Our story’s aspiring stars also meet a rock band playing in a church. In one humorous moment, the band even references the actual movie script in order to foretell what’s going to happen next in the story.
Similar to the “Sesame Street” program before it, which originally gave life to these various characters, there are plenty of notable star cameos spicing up this puppetry road picture. Milton Berle plays Mad Man Mooney, whereas Mel Brooks portrays Professor Max Krassman -- perhaps the most evil character in the whole shebang. One regular tough guy, James Coburn, does what he does best as El Sleezo Café Owner. Telly Savalas also flexes his muscles as El Sleezo Tough, whereas Orson Welles – spreading out in all his overweight glory – fills up the screen as Hollywood bigwig Lew Lord.
Although there are a few serious actors seen here, this is after all a comedy. Comedians and comedic actors/actresses comprise the largest share of “The Muppet Movie” cameo crowd. Steve Martin is best of all as the snooty Insolent Waiter. Bob Hope (Ice Cream Vendor) and Richard Pryor (Balloon Vendor), however, basically play themselves here and don’t leave much of a mark.
There cannot be a successful cinematic story, even if it’s a simple comedy like this one, without a little dramatic tension thrown in. This little film also has some of that drama stuff, too. Such contrasting darkness is provided by Doc Hopper, played by Charles Durning, who wants to utilize Kermit’s charming personality to help advertise his growing frog leg business. Naturally, Kermit will have none of that, because doing so would be selling out his own kind.
Much like TV’s “The Muppet Show,” this theatrical release gave all these creative characters the chance to be funny, just for fun’s sake. For instance, the Muppets’ distinction from “Sesame Street” is driven home when the gang passes Big Bird on the road. They offer to take this extra tall, yellow bird along with them to Hollywood, but he refuses by saying he’d rather take his chances on finding a job in public television.
This film, with all its famous movie stars, obviously tried to draw in adults as well as kiddies. There are few of the kinds of “only adults will get this” sorts of jokes to be found here, however. So don’t expect the out-there humor found in, say, “Shrek,” “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.,” etc. This means that the jokes are cute, rather than edgy, and more often than not just plain corny.
Movies like “Shrek” and “Toy Story” were made by folks who love children’s stories, yet they also wanted to create the kinds of films that would appeal to both parents and children at the same time. But Jim Henson and his fellow Muppet creators reveal an undeniable love for old movies, and they simply weren’t out to cook up anything particularly new. This movie may have been created toward the end of the ‘70s, but it rolls with a storyline that is all Hollywood glory days. Instead of showcasing Marilyn Monroe’s vision of coming to Hollywood’s land of dreams, for instance, this one focuses upon a bunch of Muppets substituted for you typical starlet. The types of travelers may have changed, yet the basic plot remains relatively unchanged. With its multiple songs, you also get the feeling that these movie-makers dearly love the old Hollywood musicals, too.
It’s especially amazing to see how well-developed these many Muppet characters truly are. For example, Miss Piggy is a true, self-centered diva. She was most certainly the make-believe Britney Spears of her day. Even so, she’s also blissfully unaware of her obviously chunky physique. There’s a scene where she wins a beauty contest, which is about as believable as, say, Rosanne Barr being crowned during such a physical attribute competition. She takes a liking to Kermit here, which is equally surprising. Miss Piggy is strong-willed and focused, whereas Kermit is relatively happy-go-lucky. Perhaps she falls for Kermit because she sees him as someone she can dominate. Miss Piggy is not a frail flower, either. This mighty pork chop shows off her stuff by karate chopping Professor Max Krassman right when he’s about to do poor Kermit in.
There’s only one extra feature here, a faux behind-the-scenes segment about the life of Kermit. This sure makes for a skimpy bonus section, too! Back when this film originally came out, it made quite a smash in the whole family movie realm. You may recall that, at the time, there certainly weren’t as many family films then as there are now. Granted, the DVD makers couldn’t have gotten the late Jim Henson to participate in this re-release. But why didn’t they round up some of the other actors and behind-the-scenes folks? For instance, how did stars like Steve Martin and Mel Brooks feel about acting with Muppets? This would have given the film a little historical perspective, if nothing else.
The sound of this release is perfectly fine, although it’s not exactly a special effects-laden effort. In other words, the sound suits this film’s simple comedic purposes.
The quality of this fine film stands up well: it’s a colorful, gently humorous, and enjoyable story. Taking this cross-country journey with these Muppet friends is just as fun and family-friendly as it was back in 1979. “Sesame Street” first showed how these characters could be both smart and funny educational vehicles. Next, “The Muppet Movie” proved that they could be equally entertaining. Hollywood can sure do with a few more pigs, frogs and other kid-friendly creatures like the ones featured in this cast.