The Muppet Movie (1979)

23 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

When we see the Muppets, do we really need to wonder where the puppeteers are when they’re controlling the Muppets’ actions and moving mouths? I personally don’t care, since the Muppets have great personalities. But the opening scene in “The Muppet Movie” had me wonder where the puppeteer was. That scene features Kermit the Frog in a swamp surrounded by water and playing the banjo. Since Kermit is on a rock and surrounded by water, where is the puppeteer controlling him from? But as the scene progressed and Kermit continued to play, I didn’t care. I just watched Kermit in his original habitat.

If you haven’t already guessed, “The Muppet Movie” tells the story of how the Muppets got started in fame and fortune. This is as interesting as superhero origin story. We all wanted to know how our favorite superheroes became our favorite superheroes and now, since the Muppets hit close to our hearts, we can see how they became such successes. “The Muppet Movie” is the answer to the question fans of the Muppets would have loved to ask, but haven’t quite thought about it.

Kermit the Frog used to live in a swamp (of course). One day, after playing his banjo, he is met by Dom DeLuise as a Hollywood agent who informs Kermit that Hollywood is holding an audition for frogs. And so, Kermit is off to Hollywood. He needs a driver so he meets Fozzie the Bear, originally a bartender. They drive a Studebaker and make their way into Hollywood (Fozzie proclaims, “A bear in his natural habitat—a Studebaker”).

Along the way, they come across the other Muppets—such as Gonzo (originally a plumber) and Miss Piggy (who hasn’t changed much since they meet her after she wins a beauty pageant). But they are also chased by a ruthless fast food magnate, who wants Kermit to sign on as a trademark for a frog-leg fast-food franchise. He even hires gunmen and an unreliable sidekick (Austin Pendleton) to hunt him down. This subplot may frighten younger viewers, so parents should take that into consideration.

As if predictably, Kermit and Miss Piggy fall in love, but they run into many ups and downs during this road trip. Along the way, the Muppets become friends and encounter all sorts of special guest appearances, including Mel Brooks, Bob Hope, Carol Kane, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Telly Savalas, Orson Welles, and, in their last film appearance before their deaths, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. The best joke in the film—Fozzie meets Big Bird hitchhiking on the highway and offers a lift; Big Bird responds, “No thanks. I’m on my way to New York City to sneak into public television.” The movie is full of clever, funny moments like that—as rich as anything in “The Muppet Show.” But “The Muppet Movie” has a great big surprise and that is…we see the Muppets’ feet. There’s a scene in which Kermit really seems to be riding a bicycle and all I’m thinking is, “How’d they do THAT?”  And of course, there has to be a musical number every 20 minutes. The problem is that the songs are not particularly interesting or memorable.

In “The Muppet Movie,” we get to know these characters better than we could in their original TV show. The Muppets are appealing, great to look at, well-managed, and with great comic personalities. I loved watching these Muppets in their own origin story.

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