Nov 15 2011 10:00am

The Lovers, The Dreamers, And Me: The Muppet Movie

The Lovers, The Dreamers, And Me: The Muppet Movie

I have never, I must confess, been the biggest Muppet fan in the world. Before you inquire about the barren depravity of my soul, let me explain: I always liked them, but as a kid it was more like “Muppets, cool” than going full-on Animal. The main presence Jim Henson had in my life was Labyrinth, which I was busy watching over and over again (neglecting the Muppets). Then, somewhere in my mid-twenties, a couple good friends of mine noticed I was near-Muppet-illiterate and decided to rectify the situation by making me watch about four episodes of The Muppet Show back-to-back, and I was flabbergasted. I had had no idea how razor-sharp the comedy was, how cavalierly it broke the fourth wall and commented on itself. The Muppet Show basically mastered show business. It was laugh-out-loud funny but never in a cheap way, it never resorted to shocks or meanness to get laughs.

The Muppet Movie, released in 1979, was absolutely in the same vein as the show, and holds up just as well. It boasts an enormous and eclectic assortment of non-Muppet guest stars, everyone from principal villain Charles Durning to cameos by everyone from Steve Martin and Richard Pryor to Bob Hope, Milton Berle, and (most awesomely) Orson Welles, who manages in one line of dialogue to wistfully sum up his entire career in cinema, and without bitterness because there is no bitterness in Muppet World.

The Lovers, The Dreamers, And Me: The Muppet Movie

The story, framed as a movie-within-a-movie, is the incredibly simple story of how Kermit the Frog is chillin’ in the swamp playing his banjo one day, and after Hollywood agent Dom DeLuise tells him he’s got talent and should go to Hollywood to audition, he does. Along the way he serendipitously encounters a number of other dreamers (all the other Muppets), all the while trying to keep one hop in front of sinister (and oddly pathetic) frogs-legs restaurant mogul manqué Charles Durning. Will Kermit and retinue make it to Hollywood and succeed in their goal of making people happy? Don’t ask silly questions.

The Lovers, The Dreamers, And Me: The Muppet Movie

The Muppet Movie is a pretty good example of a great movie that isn’t a great movie. For a big budget ($28 million was still a lot of dough in 1979) studio picture there are a few things here and there that are a bit awkward. But such is the goodwill engendered by the Muppets, and their relentlessly positive and beautifully simple outlook on life and entertainment — “make people happy” — that none of those petty Scrooge-like concerns matter. The Muppet Movie is great. Even though it isn’t. I keep coming back to the Welles thing: the Muppets’ entire journey to Hollywood, seeking validation, is granted by Welles, the director of the greatest American film ever made, Citizen Kane, much as Jim Henson and the rest of the filmmaking team, in their quest to make people happy with this movie, go to Welles, who gives them his blessing, for no other reason than because they’re the Muppets, and Muppets are awesome.

So, I may not be able to name all of them off the top of my head, nor can I quote chapter and verse from the show, but I like to think I “get” the Muppets and The Muppet Movie. Because all there is to get, it seems, is that being upbeat and joyful and making people happy is a good thing. I am not accepting arguments against that assertion.

The Lovers, The Dreamers, And Me: The Muppet Movie

Screenshots from Movie Screenshots

Danny Bowes is a playwright, filmmaker and blogger. He is also a contributor to nytheatre.com and Premiere.com.

This article is part of Muppet Week: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Chris Long
1. radynski
This is still my favorite of their movies (aside from Christmas Carol). All the best songs are in this one. I could listen to this soundtrack over and over again (and have).

Moving Right Along - upbeat, happy, and funny
Can You Picture That? - god I love the Mayhem, that sax part rocks
I'm Going to Go Back There Someday - best gonzo song ever! Sad, poignant and uplifting all at once.
Rainbow Connection - the classic Kermit song

How can you not love everything about this movie?
2. dwndrgn
This is the kind of movie you want to own and watch over and over again and share with kids and nieces and nephews ad infinitum. One of the best 'feel good' movies ever. And yes, the soundtrack rocks. I may have to put that on my Christmas list ;-)
James Whitehead
3. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Saw this when it came out in my home town theatre. I absolutely loved it. We, as a family, watched the show every week when it was on. My dad told me, years later, that his colleagues at work always talked about the espisode the next day at work.

My kids love it as well and we always watch it when it's on tv.


PS - @1radynski, I loved that Gonzo song as well. Perfect voice for that poignant song.

PPS - "Bear left!" "Right frog!"
A.J. Bobo
4. Daedylus
I saw this when I was a kid and enjoyed it. But it was when I was a senior in high school and watched it again that I finally got it. I laughed so hard at just about everything in it that it immediately became one of my absolute favorite movies. The songs are great. The jokes are hilarious (and not offensive). There are so many quotable lines (never underestimate the importance of that). Wonderful movie. A huge thanks to Jim Henson for this one.

"Boy, it's a good thing frogs can hop. Otherwise I'd have been gone with the Schwinn."
Jenny Thrash
5. Sihaya
To this day I can't always stop myself from deliberately pronouncing the word "aah-lee-gay-tor."
6. SeeingI
I adore Welles' cameo, and his one line is perfect. "Miss Tracy, prepare the standard Rich & Famous contract for Kermit the Frog and company." If anyone knew that there's no such thing as a standard Rich & Famous contract it's Welles...and if anybody ever believed in the magic store, it was him as well. Just genius.
Michael M Jones
7. MichaelMJones
My favorite songs: "Movin' Right Along" and "Can You Picture That." I went to some rather unsavory lengths to find those songs for my iPod, and now a week doesn't go by when I don't listen to one or both. The recent release of the Green Album only gave me more versions to enjoy.

Favorite scenes: The introduction of Electric Mayhem, and the climatic confrontation in the ghost town, where we meet Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, and Animal eats the wrong stuff. A musical rotating rainbarrel, indeed.

It's such a splendidly classic, bizarre, awesome movie.
Chris Long
8. radynski
Fozzy: "I don't know how to thank you guys"
Kermit: "I don't know why to thank you guys"

It's like they made a combination Disney and Marx brothers movie. It is soooo good.
jon meltzer
9. jmeltzer
My friends still do "Bear right. Left, frog. "

(Yes, I know. That's not exactly how it went in the movie.)
Warren Ockrassa
10. warreno
radynski -

Yeah, Gonzo's preformance isn't bad at all, and there's that line:
'There's not a word yet for old friends who've just met.'
...which is a hell of a thing to realize.
11. AlBrown
I love this movie, and especially the fork in the road...
Matt Wright
12. matty42
I am a high school orchestra teacher, and I keep an arrangement of "Rainbow Connection" in rotation for the simple fact that everyone needs to be aware of The Muppets. So once every four years, we get it out and play it, I bring in my Kermit puppet and indulge in some nostalgia, and the tradition is kept alive. I have to do my part, right?
13. Jeff S.
"A bear in his natural habitat, a Studebaker"

Still kills me everytime.
14. Derek J. Goodman
This movie is so fine and laid-back and mellow and profitable.
Tucker McKinnon
15. jazzfish
Oh man. Steve Martin kills me /every/ time. "Would you care to sniff the cap?"

"The Muppet Show basically mastered show business."

This is the truest thing I've read all week.
Joanne Center
16. thegloop
"Rainbow Connection" -- first dance at my wedding with my husband. I love Muppets, not gonna lie.
Michael Burke
17. Ludon
The Muppets - in the show and in the movies - welcomed adults as well as kids into their universe. They did this not only with their multi-level gags (Care to sniff the cap?) but with attention to other little details like having the bells playing "Thanks for the Memories" during Bob Hope's scene.

I heard a radio interview with Charles Durning in which he explained that they had to work to convince him to do this movie. Every time his agent would mention the script he replied "I don't do puppet shows." The agent finally talked him into watching a few episodes of the show and Charles explained that he was amazed at what he saw. He said something like "Those weren't puppets. They were characters. I felt I could work with them."

That last scene with all the muppets grouped together singing on the soundstage is great. I remember a friend turning to me after the credits started rolling and asking "How did they do that?" Think about how many performers it took and how easy they made it look.
18. TimB.
"That last scene with all the muppets grouped together singing on the soundstage is great. I remember a friend turning to me after the credits started rolling and asking "How did they do that?" Think about how many performers it took and how easy they made it look."

I'll tell you someday...I was one of those performers!
Sarah H
19. gryphyn
@TimB - Please do! I would love to here that story.

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