- Movie Rating -

The Muppet Movie (1979)

| June 22, 1979

You know, the haughty film critic that lives in my bones is always trying to analyze why certain things work and why some things do not – it’s part of the job.  That said, I felt a little silly trying to analyze the appeal of The Muppets.  How can you really put the film critic microscope on a frog, a pig, a bear and . . . whatever Gonzo is.

If I were pinned down to the question though, I think it has to do with the fact that The Muppets live in a style of comedy that is appealing to both kids and adults.  They’re cute and they have lots of wild shenanigans – that’s for the kids.  But they also employ a lot of jokes that really only their parents would understand – that’s for the grown-ups.  That would explain all the guest stars.  Do kids really recognize Bob Hope?  George Burns?  Florence Henderson?

This style is still present in their first movie, it is much better that it has any reason to be.  I love The Muppet Show, but what is appealing about their first movie is that while they maintain their sense of humor, Jim Henson and his crew have made a real attempt to get them out into the world.  We see these characters, for the first time, from the waist down – and that’s a real technological feat, but they go much further than that.  How in the world did they get Kermit the Frog to ride a bicycle?  It’s one of those great special effects mysteries that (a.) I cannot figure out how it was achieved and (b.) I don’t want to know how it was achieved.

The adventure is really an origin story, of how Kermit got out of his swamp and got motivated to move to Hollywood and get into showbusiness.  Therefore, it’s a road picture in which he and the invaluable Fozzy Bear pick up all of the other Muppets along the way.  Packed in are cornball jokes, sight gags and running gags (there’s one about Hari Krishna that still has me laughing).  And guest stars.  The Muppets don’t exist without guest stars, and here we get Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Dom DeLuise, Elliott Gould, Bob Hope, Carol Kane, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Telly Savalas, Orson Welles, etc.

The kink in the plan – of course, there must be one – is that Kermit is being pursued by a greedy business owner (Charles Durning) who wants to use the frog’s likeness for his chain a Fried Frog Leg restaurants.  This might, in other hands, be just a stick in the mud, a kink that slows the picture down, but it’s actually quite funny.

Actually, the whole movie is funny.  I was laughing, and some of the jokes still have me laughing.  But what impresses me most is the generosity at work here.  Henson and his crew have created a gaggle of characters that are so popular that they could have just as easily made a movie that kept them in that theater, but they used their imagination and really got Kermit and Piggy and Fozzy and Gonzo out into the world, so much so that often you can’t tell where the puppeteer is hiding.  The movie opens with Kermit sitting on a log in a swamp playing the banjo.  I don’t know how they did it.  I don’t want to know.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized