We watched The Muppet Movie on the last day of the So Bad It’s Good Blogathon. It was my son’s idea. It felt a bit ironic doing it right as the Academy Awards were going on, because it’s funny how much Hollywood has changed. Heck, it’s funny how much the Muppets have changed.
When The Muppet Movie came out in 1979, I became the proud owner of the soundtrack album, and I listened to it alllllll the time. I had that thing memorized. Probably drove everyone around me crazy.
For those who don’t remember the film, it starts out with Kermit singing “The Rainbow Connection” in a swamp somewhere (Florida, maybe?) when Dom DeLuise rows up to him in a rowboat. He’s playing a Hollywood agent named Bernie, and he tells Kermit there are going to be auditions for frogs in Tinseltown. Kermit could be making millions of people happy. Kermit hesitates at first, but sets off for Hollywood on his trusty Schwinn.
The Schwinn gets squished by a steamroller, so Kermit is left to walk. It’s a strange place he’s landed in, too, as a stop at the El Sleazo Cafe has customers chowing down on frog legs. It’s also owned by James Coburn, so there’s that.
Kermit meets Fozzie Bear, the backup entertainer for the El Sleazo. Fozzie wants to be a comedian so bad he can taste it, and jumps at the chance to go to Hollywood. He and Kermit pile into Fozzie’s uncle’s Studebaker.
There’s only one hitch in the proceedings: A Colonel Sanders-ish man named Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) wants Kermit to be the spokesman for his new chain of frog leg restaurants, and he won’t take no for an answer. His assistant, Max (Austin Pendleton) is a weak but sort of decent guy who’s just there to drive the getaway car.
Kermit and Fozzie are repulsed by Doc’s sales pitch and book it out of there, but it’s not the last they’ll see of Doc Hopper.
Our intrepid travelers drive and drive and drive until they reach what they think is a Presbyterian church, but upon entering find Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. The band bought the church to turn it into a coffeehouse. Naturally, they want to know what brings Kermit and Fozzie to their door, and what better way to bring them up to speed than handing them a script?
In case it isn’t abundantly clear by now, the fourth wall doesn’t just get broken in The Muppet Movie. It doesn’t even exist.
Dr. Teeth and Company read ahead and decide they need to help Kermit and Fozzie elude Doc Hopper, so they paint the Studebaker in colorful swirls and stars. It just so happens that a billboard up the road apiece has the exact same paint job and it comes in handy when Doc Hopper turns up again.
Speaking of turning up, Kermit and Fozzie convince more folks to come to Hollywood. No sooner do they shake Doc Hopper at the billboard than Gonzo and his trusty chicken, Camilla join them, and they all head to a county fair, where Miss Piggy has just won a beauty contest. She’s gaga for Kermit from the first glance, of course. Oh, and we get to see Milton Berle, Richard Pryor, Bob Hope, Elliot Gould, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy in the space of ten minutes.
And still Doc Hopper pursues Kermit. It’s a toss-up as to what’s getting Kermit to California faster–Hollywood calling or Hopper chasing him. Anyway, Hopper tries having Professor Max Krassman (Mel Brooks) give him what amounts to a lobotomy, then when that fails he brings in a guy who kills frogs. In the meantime, though, we get to see more guest stars and see more craziness. Since it’s the Muppets, we hear more music. Quite a bit of music, and again, it’s infectious, as my three-year old self discovered.
It’s really not a shock where these characters end up, but it’s fun to see them get there. What’s really surprising is who’s behind the desk at the movie studio they go to and what he says. It’s one line. Fifteen words. The impact is big.
One would think it’s easy to peg The Muppet Movie as being for kids, and it’s geared in that direction. The jokes in The Muppet Movie are straight out of vaudeville or at least worthy of it. Fozzie calls for “drinks on the house” at the El Sleazo, sending the bar patrons to the roof. A fork in a road is literally marked by…a fork in the road. Lots of puns, lots of the har-de-har kind of humor.
What takes the film to another level, though, is its overall look. As a kid, I didn’t really care about the cool tracking shots in the opening scene, or what a feat of puppetry it was to show Kermit riding a bike or playing a banjo in a swamp. Or Gonzo flying through the air holding on to a bunch of balloons. None of that mattered to three-year old me, but as an adult, I see the care taken in filming and appreciate it.
Other people thought so, too. The Muppet Movie was where the Henson Company showed they could do more than TV variety shows, and the film grossed over $76M at the box office. The critics found the film fascinating–Roger Ebert made a point of mentioning he was riveted by Kermit’s feet, although he mistakenly identified Kermit’s banjo as a ukelele.
A lot has changed in Hollywood in the forty years since the film premiered. Originality is at a premium, for one thing, but you all know my views on that. Plus, with the advent of social media, celebrities have lost some of their allure and the public has lost their innocence, so a movie with this many cameos doesn’t really happen anymore. Jim Henson died in 1990, and Matt Vogel now voices Kermit. Disney owns the Jim Henson Company. The Muppets are still in the movies, albeit they don’t have the punch that they used to, no doubt due to the fact that the original players are retiring or passing on themselves.
The 1979 film remains a classic, though. My son laughed his head off, and if we watch it enough, he may just drive people crazy with it like his mom used to.
Coming up in April:
If anyone sees something they’d like to get in on, here are the people to contact:
- Michaela at Love Letters To Old Hollywood (she’s also co-hosting the Fourth Golden Boy Blogathon)
- Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood
- Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema
- Emily at The Flapper Dame
- Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews
Thanks for reading, all, and see you next week with another Page To Screen…
The Muppet Movie is available to own on DVD from Amazon.