Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 16, 2020)
For many folks of my generation, the Muppets maintain a nice place in our memories. After all, 50-somethings like myself were among the first to be reared on these puppets.
The Muppets followed us through our lives; just when we got too old for Sesame Street, along came The Muppet Show to provide more sophisticated entertainment.
I recall feeling excited when they released The Muppet Movie in 1979. I can even recall exactly when I saw the flick, as my family and I went to a showing on Christmas Day 1979.
I loved the film so much that I quickly blew some Christmas cash on a Fozzie the Bear puppet. This meant that many cries of “wocka wocka” were heard throughout my house during that vacation.
Boy, was that a long time ago! I felt happy to check out the movie once more with its release on Blu-ray, though I also encountered a little anxiety. As I noted when I reviewed both 1974’s The Towering Inferno and 1978’s Jaws 2, it can be perilous to revisit childhood faves.
While The Muppet Movie doesn’t engender memories as strong as those I have for the other two flicks, I still remember it fondly, and I worried I’d not care for it today.
Although I didn’t adore Muppet on this latter-day screening, I still thought it was a fairly entertaining experience. The film purports to tell how the Muppets got together.
Actually, it’s a movie within a movie, as we see the gathered grouping of characters begin to watch Muppet at the film’s start. From there, it’s a mostly-uninterrupted view of the “factual” proceedings.
Early on, a talent scout (Dom DeLuise) gets lost in Kermit’s swamp, but before he departs, he tells our favorite melancholy amphibian that he’d be a natural in show biz. As such, Kermit (voiced and manipulated by Jim Henson) sets out to make his name in the world, and as he travels to Hollywood, he encounters a mix of new friends.
There’s Fozzie the Bear (Frank Oz), Miss Piggy (Oz), Gonzo (Dave Goelz), piano-playing Rowlf (Henson), the Dr. Teeth Band, and a slew of others, most of which accompany Kermit on his trip.
Not all is happy, however, as a nasty businessman pursues Kermit every step of the way. Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) owns a chain of frogs’ legs restaurants, and he wants Kermit to act as spokes-frog.
For obvious reasons, Kermit has philosophical objections to such a role, and he declines. Unfortunately, Hopper won’t give up easily, so he uses all sorts of nefarious means to get his frog.
You’ll earn no points if you guess that all will eventually end well. Actually, the movie lets you know this in advance.
Since the entire story is essentially a retelling of past events, we know that Kermit and the gang will make it to Hollywood and become big stars. It’s the journey that’s the entertaining part, and it indeed is often fun to watch the crew make their trip to fame.
As with most Muppet productions, most of the charm found in Muppet comes from the performances of the puppeteers. Henson, Oz and the others had operated their charges for many years by the time Muppet rolled around, so they clearly were comfortable in the parts. I suppose the pressure of a major motion picture may have created new demands, but they handled them well.
One nice thing about good Muppet productions is that they can be entertaining for both kids and adults. The entire event proceeds in a fairly simple, innocent manner that keeps it very kid-friendly, but the crew make sure that there’s a mild irreverence and nuttiness that adds interest for adults.
Actually, one of the film’s nods to the adult audience becomes a burden during Muppet. You’ll find a stunning roster of talent via cameos.
Brace yourself, for here they come: Edgar Bergen, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, DeLuise, Elliott Gould, Bob Hope, Madeline Kahn, Carol Kane, Cloris Leachman, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Telly Savalas, Orson Welles, and Paul Williams. Of course, many of these names were bigger than others, but that’s still an insanely long list of stars to pack into this brief feature.
Some of them genuinely add to the film. Martin’s bit as a snide waiter seems fun, and some of the others bring decent bits as well.
However, the entire enterprise becomes a bit tiresome after a while. This blunts the impact of the cameos, as virtually anytime we see a Muppet request the attention of a human, we’d then view a person with his/her back turned to the camera.
After that, the human makes his/her identity known, and we’d go wow! Orson Welles! Or whoever. This seems interesting for the first few cameos, but after that, I really begin wish that the celebrities would disappear from the project.
Despite that issue, I still find The Muppet Movie to provide a generally enjoyable experience. The movie lacks great depth or humor, but it becomes largely witty and compelling, as the gentle irreverence of the Muppets remains a solid source of entertainment. Other Muppet programs top it - such as the terrific “Muppetvision” show at DisneyWorld - but this nonetheless turns into a charming ride.