Revisiting The Muppets

There was one scene in 2011’s The Muppets that summed up the best parts of the entire franchise. In the movie, the Muppets have disbanded and Kermit (along with Jason Segel, his Muppet brother Walter, and Amy Adams) set out to reunite the old gang for one last show to save the Muppet studios from an evil oil baron. Their first stop is to pick up Kermit’s long time right hand man, bear Fozzie in Reno. Always willing to do anything for attention, Fozzie is cashing in on his past success by fronting a Muppet tribute band called The Moopets. Instead of singing Muppet classics, though, the group has adapted “Rainbow Connection” to an advertisement for the Reno hotel and Ms. Piggy, Rowlf, and Animal are played by imposters. It’s probably like going to a depressing concert by a ‘70s titan like Styx in 2012. There’s only one original member remaining and it’s not much more than a soulless cash grab. But Fozzie is perfect for the role as a lounge singer and in the scene he somehow catches everything that’s great about the Muppets. The scene itself is self-referential, earnest, has a great celebrity cameo (Dave Grohl as Animool), and is flat out hysterical.

The Muppets has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and as of Monday has grossed almost $90 million domestically. It’s easy to see why. We’re living in a golden age of comedy right now, but much of it is jaded and sarcastic. The Muppets was so refreshing because it’s different. Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, and the rest of the group are never mean, always corny, and constantly they’re making movies. The whole first part of the newest movie is about how they’re not famous anymore. It’s one big wink to the audience and the first three movies are just as funny.

The Muppet Movie debuted in 1979. It’s about Kermit travelling from his home in the swamp to Los Angeles to start a career in show business. Along the way he teams up with Fozzie (who, by  the way, is kind of a hack when it comes to jokes), the Great Gonzo, and everyone else. When Kermit meets Ms. Piggy it’s hard to watch with the knowledge that she’ll one day control his whole life. It’s like remembering a friend who slowly bows to a psychotic girlfriend. I wanted to tell Kermit to get out before its too late, but of course he would never have listened.

If it’s sad to picture a college student rushing home to watch The Muppet Movie it only gets worse. When “Movin’ Right Along” started coming out of my TV speakers I started bopping my head like a little kid. I have to admit I had my doubts about this “project” but they evaporated when I remembered how great the songs the Muppets sing are. This one is quickly becoming one of the most played songs on my iPod:

Re-watching the Muppets with a knowledge of pop culture and 10 or so more years of life experience has only enhanced the franchise for me, which makes my life a whole lot sadder. It’s easy to appreciate the celebrity cameos in every movie (Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, and Steve Martin just in the original film) and see the deeper meaning behind the jokes. They’re definitely kids movies, but are easy to appreciate for adults. I mean, could The Electric Mayhem possibly have been bigger stoners?

“Can You Picture That?” would have fit perfectly onto ‘70s radio between Steely Dan and ELO. Now that you mention it, I really can’t think of a more hippie-esque job than coming up with Muppets and joking around with them. It sounds like a blast and as much as he was a genius, Jim Henson definitely wouldn’t look out of place in a stoner sweater.

The Great Muppet Caper was the only Muppet movie directed by Henson. The Muppet Movie would lead you to believe that a sequel could never be as good, instead the opening credits guarantee you’re in for another great ride. Fozzie wonders how much longer the credit scene will last and Gonzo considers jumping out of the hot air balloon their riding in. Poor old Kermit has to deal with these idiots for another hour and a half? Yep, and he does it without complaining once. Our green friend isn’t always such a pushover, though, at one point he tells Ms. Piggy (who by this point is nothing short of abusive, frankly) she’s overreacting and even tells off Peter Falk at one point. This scene is by far the funniest in the whole movie:

After a weekly show and two golden comedy movies you’d think the Muppets would be running out of steam. Would the Great Gonzo finally get hurt in one of his daredevil stunts? Would someone in the Electric Mayhem overdose? Would Ms. Piggy really go over the line when she loses her cool and kill one of the minor Muppet characters? No, no, and no. The Muppets Take Manhattan is the third movie Henson and co. released. The plot is the most appropriate out of the three, with the Muppets trying to put on a Broadway show. That’s the most natural plot for the Muppets because they basically are a Broadway show.

The plan (naturally) hits a snag so the group splits up into opposite directions. Ms. Piggy spends her time spying on Kermit and getting catcalled by construction workers (has that ever worked?). Fozzie tries hibernating with other bears. He eventually gets bored and writes to Kermit saying, “Dear Kermit, Wakka wakka wakka. But seriously, my job hasn’t turned out so great so I’ve decided to hibernate.”

I suppose there’s something particularly sad about a (kind of) adult male not only watching 4 of the Muppet movies in just over a week, but writing 1000 words about it as well. But it’s easy to recognize the comic genius behind a bunch of people making funny voices and getting paid gobs of money to play with puppets. It’s been just as fun as depressing.

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One Response to Revisiting The Muppets

  1. Pingback: There’s a “Fraggle Rock” movie in the works | When You Put It That Way

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