Monday, April 30, 2018

Movie #455: The Muppet Movie

The Muppet Movie is, of course, the first feature-length movie starring the Muppets. It stars Muppet performers (Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, and David Goelz), Charles Durning, Austin Pendelton, and a shitload of celebrity cameos.

The storyline is, as Kermit the Frog says, "sort of approximately" how the Muppets got together. Kermit gets the notion in his head from a Hollywood agent (Dom Deluise) that he could go to Hollywood and become rich and famous. He sets off on a road trip across the country (it's not clear where he starts), and along the way picks up Fozzie, Rowlf, Piggy, Gonzo (with his best chicken Camilla), the Electric Mayhem, Bunsen, and Beaker. The main opposition they face, of course, is Doc Hopper (Durning), who wants Kermit to be his mascot for his fried frog leg fast food restaurant and is quite willing to kill him to underline the point. Of course, in typical Muppet fashion, that plot gets resolved by Kermit delivering an inspiring speech about love and friendship...and then (effectively), "We have a Hulk." (OK, really, it's Animal after eating a bunch of deus ex machina pills, but whatever.)

What I think is interesting, though, is that when Doc Hopper bows out of the narrative, there's still ~25 minutes of movie left, and a lot of the time is devoted to Kermit and friends getting to Hollywood, getting a movie contract, and then making the Muppet Movie-within-a-movie. And all of this is set at a screening of the movie, which the Muppets are watching, and they break the fourth wall like crazy.

It's got a lot of the same tongue-in-cheek theater-stories vibe as the TV show, but has obviously been softened for kids a bit. The celeb cameos include some beloved comedians, but some of them, um, aren't always terribly family friendly (Richard Pryor is not someone you bring the kids to see, and Madeline Khan is doing Lily von Schtupp in her cameo). But that's fine, because it really looks like everyone here is having fun, and the central message of the movie - you entertain people because it makes you and them happy, and that kind of thing gets more fun as you share - is evident through the whole thing. (Although apparently it wasn't a happy set, because the director wasn't a Muppet insider.)

I have to mention the songs, of course; "Rainbow Connection" and "Movin' Right Along" are iconic, but "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday" is the one that speaks to me; Gonzo being fascinated and wistful. I don't want to psychoanalyze Muppets too much, but Gonzo has a vulnerability there that I think is sweet and endearing.

I still want a biopic about Rowlf that shows his rise and fall and how he wound up playing piano in a hotel bar, though.

My Grade: A
Rewatch Value: High

Next up: The Muppets