How would I ideally want to die? Well obviously, the same way Rose went at the end of Titanic, old without any real quality of life left to go longer fruitfully. Now, imagine a movie based on my final days. Now, compare that to the immortal Muppets, who never have to worry about answering such a question. Which sounds more appealing to you?
Ever since this family musical of 1979, eight more Muppet movies have been spawned in theaters, and there could be more to come very soon. Despite the clever crew behind these famous nonexistent celebrities, The Muppet Movie gives the wrong motivation about what life is all about. It’s not so much about purpose as it is about simply enjoying itself without having to worry about the day it’ll croak.
Kermit and the gang always feel so alive without the reality of human controllers beneath them, except this scenario of the Muppets leaving their stage on TV to enter the human world reveals where the illusion is lost. For one, when Gonzo flies on balloons, his lips remain stationary while his head moves like a robot toy. While Kermit rides a bike, it tempts you to chuckle. Laughing at those bad special effects could make the picture more ironically enjoyable, but not so much with the lack of real friendship between Kermit and Fozzie, or the lack of real romance between Kermit and Miss Piggy. Handling the characters only gets more chaotic as the road movie plot goes on. It starts with Kermit, then Fozzie, then Gonzo, then Miss Piggy, then Rowlf, then Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, then Bunsen Honeydew with Beaker, and every other Muppet appears here, there, and everywhere.
Each of these colorful critters has a certain talent Hollywood craves to a much greater extent than the exaggerated caricature-ish celebrities that are seen throughout the adventure. Kermit plays a banjo better than Steve Martin makes people laugh. Bunsen Honeydew invents useless inventions better than Edger Bergen throws his voice. Miss Piggy is more passionate about fame and fortune than any actress ever was or will be. Following Kermit as he leads his new friends across the country is an evil businessman who sells frog legs; he wants to use Kermit’s talent to sell more frog legs, and will use every means to get him. In the villain’s silly endeavors, he hires an evil German scientist that acts straight out of a cartoon, hires a bounty hunter, and he even resorts to murder (clearly, he didn’t think through any of these decisions).
I understand that’s the film’s intended tone, but come on. This is a movie, not a comedy show. There needs to be more depth to it, otherwise negative stereotypes could rub on audiences the wrong way, as is done here. Appropriate to the amplified craziness of every human that appears in the film, the racist undertones are upsettingly strong, the “El Sleezo Café” has just about every international wardrobe stereotype you could think of, and the trend continues out on the road with the random inclusion of a Canadian park ranger. Oh, and a woman’s allergy to fur is also played for laughs.
The flaws are indeed everywhere, but the lack of focus on the humans ironically allows space for the puppeteers to emphasize the hilarious verbal gags. Frank Oz in particular seems to have the most fun on the job, his comedic timing as both Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy never misses a beat, from a “drinks on the house” pun to some intentionally bad singing. The same goes to Jim Henson’s work, as the emotions he conveys in the puppets he controls always land on point, you just got to love Kermit’s “distraught” face as the fingers inside the puppet head clinch! Heck, notice the tight conditions the crew worked in: the tampered sets, the cramped spaces, the tricky special effects shots, the different problems they worked around, you never notice all that hard work! A real magic thrives behind having those tangible items brought to life on a stage, as opposed to our modern CGI; it’s a type of work that makes the “Can You Picture That” song so rockin’! Yet building the sets specific to hiding the puppeteers proves here to be a drawback too, as it’s obvious that many of these locations are studio sets, particularly Kermit’s swamp. Other props and set pieces, such as a (literal) fork in the road and a bunch of cheap painted billboards, look straight out of Pee-Wee’s playhouse.
Aside from the puppeteering, everything about this production is driven by the constant jokes, not just the puns or the running gags, but those that defy any expectation or logic. A majority of the humor works great as your funny bone gets struck right away when the Muppets enter their private screening for this very movie. Yet right after the series of one-liners, the opening titles commence, and you get a chance to slow down to the sweet performance of “The Rainbow Connection.” Most of the other jokes after that rely on celebrity cameos; the only ones I personally recognized were Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, Big Bird, Steve Martin, and Orson Welles. If I recognized everybody, I’d be dead of laughter by the clever context behind how they’re cast, as I could tell by the ones I recognized; Steve Martin’s appearance proved why he was among pop culture’s funniest comedians at the time, while those by Orson Welles and Big Bird were particularly clever given their career accomplishments. But if you’re younger than forty like me, then the cameos would mostly just fly right over your head.
Once the chaos settles down, The Muppet Movie finally says, “life’s a movie, write your own ending,” and only says that because Kermit and friends all got what they wanted in the end. In real life though, Shyamalan twists are thrown when you least expect it. Don’t get me wrong, we should still respect Jim Henson’s legacy for stepping up the puppetry game in media, yet we also should not overestimate the Muppet’s silly, cute little big screen debut, because at the end of the day, there’s nothing else to it besides that.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!