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The Muppet Movie

Time to Light The Lights: 3 Showstopping Muppet Movies

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It is undeniable that Jim Henson’s Muppets changed the world. Before him, no one had ever thought of puppets that weren’t controlled by strings. Not only that, but the characters appealed to children and adults. The puppets were well designed, able to convey emotion just by manipulating their mouths, and they didn’t talk down to kids. Unlike other children’s shows of the era, where the characters were overly cartoony or annoying, like Captain Kangaroo or Lamb Chop, the Muppets sounded more human. This month at The Frida, we are honoring Henson’s timeless legacy with the 1979 film, The Muppet Movie, and to celebrate, here is my list of the top three Muppet movies.

The Muppet Christmas CarolThe Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Some may say that this is not the best version of Dickens’ tale to come to the screen, but I would argue that not only is The Muppet Christmas Carol a great adaptation, but it is also the best Muppet movie ever made. At the very least, it is totally unforgettable. Not only that, but it is a great introduction to the story for young viewers. We are flooded with retellings of A Christmas Carol, and in many ways this film is more faithful to the source material than versions with a live action cast. The Muppets have a unique blend of humor that is wacky but at the same time dry and understated, and therefore combining that style with the Victorian tale of dread that is A Christmas Carol makes it an absurdist masterpiece. The story is not sacrificed just because the characters have been replaced by Muppets; it is honest and heartfelt, with catchy songs from Paul Williams that the whole family will sing.

The rewatchability factor of this movie is unmatched. What Christmas is complete without it? Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge is an inspired choice; he plays the character as seriously as a heart attack despite being surrounded by singing Muppets. He sells you on the narrative of what otherwise might be a silly movie. He elevates it through his performance. And will there ever be as brilliant of a decision to make Gonzo play Charles Dickens? By having the recognizable Muppets play characters like Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and Jacob Marley, the film is filled with Henson’s trademark cartoon wizardry. Not only do familiar characters grace the screen, but the new faces we see in this movie are also equally stunning. Christmas Past and Christmas Present are some of the most beautiful puppets I have ever seen, and I will always get shivers down my spine when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come appears.

Muppets 1 Sht V4.inddThe Muppets (2011)

In an era where remakes have repeatedly let us down, The Muppets just got something right. It follows Walter, the world’s biggest Muppet fan, and his brother Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) on a trip to Los Angeles, where they discover that the greedy Tex Richman plans to destroy the Muppet Studio to drill for oil. The three have to reunite Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the gang to raise money to save the studio. With the Muppets’ trademark tongue-in-cheek humor, the film weaves the revival of the series by explaining the Muppets’ absence from the public eye into the narrative. Remakes can be mean-spirited, making fun of the content they are based on, like they aren’t reliant on their existence. The Muppets, on the other hand, is a tenderly crafted love letter that fans have waited for for years and delivers on that message strongly. It was a genius idea to make Walter a fan of the Muppets; in doing so, he represents the audience. The movie is not overly sentimental. Instead, it is less about nostalgia and more about a comeback.

While we don’t see iconic cast members like Frank Oz or Jerry Nelson return, you can tell that Segel and Nicholas Stroller, who produced the film, are enthusiastic about the franchise and genuinely love it. By directly being about Walter trying to save the Muppets’ studio, it speaks to the devotion to the Jim Henson creations. Not only does it delight returning fans, but it also wins new ones! I think part of the strength of this movie is due to Segel and Adams completely surrendering themselves to their roles, the same way that Michael Caine did in Christmas Carol. The human actors make the movies convincing. Nowhere better does this shine through than when Segal and Peter Linz as Walter perform the moving power ballad that is “Man or Muppet.”

The Muppet MovieThe Muppet Movie (1979)

This might be controversial (especially because it’s behind the remake) but I have my reasons for ranking The Muppet Movie third. I didn’t want to give it a pass for nostalgia reasons, but at the same time, I don’t want the placement to reflect my esteem for this film. Unlike The Muppets Christmas Carol, I don’t find myself reaching for this one when I’m in the mood to revisit the Muppets, but this movie is undeniably a classic. For me, this was my introduction to Henson, and it remains in my opinion the most accessible Muppet movie, and I hope it will continue to inspire future generations to find that rainbow connection. And every time I see Kermit riding a bike, I gasp. It is like magic.

A genesis for the Muppets, it follows Kermit the Frog, played by Jim Henson, as he travels from Florida to California in pursuit of a movie career, and along the way he meets Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Electric Mayhem, and Rowlf. They are relentlessly hunted by Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), who wants to use Kermit to advertise his fried frog legs chain, and the gang must face him if they ever hope to be free. With iconic songs by Williams again, the film is a self-aware romp, playing on movie clichés, and challenging the formula it employs.

If there is one word to describe this movie, it is “pure.” There is not a trace of scathing cynicism to it. Kermit’s story is not about a quick path to success, rather it is about giving back. Doc Hopper represents exploitation and greed; he would use Kermit up for a brief moment of stardom. Show business and fame often require a person to give up themselves. Kermit literally could sacrifice his life if he works for Hopper, but Kermit’s sense of wonder overcomes any self-interest. Kermit does not need the other characters, rather they need him. Fozzie, Gonzo, Electric Mayhem, Rowlf, even Miss Piggy with all her glitz and glamor, are all stuck until they meet Kermit. His hope renews them. Kermit is the gifted one, and yet he is always openhearted and sharing with them. He inspires them.

I am reminded of the words from “The Rainbow Connection”: “Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me.” The operative word is “we”; the journey can only be completed together. That is the ultimate message of the film, coming together to bring joy to the world, and in a way that is the story of the Henson Studio. Part of the integrity of Henson’s work is the sense of community, that people came together because of a vision that spoke to them. To this day, Henson teaches us that art is empty without community.

The Muppet Movie screens starting Monday, August 21st.
Monday, Aug 21 – 1pm, 3pm
Tuesday, July 22 – 1pm, 3pm
Wednesday, Aug 23 – 1pm, 3pm
Thursday, Aug 24 – 1pm, 3pm, 9:45pm



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