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Some things are just timeless. When Jim Henson created Kermit the Frog decades ago, I'm sure he was hardly expecting the little green fella to become a universally recognized symbol of children's entertainment. But even a decade or more after his death, Henson's Muppets are still breathing as heartily as ever, with tons of properties still grabbing the interest of fans of all ages. Sesame Street is still the most popular children's show on television worldwide, Disney is still pumping out Muppet-based feature films, and there's even an action figure line that has become one of the hottest properties for adult collectors. But nearly a quarter century ago, Henson and his crew took a very bold move by expanding their Muppet Show television variety series into a full-length theatrical feature. And to this day, it remains one of the most fun kids' movies out there.
I'll admit it: I'm biased toward the Muppets. If there's one thing that Chad and I will always agree on, it's the love we share for the visions of Jim Henson. I grew up with them, and seem to remember THE MUPPET MOVIE as one of my earliest theatrical experiences. So yeah, I'm going to have a little bit more of a soft spot when going into Muppety goodness. I rarely go more than a couple of years at a time without rewatching the original MUPPET MOVIE. Over the past weekend, I got my chance to see it again, and once again realized why it's just so brilliant.
Sure, it's dated. But what movie released in 1979 isn't going to be? Even so, I'd bet money that if you gave a kid today the choice of watching this movie or the latest AIR BUD sequel, they'd choose the Muppets 9 out of 10 times. And the real beauty of the film is that you just can't outgrow it. There's enough jokes in the movie that work for all ages, there's the fun celebrity cameos, and there's a real heart to it.
The movie was obviously inspired a bit by THE WIZARD OF OZ, which is apparent in the rainbow imagery and the travels of Kermit the Frog as he makes his way toward Hollywood. Along the way, he meets up with some familiar faces: Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and his chicken ladyfriend Camilla, Rowlf the Dog, and of course, Kermit's love interest, Miss Piggy. Meanwhile, he's being chased down by his own wicked witch, the proprietor of a chain of Frog Leg eateries named Doc Hopper, who is determined to make Kermit his national spokesfrog. Along the way, they run into adventures until finally arriving at their destination and being offered up the "Standard Rich and Famous Contract". "Gettin' there is half the fun", as Fozzie and Kermit sing in "Movin' Right Along", and that's apparent in the fun little road trip that fills this movie.
Of course, the primary Muppet players take the main stage here, but there's plenty of room for some lesser-known Muppets, including some of my personal favorites: Sweetums, who has a funny recurring gag (as well as one of the best lines in the movie); Lew Zealand, master of the Boomerang Fish; the always-amusing Swedish Chef; and of course, Crazy Harry.
Now, about Crazy Harry: I was noticing this while watching the film recently, and it strikes me odd that I never really paid attention to it before: Crazy Harry is a terrorist. Seriously. I don't know if it was intended or not, but there's no way that this character would get by the PC groups today. I mean, just look at the guy: Olive skin, untamed black hair, thick black beard, always blowing shit up...this guy's Al Qaeda, I swear. Perhaps Jim Henson was a clairvoyant.
Anyway, that's all beside the point. The point here is that all your favorite muppets are bound to be represented, regardless of how small their role is on the show. A lot of these characters are worked in with the "screening" of the same movie we're watching, which is a neat way of breaking with the traditional filmmaking method that has since been used several other times. Another clever trick involves the actual screenplay of the movie being read by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem as a way to catch up to the action, including some screenwriting terms that shoot right over the younger set's head and directly to the older crowd, showing the appeal to all ages. Teeth and company show up later in the film as a result of them having the screenplay in hand, which serves as another clever little trick with the audience. The film's smarter than it needs to be, and that's ok by me.
And of course, there's the always-entertaining bezy of big-time celebrity cameos. Missed 'em? Here's the big list:
Dom Deluise as the Hollywood agent who convinces Kermit to leave the swamp; Mel Brooks as the brainwashing professor Max Krassman; Milton Berle as used car salesman Madman Mooney; James Coburn as the owner of the El Sleezo Cafe; Elliot Gould as the beauty contest emcee; Bob Hope as an ice cream vendor; Richard Pryor as a pushy balloon salesman; Madeline Kahn as a barfly; Telly Savalas as her tough-guy beau; Carol Kane as the lady Kermit keeps accidentally calling upon; Steve Martin as a rather insolent waiter; Edgar Bergen as himself; Cloris Leachman as an allergic secretary; and of course, the one and only Orson Welles as big-time Hollywood producer Lew Lord.
The cameos help make the film memorable to the adult crowd as well. Some of them even belong on a list of memorable movie moments as well. Premiere Magazine recently did an article on the top 100 most memorable scenes in movies, and I was really disappointed that the encounter with Martin's waiter or the brush with Welles' producer didn't make the big list. Hell, even the early vision of Kermit the Frog riding a bicycle has got with you more than any scene out of god damn GLADIATOR.
So yeah, this movie all kind of rules. And I may have a Muppet soft spot that makes me a little biased, but as far as I'm concerned, anyone who disses the Muppets or THE MUPPET MOVIE is a philistine. Sure, the majority of the movie is performed by hunks of felt with hands up their asses, but it's still better-acted than a lot of films starring flesh-and-blood thespians. And like I mentioned before, it's just fun. If you don't catch yourself singing "Rainbow Connection" from time to time, then you have no soul.
Sure, there have been several other Muppet-starring feature films, but as far as I'm concerned, this one is the best. If I gave star ratings, I'd give this four out of four.
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