A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 82 – The Great Muppet Caper

The Great Muppet Caper – May 21st, 2010

We had a little discussion and decided that the Muppet movies aren’t necessarily a single continuity, they just share a common cast and general universe. Also, we were in a Muppet mood tonight and couldn’t find the first movie. It’s around here somewhere, but we had this one sitting right on the rack in the bedroom. So in it went.

So, as this movie started and immediately had Kermit and Gonzo and Fozzie commenting on the appearance of the credits on the opening screens, I commented to Andy “Fourth wall? What fourth wall?” The fourth wall barely exists in this movie. It’s more like a very flimsy curtain that’s been tied back for the duration of the film. The weirdest thing about it is that breaking the fourth wall in this movie (or any Muppet movie) isn’t quite the same as in, say, a Mel Brooks movie. This is because the nature of the Muppets is that they’re not real. They’re puppets being controlled by people. Now, there was one instance in a Jim Henson tribute where the Muppets actually acknowledged the men underneath them, and in the Muppet Show pilot the camera pulls back at the end to show the entire set and rig, complete with puppeteers. In this movie, they fully acknowledge that they’re making a film, but they do so with the conceit that the Muppets are a film studio and that Miss Piggy and Kermit and everyone else are the actors playing the roles. Miss Piggy threatens to walk off the set. Kermit shouts that they’re trying to make a movie here! Granted, the human actors do it too, like when Diana Rigg tells Piggy the reason she’s explaining her family history is because the plot exposition has to go somewhere, but… wait. Hold on.

Diana Rigg!

Here is where I gush about my one brush with greatness: I’ve met Diana Rigg in person. Years back, my family had a passing acquaintance with someone who worked at PBS in Boston and we ended up with two invitations: To a tour of the studio in Boston and to the opening of an educational toy store called Learningsmith in the Chestnut Hill Mall (sadly, it’s gone now). The studio tour was great and we got to see all the various mini sets for the Mystery openers that Diana Rigg does. They told us she’d come in for two weeks, film a ton of them, then leave. And for those two weeks, the entire staff at the studio would have perfect posture because no one wanted to be caught slouching around Rigg. But she wasn’t there at the time. She was, however, there at the store opening. And after she gave a little speech and everyone started milling around, I shoved my way through the crowd and caught up to her and said hello and told her I was a big fan and she’d terrified me in Mother Love and I shook her hand. I love Diana Rigg. Love her enormously. So I’m thrilled to see her in this movie. She gets some wonderful moments and lines and I love her so much.

But back to the movie itself. It’s bizarre. It’s this heist plot, with a team of thieves stealing the jewels of Lady Holiday, a fashion maven from London (Diana Rigg, eeeeee!) and Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo heading to London to try and interview Lady Holiday and track down the thieves. It’s made clear from the outset that the thieves are Lady Holiday’s no good brother and a trio of models. The models are pissed off that Lady Holiday insulted them (and I really want Tyra Banks to base an episode or even a season of America’s Next Top Model off of this movie), and the brother? Well, he’s doing it for much the same reason Don John was a jackass in Much Ado About Nothing: Because he’s the villain and that’s what villains do. Anyhow, Miss Piggy gets involved by pretending to be Lady Holiday when she’s really just a receptionist and ends up the unwitting scapegoat for the robberies (by then there’s been another one). Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo, along with the residents of the Happiness Hotel (apparently there are a lot of hillbillies staying in London and they all live there along with the Electric Mayhem) team up to go catch the real thieves in the act of stealing Lady Holiday’s most valuable diamond. There are several strange and technically impressive musical numbers, one of which involves the Muppets on bicycles and another of which is a synchornized swimming routine starring Miss Piggy. And there are some amusing-if-odd cameos, such as a whole section with John Cleese as a thoroughly unflappable upper class gentleman whose home Miss Piggy and Kermit invade. Jim Henson even shows up for a moment in a restaurant scene, getting his picture taken by Gonzo.

It’s really just a whole lot of Muppet weirdness, which is what Muppets do best, in feature length, set in London, with fancy musical numbers. And don’t get me wrong, I’m thoroughly impressed by the musical bits. The two I mentioned above are amazing to watch. We’ve got a very nice coffee table book about Jim Henson that shows the rig they used for the bicycle scene and it’s brilliant. But it’s not so much Muppet weirdness as it is puppet brilliance. Gorgeous technical achievement, but it kind of slows things down a little. Because the bits in between, with Gonzo enjoying getting his nose stuck in an elevator door, and Gonzo being excited about being thrown out of an airplane, and Gonzo doing a photo essay on kneecaps, and the running gag about Kermit and Fozzie being identical twins, and the entire Happiness Hotel? Those are the Muppets I love. Charles Grodin, as the no good brother, falling for Miss Piggy and being torn about framing her? Diana Rigg commenting on Piggy’s lack of facial expressions? The newspaper editor in the beginning having been friends with a bizarre cross between Kermit and Fozzie (their characters’ father within the plot of the movie)? That’s all well within the realm of the Muppets. And musical numbers are certainly a Muppet staple, but they tend to be a little different than these. These are bizarre because they’re over the top. Not because they’re Muppet numbers. It’s like Kermit tells Elke Sommer when she’s performing Animal Crackers In My Soup and can’t seem to get the right tone down: “That’s not the way that we would do it.” And then they bring out the weirdness.

May 21, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

The Great Muppet Caper

May 21, 2010

The Great Muppet Caper

We felt the need for more Muppets tonight. Since we couldn’t find the first Muppet Movie, and since there’s really no connection between the movies aside from having Muppets in them, we decided to watch the second Muppet movie. The Great Muppet Caper is an extremely strange mix of running gags, big name cameos and musical numbers. In that way it’s like a movie-length one of the more high concept television show episodes. It’s a lot of weirdness thrown at the screen all at once and it ends up feeling a little overwhelming.

The musical numbers in particular are way over the top into the realm of the bizarre. Whereas other Muppet movies feature a sort of pop styling or the frenetic feel of craziness that is the mark of Muppets in general this movie has huge choreographed dance numbers that pay homage to Busby Berkley and Esther Williams. The opening number has a very Broadway feel to it, then there’s the big top-hat and tie number “The First Time You See Her” and the synchronized swimming bit with Miss Piggy. Oh and the giant and impossibly complex marionette bicycling number. It’s all huge, complex and silly. The one number I really love is “Happiness Hotel” which feels like a regular Muppet routine – somewhat like “Can You Picture That” from the first Muppet Movie.

The human performers have a slightly bigger part here as well than in the first Muppet movie. Particularly Diana Rigg and Charles Grodin. Of course when I first saw this I had no idea who Diana Rigg was (or Peter Ustinov or Peter Falk or Charles Grodin for that matter.) My favorite cameo was the very oddly paced bit with John Cleese since I was already a Monty Python fan when I got my chance to see this in the theater. (I would have been nine at the time.) But now, seeing the movie again, it’s fun to see all these big-name actors hamming it up with a bunch of puppets. Which was always part of the appeal of the Muppets. But the humans are largely unnecessary to the true humor.

Indeed the movie is at its best, in my opinion, when the Muppets are left to their own devices. Sure, there’s a lot of technical wizardry such as the remote-control Muppets floating in the pond then they first land in England and the aforementioned bike number (which involved a huge and complex marionette rig) but the little touches like Gonzo scooting out of their booth at the Dubonney club (more of a supper club than a restaurant) or Kermit picking up the glass slipper are the ones I enjoy. Clever bits of simple puppetry and misdirection.

I feel like Gonzo gets all the best lines here. His particular brand of masochistic fun is very well represented. “I’d like to try this without the balloon.” “It’s alright – I landed on my head.” “Yeah, it’s great when it works.” and “You gotta get your nose in here.” But there are plenty of fun Muppet moments that bring the humor the way you’d hope they would. Things like the Muppets going down their checklist before attempting to foil the villain’s dastardly scheme, or the final confrontation/baseball game. I kind of wish there was more zany madcap humor and less big-budget Hollywood glitz.

Altogether I do like this movie, but I sometimes feel like I am enjoying it in spite of itself. It’s trying so very hard that many times it misses the mark, but when it relaxes and just lets the Muppets perform it’s a joy.

May 21, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment