A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 90 – The Muppet Movie

The Muppet Movie – May 29th, 2010

Can you believe we have no Dennis Hopper movies? None. We checked. So we’ve made a note of that and will be rectifying it soon. Unfortunately that means we can’t honor him tonight by watching one of his movies. So we’re watching The Muppet Movie instead. A road trip movie about a frog with big dreams being chased by a fast food frog leg purveyor named Doc Hopper. Okay, I admit it, that’s a horrible non-connection to Dennis Hopper. I apologize. But that’s no reason not to watch this movie and enjoy it.

Much like The Great Muppet Caper, which was made after this one, the fourth wall is in a weird place with this movie. The conceit of it is that the movie you watch is also being watched by the Muppets and is the origin story for Kermit and Fozzie and Miss Piggy and Gonzo and Rolf and the Electric Mayhem and everyone else. The movie begins with the Muppets, Statler and Waldorf included, gathering together for a screening of the movie they’ve made. And so you and they settle in to watch it.

Kermit meets an agent in the swamp and with a little encouragement heads off to Hollywood to become rich and famous. Along the way he meets Fozzie, then the Electric Mayhem, then Gonzo and Camilla (who say that Hollywood is the easy way – Bombay, India is the way they’d do it – which makes me wonder why there isn’t a Bollywood Muppet movie yet), then Miss Piggy, then Rolf, and bit by bit the group forms as they cross the country. The villain, Doc Hopper, wants Kermit to be the spokesfrog for his frog leg restaurants but Kermit, of course, wants nothing to do with it. Doc Hopper, being a villain, decides he’s going to get Kermit one way or another and chases him through the movie, employing a mad scientist who is an expert in frog mind control and a frog bounty hunter amongst others. It’s ridiculous, of course, and while I’ve read in a few places that Kermit’s journey was supposed to be a loose reference to Jim Henson’s own life and the beginning of his career, I doubt he had a maniacal fast food king hunting him down for his legs.

Anyhow, Kermit and his rag tag bunch of dogs, pigs, chickens, bears and whatevers defeat Doc Hopper and make it to Hollywood where they’re signed to the “standard Rich and Famous contract” and make the movie about their journey. Whereupon they sing the closing number and Sweetums shows up and interrupts the screening, breaking the tenuous fourth wall (already made thin by numerous lines directed at the audience and a copy of the script handed to Dr. Teeth so he can catch up) and entering the theater. Now, I never saw this in the theater, but the movie geek in me finds that particular moment really awesome. There’s larger-than-life Sweetums crashing the movie and the theater and there you are, in the theater too! Awesome! You’re part of the whole thing, screening the movie with the Muppets!

The movie itself is full of the odd and pun-tastic Muppets humor that makes me love them so much. There are definitely lines from this that have entered our reference vocabulary (Beaker’s meeped “Sadly temporary” has become a sort of universal expression of regret and dismay for us) and jokes that will always make me laugh, no matter how inane. The music is fantastic, especially the Electric Mayhem numbers and Rainbow Connection and the guest stars are awesome, even if many of them wouldn’t be so easily recognizable to a younger audience today. Many of them had been on the original Muppet Show and I love that they came back for the movie, so who cares? The newer Muppet movies have newer celebrities. That’s just how it works. What I really love about the Muppets is that as a group, they’re relatively timeless. I mean, look at the Electric Mayhem. You’d think they’d seem dated, but they don’t. They exist in their own little bubble. And hey, in 1979 they were talking about converting a church into a coffee house with good music and organic food. Mellow and profitable. Gee, an organic coffee house with music? How very prescient. But the majority of the jokes don’t depend on the year or the decade. And the spirit of the movie isn’t dependent on it either. It’s just plain great to watch.

May 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

The Muppet Movie

May 29, 2010

The Muppet Movie

“What’s a Muppet?” “Well, it’s not quiet a mop, and it’s not quite a puppet but… in short: I don’t know.”

It’s hard to believe (as is asserted on the special features on this disk) that there was once a time when people doubted that the Muppets could sustain a feature length film. Sure they were okay on the small screen, but would people really pay to sit in a theater and watch a puppet show? Jim Henson believed they would, and as we all know Jim was a man who was adept at getting other people to share his vision.

A lot of effort has been made to make the movie a more cinematic experience than the TV show. There are wide establishing shots that provide the Muppets with lower extremities. There are outdoor locations. Muppets drive cars and ride bicycles. There are all kinds of tricks to make the Muppets into big screen stars, but what makes the movie great isn’t any of that. It’s the chemistry and camaraderie of the Muppets themselves that really makes the movie.

One of the great things Jim had a knack for was bringing together people who worked well with each other, and all of the performers here had two seasons of the show to get into their characters before they made the leap onto the big screen. So these are the Muppet performers at the absolute top of their game. Jim and Jerry and Richard and Frank and Dave and Steve… they have the patter and the spirit of the Muppets down so perfectly. The movie is full of fantastic moments, and fantastic writing.

The movie purports to be the tale of how the Muppets first got together. Which is a great concept, since there really was no back story to the show. There were all these performers in this dilapidated theater, but no real explanation for why they had gathered there. Most of the time in the movies when you’ve got an origin story it’s a well known tale (or maybe that’s just because I own so many comic book movies) so it’s nice to see an origin story that is actually all new. (Or was when this was filmed.) So cool is the idea of how all these weirdos met and became a sort of extended family that the next two Muppet movies mined much of the same territory.

This might well have been one of the first movies I ever saw in the theater all the way through. (Since I famously was never able to sit all the way through Star Wars on its first run.) As a child seeing this in the theater this was my introduction to a lot of big Hollywood stars. This was the first movie I saw Bob Hope in. And Steve Martin and Mel Brooks and Orson Welles. Which was always one of the great things about the variety hour format of the Muppets – all these people I had never heard of who wanted to work with them. In many ways I think my love for the movies in general probably started right here with this film.

And there’s so much magic here as well. Like the fantastic duet that Jim Henson has with himself when Kermit and Rowlf sing “Something Better” or the great scenery and silly puns of “Moving Right Along.” The “Rainbow Connection” song and reprise still give me goose-bumps. I really do think that Kermit’s desire to make millions of people happy was probably one of Jim Henson’s biggest motivating factors as well. Certainly it’s something I wish more people would aspire to.

Let me not forget the other true star of the whole movie: the fantastic music and songs of Paul Williams. The whole soundtrack is pure gold! Every single song is catchy and gets in your head and makes you smile. (Although the sappy “Never Before” song of Miss Piggy’s always made me roll my eyes, I can’t help but grin thinking of Frank Oz hitting those high notes.) Indeed while watching this movie I hit iTunes to see if I could grab the soundtrack and was bitterly disappointed to find it not there. If I don’t have the CD lying around the apartment somewhere I’m going to have to hit Amazon tonight. I can’t get the thunderous tunes of Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem out of my mind – and I don’t want to.

May 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment