Today! Because you share a love so big, I now pronounce you Frog and Pig –
The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
Directed by Frank Oz (x2)
Starring Jim Henson, Frank Oz (x6), Dave Goelz (x4), Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson (x4), Steve Whitmire (x4), Juliana Donald, Lonny Price, Louis Zorich (x3), Art Carney (x2), Dabney Coleman (x2), Liza Minnelli, Joan Rivers (x2), Linda Lavin, Gregory Hines (x2), James Coco (x4), John Landis, Karen Prell (x2), Brooke Shields, Frances Bergen, Ed Koch, Gates McFadden
The first Muppet film I saw in theaters – Time tunnel shoutout to four-and-a-half-year-old Joe! – The Muppets Take Manhattan was also the last big screen adventure for Kermit and the gang until 1992, and the last time they would appear as their established characters in film for 15 years. This is also probably the Muppet film I’ve seen the most – it being the newest one when I was a kid and it feeling very much of the ’80s gave it the slight edge over the two earlier films.
I never think of the first three Muppet films as a trilogy, even though I guess in some ways they are. I mean, plot-wise, they aren’t connected whatsoever – but they are still the same characters performed by the same people, doing very similar stuff. I mean, the Toy Storys build on each other a little bit, but they are all pretty separate adventures, too, and that’s definitely a trilogy. The first Muppet outing was an origin story, the second is the standalone journalism/heist caper, and this one sees them graduate from college and try to put on a Broadway show. That, in a lot of ways, feels like one complete tale. Hell, Kermit and Piggy get (sorta) married in the end! That’s a capper to the journey! Plus, Jim Henson lived another six years and didn’t get another film together – that tells me they wanted these to stand together as a trilogy. You know what? From now on, this is the first Muppet trilogy! Christmas Carol, Treasure Island, and weirdly From Space function as the second, very loosely cobbled together Gonzo-led trilogy, and we’re still one movie short of a third modern trilogy. Get it together, Disney!
This one is aging a little worse than the earlier films, though. Even though it was unquestionably my favorite as a kid, watching it now it falls up a little short. The songs aren’t quite what they were – not to take anything away from the solid Jeff Moss efforts “Saying Goodbye,” “Together Again,” and “Somebody’s Getting Married” (which yes, played at my own wedding), but Paul Williams’ brilliant Muppet Movie soundtrack and Joe Raposo’s incredibly fun Great Muppet Caper tunes win out, hands down. Also, it never proves as entertaining when they stick a Muppet with humans for long stretches. This movie splitting the gang up and leaving Kermit to sell the show for the entire middle act – while giving Kermit tons of fun material – scuttles the Muppetiness of things for far too long. Keep this in mind for the new film you better be planning, guys!
None of this is to take away from the greatness of the third Muppet film, and their second big screen “Let’s put on a show” attempt. The postcard sequences from the gang out of town are terrific – particularly Rowlf working at the kennel and Gonzo’s daredevil water skiing act – as is Piggy’s memorable roller skate mugger chase through Central Park. Hell, Kermit’s strange amnesiac interlude working at the marketing firm is pretty entertaining in and of itself. “Ocean Breeze will get you clean.” I just get preemptively defensive about why all the Muppet films aren’t at the top of this list. I have other interests, you know!
This was the third straight film in the series to pick up an Oscar nomination – Best Music, Original Song Score for your boy, Jeff Moss! – but there would be no Muppet Academy Awards wins for another 27 years. It does feature the Best Rat Greasing in film history, during the wildly unsanitary diner musical number!
Obviously the core group of Muppet performers was going to advance – Goelz, Nelson, and Whitmire – plus this is the first list appearance for both Henson and Hunt, but leading the way is director Frank Oz (also joining that Two-Timer guild today, after helming #215 Bowfinger), making his sixth acting appearance, after #188 Muppet Christmas Carol, #312 Muppet Treasure Island, #279 Muppets From Space, #332 The Phantom Menace, and #146 The Blues Brothers. Spotlight!