Today! Because it’s not often you see a guy that green have the blues that bad –
The Muppet Movie (1979)
Directed by James Frawley
Starring Jim Henson (x3), Frank Oz (x10), Dave Goelz (x7), Richard Hunt (x3), Jerry Nelson (x6), Charles Durning (x4), Austin Pendleton (x2), Orson Welles (x5), Cloris Leachman (x6), Dom DeLuise (x8), Steve Martin (x7), Richard Pryor, Bob Hope, Milton Berle (x3), Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, Elliott Gould (x5), James Coburn (x4), Carol Kane (x6), Madeline Kahn (x9), Mel Brooks (x6), Telly Savalas, Paul Williams (x3), Bruce Kirby (x2), Caroll Spinney (x2), Scott Walker
The gold standard of Muppet productions. The zenith of the entire franchise. The culmination of nearly 25 years of Mr. the Frog’s place in the cultural landscape, beginning way back with Sam & Friends in 1955. After this, and the subsequent completion of The Muppet Show’s dynamite five year run, the felt gang would achieve superstardom few puppets have entertained before or since. A groundbreaking, world-altering comedy/musical motion picture unduplicated in success or popularity through the entire course of human history. The Muppet Movie is the greatest thing ever produced by anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Such was my attitude whenever this film would come up, for as long as I can remember. And while steeped in hyperbole and borderline lunacy, I do believe some aspects of this above madness to this day. First – there is no proof they will ever be able to top The Muppet Movie, in this franchise or in the puppet musical genre in general. As great as 2011’s The Muppets was, to bring the film to an emotional conclusion they needed a blockbuster capping song to close the show, and pull all the various threads of the story together. Instead of attempting another original – in a film that won a Best Song Oscar, I’ll remind you – they instead rolled out Kenny Ascher/Paul Williams’ classic “The Rainbow Connection.” The live Muppets Take the Bowl/O2 shows did the same thing, while also transposing a number of other songs and bits from the first film.
Second, The Muppet Movie has no dull spots, bad songs, or overly hokey sequences to disrupt the flow. It’s a fun, straightforward origin road story, gathering the gang together as they attempt to make their way to Hollywood. [And sort of weirdly, too, given that The Muppet Show filmed in England, and most other early Henson work was done in New York – this movie might’ve been the first “Hollywood” thing they did. I digress.] Along the way, one terrific tune after another – “Rainbow Connection” in the swamp to open, Fozzie and Kermit’s “Moving Right Along,” the Electric Mayhem’s wild, psychedelic “Can You Picture That?,” Gonzo’s moving “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday,” and the gangbusters “Magic Store” finale. Charles Durning has a great turn as the plausible-ish villain Doc Hopper, of Doc Hopper’s French Fried Frog Legs fame, alongside all the stars of the heavens popping up in cameos.
Because third, this movie has the greatest set of cameos ever assembled in a movie. I don’t even know what’s second – The Player, probably? A Robert Altman film, known for their massive casts? And even then, sure, they had Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis in 1992, but The Muppet Movie has generations of talent, from old Hollywood legends Orson Welles, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, and puppeteer king Edgar Bergen with Charlie McCarthy to 70’s greats Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, Elliott Gould, and Mel Brooks. The cast includes five Oscar winners (Coburn, Welles, Williams, Leachman, and Brooks) and eleven nominees (with Henson, Kahn, Savales, Kane, Durning, and Gould)!
As with many of these top list occupants, The Muppet Movie is such a childhood staple that I probably have no valid perspective on it. Again, growing up, I probably watched Muppets Take Manhattan more, as it was the new-ish film in my young life, but we were pretty consistent viewing the whole first trilogy, along with Great Muppet Caper, not to mention The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, Muppet Babies, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth, too – it was a regular Henson fest in the ’80s. But while some of these projects haven’t held up great over time (man, I rewatched The Dark Crystal before starting this list, and I enjoy the nostalgia of it, but could not find a place for it – hopefully that Netflix show is worthwhile?), the first films are still really enjoyable. And The Muppet Show, by the way, is still amazing – it’s kinda hard to locate the later seasons – only 1-3 ever made it to DVD, but now that Disney’s streaming service is on the horizon (as of this writing), maybe they’ll do the right thing and give us the whole show. They must have the rights by now, no? Come on!
This is the seventh and obviously final Muppet feature to make the list, following #51 The Great Muppet Caper, #111 The Muppets Take Manhattan, #188 Muppet Christmas Carol, #312 Muppet Treasure Island, #279 Muppets From Space, and #42 2011’s The Muppets, all of which feature new Seven-Timer Dave Goelz, the only main actor to appear in every Muppet production back to the Muppet Show days. However, this also marks Frank Oz as the fourth Ten-Timer, having appeared in all Muppets films up to From Space, plus his Lucas gig as Yoda (#53 Empire, #86 Jedi, #332 Phantom Menace) plus his lone live action role in #146 The Blues Brothers. Her quick cameo in the El Sleezo Cafe also pushes Madeline Kahn to the Nines, making her the furthest advancing actress in the guild and only the seventh Nine-Timer thus far!