Tag Archives: Jim Henson

The Set of 400: #51 – My Favorite Champagne Improvement

Today! Because I wish I were you people seeing this for the first time –

The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

Directed by Jim Henson

Starring Jim Henson (x2), Frank Oz (x9), Jerry Nelson (x5), Dave Goelz (x5), Richard Hunt (x2), Charles Grodin (x2), Diana Rigg (x2), Jack Warden (x4), John Cleese (x4), Peter Ustinov (x2), Peter Falk (x5), Robert Morley, Steve Whitmire (x5), Louise Gold (x3), Caroll Spinney, Erica Creer, Kate Howard, Della Finch

The second feature Muppet film and the first released after The Muppet Show ended, The Great Muppet Caper had a higher degree of difficulty than any other film in the series, before or since. Figure, it’s the only non-adaptation film that doesn’t in some way incorporate putting on a show or show business as the backdrop (Muppets From Space is the only other one close, and that has a lot of Piggy’s aspiring journalism career at center). So they’ve crammed the familiar characters into oddball new roles – weirdly, again, journalism, but of the print variety, plus hotel management – albeit with their same names, and more fourth wall breaking than any other movie to explain this conceit. It had only been two years since the smash hit original Muppet Movie, and they didn’t have terrific Paul Williams songs to eat up a bunch of the run time (Muppet Caper‘s songs are still great, though). This one needed tons of jokes and cameos and a strong narrative to succeed, and it came through on all counts.

As a kid, I probably liked this Muppet outing best, or had it in a very close contest with Takes Manhattan. It’s a lot sillier than the original film, but still keeps the gang largely together unlike Manhattan. The England setting produces a bunch of fun gags (like The Muppet Show, Muppet Caper was filmed in and near London) and it features the most action packed finale of the franchise – a sequence not even attempted to be equaled by any successive movie until Most Wanted – which largely functioned as the Muppet Caper to 2011’s Muppets as Muppet Movie. Does that makes sense? I didn’t get to talk about Most Wanted on this list because it missed the cut off date, but I’m afraid people skipped it, as it got lost in theaters. Go watch Muppets Most Wanted, it’s pretty fun.

It’s the Kermit-goes-to-a-Siberian-prison-camp-run-by-Tina-Fey film you never knew you needed

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The Set of 400: #111 – My Favorite William Tell Overture (Chicken Rendition)

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 old Jerry Juhl/Frank Oz script is allegedly great and ready to go, Disney

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The Set of 400: #188 – My Favorite Misplaced Jelly Beans

Today! Because mother always taught me – “Never eat singing food” –

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Directed by Brian Henson (x2)

Starring Michael Caine (x2), Steve Whitmire (x3), Frank Oz (x4), Dave Goelz (x3), Jerry Nelson (x3), David Rudman, Jessica Fox, Steven Mackintosh, Meredith Braun, Louise Gold (x2), Karen Prell

Some critics and fans choice as the best Muppet film, Christmas Carol holds a number of interesting distinctions, not just in Henson Company lore but also in filmed versions of the Dickens novel. Come along on this trivia journey! Much has been made of the fact that this was the first major Muppet production after Jim Henson’s death in 1990, but this was also the first project without Richard Hunt – another of the core five puppeteers who performed virtually all the characters – who was ailing and died in early ’92. Because of this, many of their characters do not appear or have significantly scaled down roles, such as Rowlf, Scooter, Janice, and Dr. Teeth. It would be many years before they would recast these parts. The exceptions, of course, were Steve Whitmire taking over Kermit – an obviously necessity – and Dave Goelz and Jerry Nelson playing Statler & Waldorf (here, the Marley brothers), having been performed by Hunt (since The Muppet Show) and Henson (since The Muppet Show pilot, Sex and Violence). Partly by design, but also by casting, this was the first Muppet project of any substantial size that did not feature Kermit as the lead – you can make a case to say he’s fourth as Cratchit, after Caine’s Scrooge, Gonzo as Dickens, and Rizzo, helping out the narration. This set-up, with Gonzo as the main Muppet figure, would carry through the rest of the films in the ’90s.

Gonzo does make a terrific Chuck Dickens

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