Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Muppet Movie

I know I had said I wasn't  going to do any more marathons, but apparently I'm too much of a sucker for this kind of thing to completely resist them.  Out of all the movies this year, The Muppets has been the one movie that has me the most excited.  The puppet scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall had me feeling fairly confident that Jason Segel could pull this off, and so far none of the trailers or ads are giving me much doubt.  I'll find out for sure how wrong or right I am next week!

It's safe to say I literally grew up on the Muppets.  My parents have always told me that even as an infant, I used to sit there in rapt attention watching The Muppet Show.  The fascination continued all through my childhood while I watched Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Muppet Babies, Jim Henson's Storytellers, the films, and the many, many television specials that used to air in the 80s.  It continued into my teens when I was exposed to The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth for the first time, saw Muppet*vision 3D at Walt Disney World, and watched shows from the failed Muppets Tonight to even the occasional episode of Bear in the Big Blue House.  It's built an appreciation for puppetry in all its many forms for me.  Since it would take a very long time for me to go through everything the Jim Henson Company has created, I'm sticking to just the Muppet specific feature films for this marathon.

Watching The Muppet Movie again it became clear that this movie is as much about Jim Henson's vision as it is a silly tale of how the Muppets met each other. It's often very hard to not associate Kermit with Jim Henson himself, and the fact that Kermit is going to Hollywood not to become rich and famous, but to make millions of people happy, feels very much like it must be Henson's own reasons for getting into show business.  I've always considered "The Rainbow Connection" to be the perfect summary of Henson's vision and dream for the world, even though it was technically written by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher.  It is pretty much impossible for me to hear this song without getting a bit choked up these days.  It asks us to believe in magic and to not be afraid to follow your dreams, and it's something I know about all too well.  I've heard the voices calling my name, too.

This message is laid beneath a silly story of how the Muppets became famous.  I love that they all seem to become fast friends the moment they run into each other, as if they were all destined to be together in the first place.  It's a sentiment that Gonzo's song, "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday" expresses beautifully.  These two songs along with "I Hope That Somethin' Better Comes Along" are much more mature concepts than someone would probably expect from what we now regard to be a movie for kids.  The fact is this movie, like much of Henson's other work, is more kid friendly than it is tailored directly toward them.  When I was little I loved watching Gonzo fly with his balloons and Animal eat seat cushions or grow huge, but as an adult I can appreciate the bittersweet moments of the film all the more.

The main conflict of the film, that a man named Doc Hopper wants to use Kermit as a spokesperson for his fried frog legs restaurant, feels largely irrelevant because it is.  It serves to create some fun gags and keep moving the story forward, but there really isn't much else to it.  Even their quest for Hollywood success isn't a real challenge because as they arrive at the producer's office, he literally just stares at them for a moment before offering them a "standard rich and famous" contract.  It's the gags and cameos that make the film worth watching, there's no doubt about that.

Such great cameos they are too.  Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Carol Kane, Dom DeLouise, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor.. no matter how brief the moment, they all really shine.  It serves to give the movie a similar feel to It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or Cannonball Run.

I can't help but feel that it's almost pointless to try to sell this movie to anyone.  If you're a Muppet fan, you've no doubt already seen it and most likely love it.  If somehow you did miss out, it's definitely worth checking out no matter how old you are.

Tomorrow I'll be talking about The Great Muppet Caper.

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