Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Boy and His Frog

Film: The Muppet Movie
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve been waiting for this one. My latest acquisition from NetFlix was something I didn’t feel like watching tonight (you’ll see why soon enough), and so I started scrolling through what was left and realized that The Muppet Movie was streaming. I haven’t watched this in ages; I’ve been saving it for an occasion just like this one, when I wanted something fun and nostalgic to keep my going to the end.

Of course I remember this from when I was a kid. I remember how cool it was to see Kermit the Frog riding a bike and dancing on stage. I was a fan of The Muppet Show at the time, like virtually everyone else I knew. I was 12 when this came out, and 12 is a weird age. Kid things are still cool and funny, but there’s a small amount of embarrassment at loving kid things too much on the cusp of puberty. But I did love The Muppet Show and I loved The Muppet Movie without shame. I loved the corny jokes, and I even loved the corniness and sentimentality of it.

So this is isn’t much of a plot-driven film. Kermit the Frog lives in a swamp where he encounters a Hollywood agent who recommends that, based on his singing and banjo playing, he head to California where a major studio is auditioning frogs. Along the way, he encounters a host of strange people (a list of cameos a mile wide) and slowly collects all of the other Muppets who appeared in the show.

Along the way, Kermit comes across Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), who owns a collection of frog leg restaurants and decides on seeing Kermit riding a bike that he’s the perfect mascot to advertise his restaurant. Hopper is assisted by Max (the underrated Austin Pendleton), who has the standard bad guy change of heart midway through the film. This is more or less a road film with a chase thrown in, but it’s done for kids and done with tongue firmly set in cheek.

It’s all framed by the device of having all of the Muppets sitting in a theater watching the premiere. At one point, the film breaks and reminds us of the framing story around the film itself.

All of this is in good fun, and The Muppet Movie isn’t meant to be taken at all seriously. It exists more or less as a way to continue to capitalize on the Muppets as a brand and to put a couple of billion people into the cast list for a few moments at a time. While many of the cameos have lost their joy this far in the future—kids watching this today won’t be able to name James Coburn or Bob Hope, but many a parent will, as will those fans of older films.

Certainly, the cameos were a big part of the film, and this aspect of the film has not held up over time. Some of the jokes have not aged well, either—a repeated comment about Hare Krishna doesn’t carry the same weight it did in the late ‘70s. But a lot of it still works—mostly the overall charm of the characters and the songs.

Regular readers will know that I do not have a solid relationship with musicals, but there are plenty that I do enjoy, and this is absolutely one of them. Many of the songs are fun, and those that aren’t are effectively sentimental. Paul Williams, who appears briefly in the film, wrote much of the music and outdid himself with “The Rainbow Connection,” which will forever rank as one of my favorite film songs. This and several other songs are truly sweet and genuine and completely avoid being maudlin.

I knew this is one I’d have trouble writing about because I knew that this is a film that I have fond memories of. In the interests of seeing how well it translates to a modern kid, I watched with my 10-year-old daughter, and she seemed to really enjoy it as well, although perhaps not as much as I did through the lens of nostalgia.

I’m certain that there are people who won’t enjoy The Muppet Movie, and in some respects I understand that. It hasn’t aged nearly as well as I would have liked. But even with that, I still enjoyed it exactly as much as I hoped I would. Those who don’t find something to love here may well be missing something. While I don’t doubt that there are those who won’t have the same fondness for it I do, I have trouble imagining someone unable to find some joy here.

Why to watch The Muppet Movie: It’s unbridled joy.
Why not to watch: You are a bad person.


  1. It's time to play the music
    It's time to light the lights
    It's time to meet the Muppets
    On The Muppet show tonight

    It's time to put on makeup
    It's time to dress up right
    It's time to get things started
    (Why don't you get things started)
    On the most sensational
    This is what we call The Muppet Shoooooooow!

    And no, that wasn't 100% from memory. I'd say 75%, tops. It has been a long time.

    I'm assuming you saw the recent Muppet movie. If not I highly recommend it. I had it as my number 10 film of that year, but I can remember a young blogger that couldn't wrap his head around it. I tried to explain to him that the Muppets were "meta" decades before anyone coined the term.

    I'm assuming you also saw this, but just in case you didn't, here's a little gift:

    If you can name every character in the above video you are truly the Muppet Master.

    And not to shatter any childhood innocence, but do you know the not so innocent source for the Muppets' famous Mah-na-Mah-na song? (Hint: it's not the 1969 Sesame Street skit.)

    and here is the NSFW (but tame by today's standards) rest of the scene from that 1968 Italian pseudo-documentary on Sweden:

  2. I love The Muppet Movie. I thought it might be nostalgia, but I enjoyed it just as much when I watched it last year. The music is great, there are so many cameos, and it's such a fun road movie.

    1. @Chip--can't name 'em all, but I can name a lot of them. And "meta" before meta is a good way to put it--I love that the actual script makes an appearance and becomes plot-relevant.

      @Dan--It is a fun road film. The cameos are great if you recognize them, but as my daughter showed, not knowing that those people are (or were) famous doesn't hurt a thing.

  3. Believe it or not... never seen it.

    1. I believe it. You should see it, though. Rowlf the Dog demands it.

  4. Replies
    1. I figure this is a cultural difference more than anything.