The Muppet Movie is available to rent, buy or stream.
The Muppet Movie, as expected from the wildly sharp Henson company, cleverly frames the path to fame and fortune as a road trip, freeing the once stage-bound Muppet performers to let their chaos loose on an unsuspecting America. Few TV to film adaptations has had the luxury of such a clear visual statement of intent as that of Kermit the frog riding a bicycle, an early statement that within this film, anything can happen. Kermit has legs?!? The Muppets have escaped television; look out!
The Muppet Movie was the first big-screen outing for America’s favourite puppet troupe and is still the most entertaining, manically inventive and hilarious. It holds the surprise honour of being one of the first franchise prequel films, decades before George Lucas put his pod races into the public psyche. Few road trip films can claim to have a plotline with such desperate stakes and lackadaisical episodic pacing as Kermit’s extraordinary American Odyssey. Here his quest for stardom is laced with a love story, while an evil fast-food tycoon looks to sever his legs. The hilarity of adding such high-stakes to The Muppet Show cast is the kind of bonkers brilliance that the Henson company were so renowned for.
The highlight has to be Kermit’s meeting with Jim Henson’s first Muppet, and the one said to evoke his spirit the most: Rowlf the Dog. Following a hysterically funny Steve Martin cameo as the most obnoxious waiter in cinema, they meet at Kermit’s lowest point after being stood up by Miss Piggy. Here Rowlf and Kermit have an insanely adult conversation and musical duet about the highs and lows of relationships in a sequence that is firing on all cylinders. As a musical, there’s a wide range of songs, from the jolly road trip anthem “Movin’ Right Along” and the earnest and emotional “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” to the funkadelic banger “Can You Picture That”. Every Muppet gets at least some of the limelight, though the iconic and inspiring “Rainbow Connection” has endured for a reason – an ode to creativity and hope; it would take a genuinely hardened heart not to be moved by the lyrics.
How fitting that this road trip should end with the intrepid Muppet mob in front of Orson Welles hilariously playing a studio executive when they had been the bane of his life. It’s an incredibly dissonant yet effective clash of icons. This role was nowhere close to him selling out; it is a classic Welles moment, his introduction as surprising and disruptive as Harry Lime’s return to life in The Third Man. The Muppets may have faltered in their cinematic efforts of late (no puppet should have to suffer sharing screen time with Ricky Gervais), but their first big screen outing remains a perfect time capsule of pure Americana. Although a comeback may look unlikely, the tenacious brilliance of The Muppets has always been that they are never too far removed from the public imagination. Perhaps the Swedish Chef put it best: “The flim is okee-dokee”