There are few media properties in the world that necessitate an introduction as little as The Muppets do. The larger-than-life personalities, as well as the iconic songs and quotes, have become household staples across the world, with many agreeing that it’s impossible not to be charmed by the ongoing antics displayed by the cavalcade of unforgettable felt faces. Since the middle of the previous century, Jim Henson‘s masterfully deranged-yet-heartfelt characters have cemented a permanent place in the hearts of the public. Though any fan of the late puppeteers’ work would be doing themselves a disservice as to not revisit what may be the ensemble at their best, 1979’s The Muppet Movie.
By the mid-’70s, Henson and his crew were already experiencing immense success. The Muppet Show was an incredible hit, blasting the franchise into the mainstream and allowing it to be enjoyed by parents and children alike on a regular basis. Though the wacky variety show format wasn’t enough for the boisterous and fourth-wall breaking comedy that The Muppets would offer, and a deal to produce their first theatrical film was no-brainer. A simple plot, with plenty of jokes, songs, celebrity cameos, and heart was put together by a large portion of the same talented crew that had worked on the show, as well as having director James Frawley hop aboard.
Needless to say, the film was an instant hit; audiences fell in love with the now iconic songs and characters, all at their best and most memorable in this movie. After more than 40 years, it’s time to look back and see why The Muppet Movie stands the test of time and remains one of the most charming pieces of cinema to ever be put together.
The Muppets Trick to Being Timeless
It’s seen all the time– new films hoping to jump on the bandwagon of whatever the contemporary popular thing may be in order to seem in touch with their audience. Whether it be references to social media, injections of the latest pop songs, or modern slang (and emojis) that will incite groans within even a few years after release, studios have always had trouble avoiding the pitfalls of dating themselves in order to be relatable. Though, when looking at The Muppet Movie as a whole, despite its age, one of its biggest strengths continues to be its ability to maintain a long shelf life.
The plot is simple: a frog named Kermit wants to break into Hollywood, embarking on a road trip with his new friend Fozzie Bear to achieve just that, all while meeting a wide collection of other Muppet characters along the way. A majority of the film is spent with a very laid back tone, allowing the calm-yet-goofy nature of Henson’s Kermit and Frank Oz‘s Fozzie to take center stage alongside others from the colorful cast. All songs are performed by the puppeteers, each utilizing a catchy, folksy tone while standing out from one another. No two songs feel redundant, but they do all feel like instant classics.
A staple of The Muppets brand has always been its self-described “needless celebrity cameos.” Their first theatrical outing is no different; in fact it’s filled to the brim with huge names of the day, all hilariously playing only minor roles, each having a few minutes of screen time at most. While the usage of what were once modern day celebrities of the era may seem like it could serve as a detriment for dating the film, the selection of actors and performers who make their brief appearances were incredibly solid. Each time a sudden cameo may appear, the performance is often so over-the-top and enjoyable that even those who may not recognize who it is would find something to enjoy.
Muppets: The Most Human Puppets Around
The term “flanderization” refers to when a character from some form of media goes through a change in which a single part of their personality or design is immensely exaggerated, and in turn becomes their defining characteristic. While the modern day handling of The Muppets is another story entirely, The Muppet Movie makes a clear and conscious effort to make its cast of puppets seem like more than just two-dimensional children’s characters. Each Muppet, while having plenty of time for jokes, also gets opportunities to demonstrate flaws, sadness, anger, and defeat in each of their own unique ways as characters, complimented by the stellar performances by each puppeteer.
The strongest parts of the film may not always be when Fozzie tells bad jokes, or when Miss Piggy breaks her pampered persona to burst into an angry fit. Scenes that seem rich with genuine human emotion end up leaving the biggest impression, such as when Kermit sings a melancholy song about the troubles of finding a woman with Rowlf the dog, or when Gonzo performs an introspective otherworldly melody about knowing where to belong while around a campfire. Moments of the film that stick out among the fun gives The Muppets Movie and its characters a second to breath, and shows these characters as being flawed or unhappy, instances that cement them as the lovable iconic creatures they are.
A dreamy, romantic undertone persists through the entire film, one which suggests that each character has more going on than their silly exterior might suggest. Each Muppet doesn’t talk like a child, or talk down to children. They speak like adults may, with emotional intelligence and awareness, always looking out for one another and unafraid to acknowledge the more gloomy aspects of the world. Through each sad moment, there’s always a stark reminder that tomorrow will always come, and with it another reason to try. A pretty important detail to include, otherwise this family-friendly puppet movie may come off a bit depressing for most.
Muppets Sequels and Henson’s Legacy
After the success of the original 1979 film, countless sequels were produced over the years that continued to put the titular characters in any number of scenarios, proving their gigantic personalities to be incredibly versatile. Through each successive release, regardless of quality, the original would always stand tall for being the first of its kind, and remaining the most simplistically charming of all the interpretations.
Jim Henson‘s death in 1990 made an immense impact on everyone involved in producing The Muppets, as well as Sesame Street. With the original creator and mind behind the brand gone, Henson’s son Brian stepped in to direct two new Muppets movies based around classic literature, to massive critical success, even making one of the best adaptations of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. After lengthy negotiations, Disney eventually bought The Muppets in 2004, and have since produced a handful of films and television projects featuring the characters, to varied reception.
Among the loud and exciting blockbusters of the modern era sit the classic subdued and tenderly subtle stories of cinema’s past, and snuggly resting at the top remains The Muppet Movie. Uninterested in modern references, intense special effects, or pandering in order to get some easy laughs, the film is unapologetically simple and sweet, filled to the brim with heart and pure joy. The Muppets became an overnight success, due in large part to the reception of their first movie, and in repeated viewings decades later, it’s clear to see why. There may never be another outing as effortlessly endearing, but so as long as we can continue to revisit where it all began for years to come, there’s really no need.