6. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
Jesus Christ, New York! What the hell did The Muppets ever do to you!?
Despite ‘Sesame Street’ being a beloved institution of the city, The Muppets Takes Manhattan documents the relentless abuse of the gang at the hands of the Big Apple. Apparently disappointed by the revenue of The Great Muppet Caper, the decision was made to tone down the wackiness, offering audiences a much more serious, character driven piece; but man it’s depressing!
With wide-eyed innocence and a dose of good old-fashioned American Dream ambition, our puppet friends set out to make it big on Broadway. Instead, they are faced with rejection, underemployment, scams and lethal traffic. Is this Millenial the Musical?
The Muppets are no stranger to dark content which is something that should be respected in children’s entertainers, but they always taught their best lessons with a backdrop of madcap humour so that any harshness can be soothed by the power of laughter. The Muppets Take Manhattan does crack some very smart gags but the film’s balance isn’t quite right, resulting in something resoundingly humdrum and mediocre. Some wild and unrestrained comedy wouldn’t have gone amiss as seen in the more promising glimmers of the film including Joan Rivers’ hilarious cameo. I also can’t ignore the few iconic Muppet moments the movie did have to offer including the debut of ‘Muppet Babies’ and even Kermit and Piggy tying the knot!
This isn’t as bad as the low ranking may indicate, which is perhaps the biggest compliment one could offer the franchise overall.
Recommended for you: The Dark Crystal and Why 80s Nostalgia Can Be Good
5. The Muppets (2011)
In the case of The Muppets, I have exercised perhaps a little more objectivity.
For a middle ranking film, I don’t have a huge amount of good stuff to say. The gang have broken up, Piggy and Kermit seemed to have separated, and the beloved Muppet Theatre is about to be destroyed by an evil oil tycoon. Lo and behold a Muppets fanatic with his brother and girlfriend swoop in to rescue the gang and resurrect the apparently dead franchise. The blurb alone is indicative of an awful current trend in sequels and reboots (of which Disney is one of the main offenders) of attempting to attract audiences to a new movie with the promise of nostalgia trips whilst failing to establish the same tone as the original.
In this film, there is way too much focus on the human counterparts of the story; The Muppets should be the stars! Neglecting them in favour of human characters only works in the book adaptions where the Muppets are an intrinsic part of the universe. The humour has been toned down in a way that makes you suspect that all the big producers were terrified that a little left-field zaniness would frighten off those profit-promising audiences.
What annoyed me the most was the film’s implication that The Muppets needed saving, made worse by witnessing them being treated like dirt by the supporting characters throughout the movie.
One, they don’t need rescuing, Hollywood abandoned them!
Two, I know that muppet-bashing to some degree was necessary to the plot but it wasn’t as funny as it was intended to be.
However, what I can’t deny is that this movie did introduce The Muppets to swarms of new audiences – even our editor hopped on the Muppets train after watching this film (as an adult). After all my slagging, I have to admit that it is a genuine delight watching this with Joe; his infectious laughter spreading to me. In truth, isn’t this kind of experience exactly what The Muppets is all about?
4. The Muppet Movie (1979)
The first Muppets feature film following their 5-season TV run is an incredibly poignant and emotive piece, clearly coming from a place very close to Jim Henson’s heart. As The Muppets’ genesis tale, it all kicks off with Kermit’s dream for stardom being ignited by an unlikely encounter with a talent scout in his hometown swamp. A hilarious Dom Deluise catches Kermit singing whilst strumming away on his banjo (and this charming rendition of ‘The Rainbow Connection’ is truly an auspicious start to the new film franchise). This quaint opening sequence is very telling of the humble truth of Kermit’s/Jim Henson’s quest for fame, which The Muppet Movie is an allegory of.
Looking at the Jim Henson Pictures portfolio with the likes of ‘Sesame Street’, ‘Fraggle Rock’, ‘Bear in the Big Blue House’ and ‘The Storyteller’, you can see Jim’s sincere desire to bring happiness to the world as all aforementioned shows are educational, entertaining, humorous without being crass and vulgar, and all with exceptionally high production values. Thus, as an audience, we do believe that Kermit’s quest for fame in Hollywood is driven by an earnest dream to make millions of people happy, consolidating him as one of the most charming and beloved children’s personalities of all time.
In this current day and age when the supposed “Dream Factory” is full to the brim with vanity and greed, the continuing mission which Jim Henson began is a beacon of hope in the empty landscape of Tinsel Town, though it is worth mentioning that The Muppet Movie manages to avoid any major schmaltz, instead serving up several nods, jokes and cameos (from Steve Martin to Richard Pryor no less) to keep the adults tickled too.
This one certainly doesn’t pander to the children in the audience either, as it offers a rather terrifying storyline of a frogs legs fast food chain boss putting out a bounty on our Kermit! I actually consider this plot too menacing but I have buckets of respect for there being such a dramatic element to the production. It is also evident that the production team were still finding their feet in the transition to film, with later productions clearly showing that they had learned from their experience (with sinister edges being complimented by zany humour). It’s also undeniable that The Muppet Movie paved the way for the rest of the franchise nay Hollywood (in its entirety) with several puppetry milestones achieved in this movie alone.
This film will make you more than smile… it is genuinely inspiring.