The Muppet Movie is a 1979 American musical comedy film and the first of a series of live-action feature films starring Jim Henson's Muppets. Directed by James Frawley, the film's screenplay was written by The Muppet Show writers Jerry Juhl and Jack Burns.
Produced by Henson Associates between the third and fourth seasons of The Muppet Show, The Muppet Movie depicts Kermit the Frog as he embarks on a cross-country trip to Hollywood. Along the way, he encounters several of the Muppets— who all share his ambition of finding success in professional show business— while being pursued by a relentless restaurateur with intentions of employing Kermit as a spokesperson for his frog legs business.
Notable for its surreal humour, fourth wall allusions and prolific use of cameos, the film was released in the United States on June 22, 1979, and received critical praise; including two Academy Award nominations for Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher's musical score and their song, "Rainbow Connection".
The Muppets have gathered in a theatre to screen their new biographical film The Muppet Movie. As the film-within-the-film opens, Kermit the Frog enjoys a relaxing afternoon in a Florida swamp, singing "Rainbow Connection" and strumming his banjo, when he is approached by Bernie (Dom DeLuise), an agent who encourages Kermit to pursue a career in show business. Inspired by the idea of "making millions of people happy," Kermit sets off on a cross-country trip to Los Angeles, but is soon pursued by businessman and entrepreneur Doc Hopper and shy assistant Max in an attempt to convince Kermit to be the new spokesman of his struggling French-fried frog legs restaurant franchise, to Kermit's horror. As Kermit continues to refuse Doc's offers, Hopper resorts to increasingly vicious means of persuasion.
Meeting Fozzie Bear, who works as a hapless stand-up comedian in a sleazy bar, Kermit invites Fozzie to accompany him. The two set out in a 1951 Studebaker loaned to Fozzie by his hibernating uncle. The duo’s journey includes misadventures which introduce them to a variety of eccentric human and Muppet characters, including Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem and their manager Scooter, who receives a copy of the script from the pair; Gonzo and Camilla the Chicken; Sweetums, who runs after them after they think that he has turned them down; and the immediately love stricken Miss Piggy.
Kermit and Miss Piggy begin a relationship over dinner that night, when Doc Hopper and Max kidnap Miss Piggy to lure Kermit into a trap. Using an electronic cerebrectomy device, mad scientist Professor Krassman (Mel Brooks) attempts to brainwash Kermit to perform in Doc’s commercials until Miss Piggy, infuriated by Krassman's insult, knocks out Doc Hopper's henchmen and causes the scientist to be zapped by his own device. After receiving a job offer, however, she promptly abandons Kermit in the barn alone and devastated.
After being joined by Rowlf the Dog and eventually Miss Piggy once again, the Muppets continue their journey. Fozzie trades his uncle's Studebaker to a used car dealer for a 1946 Ford Woodie station wagon to accommodate their new friends, but later regrets the trade after the car overheats in the New Mexico desert. During a campfire that night, they sadly consider that they may miss the audition tomorrow, and Gonzo cheers up most of the group with a song about his longing to find his place in the world, while Kermit wanders off, ashamed of himself for seemingly bringing his friends into a dead end, and wondering whether his dreams were really worth leaving home for. Upon consulting a more optimistic vision of himself, Kermit remembers that it was not just his friends' belief in the dream that brought them this far, but also his own faith in himself. Reinvigorated, he returns to camp to find that the Electric Mayhem and Scooter have read the script in advance, and arrived to help them the rest of the way.
Just as it seems they are finally on their way, the group is warned by Max that Doc Hopper has hired an assassin to kill Kermit. Kermit decides he will not be hunted by a bully any longer and proposes a Western-style showdown in a nearby ghost town inhabited by Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker, who invent materials that have yet to be tested. While confronting Hopper, Kermit explains his motivations, attempting to appeal to Hopper’s own hopes and dreams, but Hopper is unmoved and orders his henchmen to kill him and all his friends. They are saved only when one of Dr. Bunsen's inventions, "insta-grow" pills, temporarily turns Animal into a giant, scaring off Hopper and his men.
The Muppets proceed to Hollywood, and are hired by producer and studio executive Lew Lord (Orson Welles). The Muppets attempt to make their first movie involving a surreal pastiche of their experiences. The first take suddenly erupts into a catastrophic explosion that makes a hole in the roof through which a portion of rainbow shines through on the Muppets. The film ends as the Muppets, joined by the characters from Sesame Street, Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, and the "The Land of Gorch" segment of Saturday Night Live, to sing "Rainbow Connection". Back in the screening room, Sweetums bursts through the screen having finally caught up with the rest of the Muppets.
- Austin Pendleton as Max
- Charles Durning as Doc Hopper
- Scott Walker as Snake Walker
- Mel Brooks as Professor Max Krassman
- Melinda Dillon as a woman with balloon
- Lawrence Gabriel, Jr. as a sailor
- Ira F. Grubman as a bartender
- H.B. Haggerty as a lumberjack
- Bruce Kirby as a gate guard
- Tommy Madden as a one-eyed midget
- Arnold Roberts as a cowboy
- James Frawley as a El Sleezo Café waiter
- Muppet performers
- Main article: List of Muppets
- Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, Waldorf, Swedish Chef and Nigel the Conductor
- Frank Oz as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam the Eagle, Marvin Suggs
- Jerry Nelson as Sgt. Floyd Pepper, Crazy Harry, Robin the Frog, Lew Zealand, Camilla the Chicken and Blue Frackle
- Richard Hunt as Scooter, Statler, Janice, Sweetums and Beaker
- Dave Goelz as Gonzo the Great, Zoot, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Nigel and Doglion
- Caroll Spinney as Big Bird
- Cameo guest stars
- Edgar Bergen as Himself and Charlie McCarthy
- Milton Berle as Mad Man Mooney
- Mel Brooks as a mad scientist
- James Coburn as the El Sleezo Café Owner
- Dom DeLuise as Bernie the Agent
- Elliott Gould as Compère
- Bob Hope as an ice cream vendor
- Madeline Kahn as an El Sleezo patron
- Carol Kane as a "myth" (summoned by name)
- Cloris Leachman as Miss Tracy, Lew Lord's secretary
- Steve Martin as an insolent waiter
- Richard Pryor as a balloon vendor
- Telly Savalas as El Sleazo tough
- Orson Welles as Lew Lord
- Paul Williams as El Sleazo pianist
Austin Pendleton recalled that the film was shot on "a very unhappy set, because Jim [Frawley] was very unhappy directing that movie. And I noticed that was the only time the Muppet people used an outside person to direct a Muppet movie. They never did that again. After that, it was either Jim Henson or Frank Oz. And I would have liked to have been in one of those, because those sets were very harmonious. But this was not."
The film is dedicated to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen who died during production in September 1978.
- Fozzie [to Big Bird]: "Hey, there! Wanna lift?"
- Big Bird: "Oh, no thanks. I'm on my way to New York City to try to break into public television."
(This refers to Big Bird's future "career" on Sesame Street.)
In a particularly meta-fictional plot twist, Kermit and Fozzie actually give the screenplay to Dr. Teeth, who later uses it to find and rescue them after they have been stranded in the desert.
To perform Kermit static on a log, Jim Henson squeezed into a specially designed metal container complete with an air hose (to breathe), a rubber sleeve which came out of the top to perform Kermit and a monitor to see his performance, and placed himself under the water, log, and the Kermit puppet. He was also assisted in this operation by Kathryn Mullen and Steve Whitmire. This scene took five days to film.
Before this, no movie had a hand puppet act with its entire body appearing onscreen. That is, hand puppets were only seen from the waist up, and it became a major plot point to show Kermit with legs. To have Kermit ride a bicycle in a full-body shot, a Kermit doll with legs was posed onto the seat and his legs and arms were attached to the pedals and handlebars. An overhead crane with a marionette system held the bicycle through strong strings invisible to the camera, guiding the bicycle forward. The crane and system was out of the camera's frame of vision.
Other shots required Muppets standing and acting in a full-body shot. Specially-made, remote-controlled dolls were placed on the set and controlled by puppeteers out of the frame. A dancing Kermit and Fozzie Bear were operated by Henson and Oz in front of a blue screen, and were composited onto a separate reel of the stage. Both of these effects and the bicycle effect would be used again, and refined, in the next Muppet films.
Several classic cars were specially selected by Henson for appearances in the film. The most notable were a pair of 1951 Studebaker Commander Coupes driven by Fozzie Bear in the film. One car was painted but unmodified and driven by a person in the front seat. It was used for long, traveling shots. The second car was driven by a person in the trunk, who viewed the road through a TV set. The television received its image from a camera located in the center nose of the car's front grille. This made it possible for Frank Oz to perform Fozzie Bear in the front seat, and have the character seemingly drive the car in close-up shots. This car is now on display at the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana.
Doc Hopper is chauffeured throughout the movie by Max in a 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood Limousine.
The film sold over 30.5 million tickets and grossed $76,657,0002 domestically (adjusted for inflation, this would equal $242,492,661 in 2012 dollars), making it the seventh highest-grossing picture of 1979 and also, the second highest-grossing Muppet film after the release of The Muppets in 2011. The success of the film gave Jim Henson Productions an opportunity to release more Muppet productions theatrically.
The Muppet Movie received positive reviews. The film holds an 89% approval rating on aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.8/10, based on 44 reviews. The site's consensus says "The Muppet Movie, the big-screen debut of Jim Henson's plush creations, is smart, lighthearted, and fun for all ages."
Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars. In his favorable review, he was fascinated that "The Muppet Movie not only stars the Muppets but, for the first time, shows us their feet." Vincent Canby of The New York Times offered equal praise, stating that the film "demonstrates once again that there's always room in movies for unbridled amiability when it's governed by intelligence and wit."
- American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
- Rainbow Connection – #74
- AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals – Nominated
The Muppet Movie was the first film released by ITC Entertainment to be released on home video when Magnetic Video released it in 1980, having bought the video rights to ITC's films. It was reissued a few times more by CBS/Fox before it was released by Jim Henson Home Video in 1993. The film was first released on DVD by Sony Pictures on June 5, 2001 and again by Walt Disney Pictures on November 29, 2005 as Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition.
|37th Golden Globe Awards||Best Original Song||Nominated||"Rainbow Connection" – Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher|
|22nd Grammy Awards||Best Album for Children||Won||Jim Henson and Paul Williams|
|Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media||Nominated|
|52nd Academy Awards||Best Original Song||"Rainbow Connection" – Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher|
|Best Adaptation Score||Songs by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher; Adaption by Paul Williams|
|7th Saturn Awards||Best Fantasy Film||Won|
- Main article: The Muppet Movie (soundtrack)
The film's music was written by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher. Regarding the music's composition, Williams said; "Jim Henson gave you more [creative] freedom than anybody I've ever worked with in my life. I said, 'You want to hear the songs as we're writing them?' He said, 'No. I'll hear them in the studio. I know I'm gonna love them.' You just don't get that kind of freedom on a project these days."
"Movin' Right Along", "Never Before, Never Again" and "I Hope That Somethin' Better Comes Along" were shortened in the film, compared to their soundtrack versions, for continuity purposes. The latter, a duet between Rowlf and Kermit, contained references that the studio considered too mature for children. In "Finale: The Magic Store", a line performed by Kermit in the film is sung by Fozzie on the soundtrack recording.
- ↑ The Lovers, The Dreamers, And Me: The Muppet Movie. Tor.com. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
- ↑ Rabin, Nathan (July 29, 2009). "Austin Pendleton | Film | Random Roles". The A.V. Club. http://www.avclub.com/articles/austin-pendleton,31009/. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
- ↑ 100 years of filmmaking in New Mexico 1898–1998. New Mexico Dept. of Tourism. 1998. p. 118.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 "The Muppet Movie, Box Office Information". The Numbers. http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/1979/0MUMO.php. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
- ↑ "The Muppet Movie". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/muppet_movie/. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- ↑ Roger Ebert (November 14, 1979). "The Muppet Movie". Chicago Sun-Times (rogerebert.com). http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19791114/REVIEWS/51114006/1023. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- ↑ Canby, Vincent (22 June 21 1979). "The Screen: Muppets Go to Hollywood:Roadiest Road Picture". The New York Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9B03EFDD1239E732A25751C2A9609C946890D6CF&partner=Rotten+Tomatoes&pagewanted=print. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- ↑ "25 new titles added to National Film Registry". Yahoo News (Yahoo). December 30, 2009. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091230/ap_en_mo/us_classic_films_glance;_ylt=Am9aCMfxzzsN4EY9F802IESs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNzcHU5NnU4BGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMDkxMjMwL3VzX2NsYXNzaWNfZmlsbXNfZ2xhbmNlBGNjb2RlA21vc3Rwb3B1bGFyBGNwb3MDMTAEcG9zAzcEcHQDaG9tZV9jb2tlBHNlYwN5bl9oZWFkbGluZV9saXN0BHNsawMyNW5ld3RpdGxlc2E-. Retrieved December 30, 2009. [dead link]
- ↑ AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees
- ↑ AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Ballot
- ↑ Truitt, Brian (9 August 2013). "Kermit, Fozzie entertain in 'Muppet Movie' camera test". USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2013/08/09/the-muppet-movie-blu-ray-exclusive-clip/2635835/. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- ↑ "Rainbow Connection". Songfacts.com. http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=3146. Retrieved December 7, 2009.
- ↑ "The Muppet Movie". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=muppetmovie.htm. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
- Official website at Disney.com
- The Muppet Movie at the Internet Movie Database
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- The Muppet Movie at Box Office Mojo
- The Muppet Movie at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Muppet Movie at Metacritic
- Tough Pigs: The Muppet Movie from Script to Screen