So imagine everyone's surprise when there was news about the Muppets jumping to the silver screen. And the biggest thrill was seeing Kermit the Frog not only outside and off a sound stage but also riding a bike.
You may laugh now, but that feat was a high-water mark in the history of the Muppets.
In celebration of the movie's 40th anniversary this year, I re-watched it, and The Muppet Movie still thrills.
The Rainbow Connection
If you read my Favorite Songs by Year post, you'll note that my favorite song from 1979 was the opening number of The Muppet Movie. As Kermit sings this magical song, the camera slowly zeroes in on him, sitting on a log, playing a banjo, singing. Paul Williams' lyrics about longing is spot on not only for the character of Kermit but the dreamers in all of us. It always serves as a touchpoint song for my own life, and depending on how it is presented, can act as a time machine for me, taking me back to when I was eleven when I had little cares in the world other than Star Wars, comics, KISS, TV, and riding my bike for hours out in west Houston.
The Guest Stars
On each TV episode, a single human guest starred on the show. With the movie, they overflowed. In fact, it is Dom DeLuise who just happens to be rowing a boat in Kermit's swamp and tells the frog about an opportunity in Hollywood. It is then Kermit gets the idea to travel across the country, picking up fellow Muppets along the way. It's a road picture that serves as an origin story.
In each new city or town or setting, it becomes a fun mental game to see which human shows up for a cameo. Steve Martin, as a put-out waiter, is especially funny. My boy watched it with me and I had to explain only a few of them, notably Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen. As I pointed out to my boy, one of the best special effects of this movie are the guest stars.
Irreverent Comedy Flips the Script
The best part about a show like the Muppet Movie is all the little gags in the dialogue. Unlike other animated films aimed at children at the time, this film is easily something an adult can watch and enjoy and, frankly, get some of the gags intended solely for them.
From a certain point of view, you could even argue the Muppet Movie is an adult show that kids can enjoy.
That isn't to say there isn't enough broad humor for everyone. Among my favorite bits of dialogue are the following:
Kermit: "Read my lips: al-li-ga-tor."
Kermit: "Gone with the Schwinn"
Dr. Teeth's nickname to Kermit: ”Green Stuff”
Kermit [telling Fozzie to take a left turn]: "Bear Left" and Fozzie's response: "Bear right!"
Fozzie: "Patriotism swells in the heart of the American bear."
The Meta Nature of the Film
The end of the film is one I thought was kind of cool as a kid, but one I truly love as an adult.
The whole crew get to Hollywood and are given the standard rich and famous contract by none other than Orson Wells, and they make a version of their story (i.e., the actual movie you've just watched) except something goes awry. All the sets--actual stage sets showcasing the scenes of the movie--break and fall over. Then, a real rainbow comes in from the hole in the ceiling. Then the characters turn to the camera and address the audience directly. They talk about writing your own ending to the movie before breaking into a reprise of the chorus of The Rainbow Connection.
It is a marvelous way to end this magical film. It tells children to use their imagination. It tells all of us never to stop dreaming. Never stop putting good into the world. And that's a message we can all get behind, no matter what year we watch this film or how old we are.
Someday we'll find it
The rainbow connection...
The lovers, the dreamers and me