The Muppet Movie

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The Muppet Movie
The Muppet Movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Drew Struzan
Directed by James Frawley
Produced by Jim Henson
David Lazer
Lord Grade
Martin Starger
Written by Jack Burns
Jerry Juhl
Starring Jim Henson
Frank Oz
Jerry Nelson
Richard Hunt
Dave Goelz
Charles Durning
Austin Pendleton
Music by Paul Williams
Kenny Ascher
Cinematography Isidore Mankofsky
Editing by Christopher Greenbury
Studio Henson Associates
ITC Entertainment
Distributed by Associated Film Distribution1
Release dates
  • May 31, 1979 (1979-05-31) (United Kingdom)
  • June 22, 1979 (1979-06-22) (United States)
Running time 97 minutes (UK)
95 minutes (US/International)
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $8 million[1]
Box office $65.2 million[2]

The Muppet Movie is a 1979 American-British 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, meta-references 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".

Plot[edit]

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 entrepreneur Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) and shy assistant Max (Austin Pendleton) 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 his girlfriend Camilla the Chicken; Sweetums, who runs after them after they think that he has turned them down; and the immediately love stricken Miss Piggy.

While Kermit and Miss Piggy form a relationship over dinner that night, Doc Hopper and Max kidnap Miss Piggy to lure Kermit into a trap. Using an electronic cerebrectomy device, scientist Professor Krassman (Mel Brooks) decides to brainwash Kermit in an attempt to force 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 brainwashed by his own device. After receiving a job offer via phone, however, she promptly abandons Kermit in the barn alone and devastated.

Having joined by Rowlf the Dog and eventually Miss Piggy once again (now reunited), the Muppets continue their journey. Fozzie 1946 Ford Woodie station wagon (which was previously obtained to accommodate their new friends) breaks down 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 named Snake Walker (Scott Walker) 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). They then sign the standard "Rich and Famous" contract which played a key role in the 2011 Muppets movie. The Muppets attempt to make their first movie involving a surreal pastiche of their experiences. The first take suddenly erupts into a catastrophic accident that forms a large 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.

Cast[edit]

Muppet performers[edit]

Frank Oz appears in a cameo as a biker who beats up Fozzie Bear while Steve Whitmire appears as a man in the Bogen County Fair.

Additional Muppet performers include; Steve Whitmire, Kathryn Mullen, Bob Payne, Eren Ozker, Caroly Wilcox, Olga Felgemacher, Bruce Schwartz, Michael Davis, Buz Suraci, Tony Basilicato, Adam Hunt, Bob Baker, Tim Burton, Jerry Juhl, Earl Kress, John Landis, John Lovelady

Cameo guest stars[edit]

Production[edit]

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."[3]

The film is dedicated to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen who died during production in September 1978.

Style[edit]

The Muppet Movie uses meta-references as a source of humor, as characters occasionally break the fourth wall to address the audience or comment on their real-life circumstances:

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.

Locations[edit]

Filming locations included Albuquerque, New Mexico.[4]

Effects[edit]

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.[5] He was also assisted in this operation by Kathryn Mullen and Steve Whitmire. This scene took five days to film.

Before this, no film had a hand puppet act with its entire body appearing on-screen. 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 puppet 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 puppets were placed on the set and controlled by puppeteers out of the frame. A dancing Kermit and Fozzie Bear were operated by Henson and Frank 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 subsequent Muppet films.

Prop vehicles[edit]

Several classic cars were specially selected by Henson for appearances in the film. The most prominent 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 final car driven by the Muppets is a 1946 Ford Woodie station wagon, famous for its wood panel siding and is a valuable collectible.

Release[edit]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $65,200,00 domestically[2][1](adjusted for inflation, this would equal $216,900,400 in 2014 dollars), making it the tenth highest-grossing film 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.

Critical reception[edit]

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."[6]

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."[7] 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."[8]

In 2009, it was named to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant and will be preserved for all time.[9]

American Film Institute Lists

Home media[edit]

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. The film was re-released on DVD and rebranded by Walt Disney Pictures on November 29, 2005 as Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition.

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released The Muppet Movie as the Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray on August 13, 2013.[12]

Accolades[edit]

Awards
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients and nominees Result
Academy Awards April 14, 1980 Best Original Song "Rainbow Connection" – Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher Nominated
Best Adaptation Score Songs by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher; Adaption by Paul Williams Nominated
Golden Globe Awards January 26, 1980 Best Original Song "Rainbow Connection" – Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher Nominated
Grammy Awards February 27, 1980 Best Album for Children Jim Henson and Paul Williams Won
Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media Nominated
Saturn Awards July 26, 1980 Best Fantasy Film Won
Satellite Awards February 23, 2014[13] Best Youth Blu-ray Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment Nominated

Music[edit]

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."[14]

"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.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Reissued as a Walt Disney Pictures release since 2005.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Jones, Brian Jay (2013). "Life's Like a Movie". Jim Henson: The Biography. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 296. ISBN 978-0-345-52611-3. "Meanwhile, audiences made it [The Muppet Movie] one of the most profitable films of the decade, grossing over $65 million in its initial release—not a bad return on [Lew] Grade's initial $8 million investment." 
  2. ^ a b "The Muppet Movie". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved April 7, 2014. 
  3. ^ Rabin, Nathan (July 29, 2009). "Austin Pendleton | Film | Random Roles". The A.V. Club. Retrieved December 21, 2012. 
  4. ^ 100 years of filmmaking in New Mexico 1898–1998. New Mexico Dept. of Tourism. 1998. p. 118. 
  5. ^ Swansburg, John (6 December 2013). "Muppet Man". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  6. ^ "The Muppet Movie". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved September 8, 2012. 
  7. ^ Roger Ebert (November 14, 1979). "The Muppet Movie". Chicago Sun-Times (rogerebert.com). Retrieved February 1, 2012. 
  8. ^ Canby, Vincent (22 June 21, 1979). "The Screen: Muppets Go to Hollywood:Roadiest Road Picture". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 September 2013. 
  9. ^ "25 new titles added to National Film Registry". Yahoo News (Yahoo). December 30, 2009. Retrieved December 30, 2009. [dead link]
  10. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees
  11. ^ AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Ballot
  12. ^ Truitt, Brian (9 August 2013). "Kermit, Fozzie entertain in 'Muppet Movie' camera test". USA Today. Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  13. ^ Kilday, Gregg (December 2, 2013). "Satellite Awards: '12 Years a Slave' Leads Film Nominees". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Rainbow Connection". Songfacts.com. Retrieved December 7, 2009. 

External links[edit]