Movie Review: The Muppet Movie (1979)

Welcome to Muppet Mondays! Over the next several Mondays I will be working my way through the various movies in the Muppets and Jim Henson oeuvre.

Title: The Muppet Movie
Release Date: May 31, 1979
Director: James Frawley
Production Company: ITC Entertainment | Henson Associates

It’s hard to review this movie objectively without the lens of nostalgia.  On the other hand, I’ve grown to expect that my childhood faves will disappoint me, so the fact that this movie holds up so well is a testament to its greatness. The Muppets transition to movies by making fun of Hollywood tropes – particularly road trip buddy comedies, sappy romances, and lets-put-on-a-show – while still being a loving tribute to movies and entertainers in general.  The meta-fictional humor in this movie was unusual at the time in in retrospect it must have inspired a generation that made that kind of humor widespread in the 1990s.

The Muppet Movie also has several moments that still make me think “how did they do that?” such as Kermit playing on a log, Kermit bicycling, Fozzie driving a car in long shots, and over 250+ Muppets singing and dancing at once in the finale.  Even learning things like Jim Henson spending hours in an underwater tank to perform Kermit in the swamp doesn’t diminish the sense of awe.

The movie is also fun for the cameos where one can test their memory of 1970s celebrities.  Luckily, you don’t have to know who Dom Deluise, Carol Kane, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, or Cloris Leachman is to laugh at their performances (I do wonder how much Orson Welles was paid for his one line, and if he showed up on time for the filming). Last but not least, there is the terrific music by Paul Williams.  “The Rainbow Connection,” “Movin’ Right Along,” and “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” are classics of the American music book.

Rating: *****

Book Review: Jim Henson: the Biography by Brian Jay Jones

Author: Brian Jay Jones
Title: Jim Henson
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2013)

Brian Jay Jones writes a straightforward account of the life and work of Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets, and one of the most beloved figures in entertainment in the second-half of the 20th century.  I won’t go into a full summary, but here are five interesting things I learned from reading this biography:

  • Jim Henson’s career started when he was only 18 years old in 1954 when he had a show featuring puppet characters on local Washington, DC television called Sam and Friends, which aired for five minutes, twice per day.
  • Henson never considered himself as primarily a puppeteer and worked on projects such as experimental film, animation, and even an attempt to open a psychedelic nightclub.
  • Similarly, Henson fought against the perception of him being a children’s entertainer and his work for Saturday Night Live, The Muppet Show, and movies like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth were all made to entertain all ages.
  • Henson’s wife Jane Nebel worked as a puppeteer on Sam and Friends but stepped down for a more domestic role when they had children.  Jim and Jane’s marriage was very strained by Jim’s dedication to his work and they were separated late in his life.  They never divorced and remained close friends despite the failure of the marriage.
  • Henson wanted to cast Sting in Labyrinth but his kids convinced him (correctly) that David Bowie would have more staying power.

This is an enjoyable and entertaining work of biography and worth reading if you love The Muppets and Henson’s other creations.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending November 30

More or Less :: The world’s busiest shipping lanes

Have you ever wondered about shipping lanes?  Me neither.  But it turns out the management that goes into making them work smoothly is quite fascinating.

Lost at the Smithsonian :: The Original Muppets

Jim Henson’s Muppets redefined puppetry and the possibilities of television entertainment.  The Smithsonian holds 30 early Muppets that help the story of Henson and his colleagues.  Includes an interview by Aasif Mandvi with Frank Oz!

Hit Parade :: Rolling in God’s Royal Uptown Road Edition

Chris Molanphy expertly and entertainingly breaks down the trends in hit songs that charted in the 2010s.  The episode made me oddly nostalgic for the decade that hasn’t even ended yet.  Although, after having it broken down, I think I liked the hit music from the first half of the decade better than the second half.

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances: