The Muppet Movie is the first of a series of live-action musical feature films starring Jim Henson's Muppets. Released in 1979, the film was produced by Henson Associates and ITC Entertainment.
The film is dedicated to Edgar Bergen who died during production.
The film is a film-within-a-film, as we see Kermit the Frog and the rest of the Muppets creating havoc in a screening room, where they are about to watch The Muppet Movie. When asked by Robin if the film depicts how the Muppets began, Kermit responds that the movie is a somewhat fictionalized account.
As the story opens, Kermit is enjoying a relaxing afternoon in a Florida swamp, singing a tune (the Oscar-nominated "Rainbow Connection") and strumming his banjo, when he is approached by an agent named Bernie (Dom DeLuise) who recognizes his talents and encourages Kermit to pursue a career in Hollywood. Inspired by the idea of "making millions of people happy," Kermit sets off on a cross-country trip to Hollywood, initially via bicycle but eventually via Studebaker after teaming with Fozzie Bear, who had been working as a hapless stand-up comedian in a sleazy bar. During their journey, they are pursued by the villainous Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), owner of a struggling French-fried frog legs restaurant franchise, and his shy assistant, Max (Austin Pendleton). Doc Hopper (who speaks with a Southern accent and wears an outfit similar to Colonel Sanders) wants Kermit to be the new spokesman for his restaurants, but when Kermit refuses, Hopper resorts to increasingly threatening means of persuasion.
Kermit and Fozzie's journey also includes misadventures which introduce them to a variety of eccentric characters, some played by human guest stars, others played by Muppets; some of these Muppets, such as Gonzo (who had been working as a plumber) and Miss Piggy (introduced as a beauty contestant) join Kermit and Fozzie as they continue traveling to Hollywood. Along the way, they meet Sweetums (who wanted to go with them to Hollywood but missed the ride), The Electric Mayhem and their manager Scooter (who planned to turn an abandoned church into a coffee house), Rowlf (who worked as a pianist at a lounge), and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker (who owned a laboratory in a ghost town).
Meanwhile, Doc Hopper continues to try a variety of schemes to coerce Kermit into accepting the spokesman position, including kidnapping Miss Piggy, teaming up with a mad scientist, Professor Max Krassman (Mel Brooks), in an attempt to brainwash Kermit, and even hiring an assassin, Snake (Scott Walker), who kills frogs for a living. Before the climax, Max appears to Kermit disguised as a motorcycle policeman to warn Kermit. Their conflict comes to a head when Hopper and Kermit attempt a Western-style showdown in a ghost town. Kermit breaks tradition by trying to talk Hopper into backing off, but Hopper orders his henchmen to kill him. Kermit is saved only when one of Dr. Bunsen's inventions, "insta-grow" pills, temporarily turn Animal into a giant who is able to permanently scare off Hopper and his men (Animal is later shrunken back down to his normal size in the next scene since the effect of the pills is only temporary). The Muppets proceed to Hollywood, where they finally meet the imposing producer and studio executive Lew Lord (Orson Welles) (a reference to Lord Lew Grade who, in real life, gave The Muppet Show the green light), who hires them on the spot under "the standard rich-and-famous contract" after Kermit reveals why they've come.
The film ends with Kermit and the gang attempting to make their first movie, which turns out to be a surreal pastiche of their experiences, hinting that the movie they're making is the same one the audience has been watching all along, but a huge stage accident occurs, causing most of the props to collapse and fall. As the dust around shattered roof clears, a stream of rainbow appears, and the Muppets sing one last reprise of Rainbow Connection, ending the movie. After the end title appears, Sweetums tears through the screen, "finally" having caught up with the others to the amusement of the audience. After the credits finish rolling, Animal tells the viewers to go home, then he says goodbye and falls asleep.
The Muppet PerformersEdit
- Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog • Rowlf • Dr. Teeth • Waldorf • Swedish Chef
- Frank Oz as Miss Piggy • Fozzie Bear • Animal • Sam the Eagle
- Jerry Nelson as Floyd Pepper • Crazy Harry • Robin the Frog • Lew Zealand • Camilla
- Richard Hunt as Scooter • Statler • Janice • Sweetums • Beaker
- Dave Goelz as The Great Gonzo • Zoot • Dr. Bunsen Honeydew
- Steve Whitmire
- Kathryn Mullen
- Bob Payne
- Eren Ozker
- Caroly Wilcox
- Olga Felgemacher
- Bruce Schwartz
- Michael Davis
- Buz Suraci
- Tony Basilicato
- Adam Hunt
- Carroll Spinney as Big Bird
- Charles Durning as Doc Hopper
- Austin Pendleton as Max
- Richard Pryor as Balloon Vendor
- Edgar Bergen as Himself / Voice of Charlie McCarthy
- Dom DeLuise as Bernie the Agent
- Milton Berle as Mad Man Mooney
- Madeline Kahn as El Sleezo Patron
- Mel Brooks as Professor Max Krassman
- Carol Kane as Myth
- Cloris Leachman as Lord's Secretary
- Orson Welles as Lew Lord
- James Coburn as El Sleezo Cafe Owner
- Elliott Gould as Beauty Contest Compere
- Steve Martin as Insolent Waiter
- Bob Hope as Ice Cream Vendor
- Telly Savalas as El Sleezo Tough
- H.B. Haggerty as Lumberjack
- Paul Williams as El Sleezo Pianist
- Tim Burton (uncredited, unconfirmed) as Muppet Performer
- John Landis (uncredited) as Grover
- Melinda Dillon (uncredited)
- Earl Kress (uncredited) as Ernie
To perform Kermit static in 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. This scene took five days to film.
Filming locations included Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Several classic cars were specially selected by Henson for appearances in the film. The most famous was a pair of psychedelic painted 1951 Studebaker Commander Coupes. In the film, Fozzie states that he inherited the car from his uncle. When asked by Kermit if his uncle is dead, Fozzie replies "no, just hibernating". 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 TV received its image from a camera located in the center nose of the car's front grill. This made it possible for Frank Oz to sit in the front seat and portray Fozzie driving 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 1959 is distinctive for its enormous fins.
The final car driven by the Muppets is a 1946 Ford Station Wagon, which is famous for its wood panel siding and is a valuable collectible.
Breaking the fourth wallEdit
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." (referring 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.
The Muppet Movie received positive reviews; as of July 6, 2009, the film holds an 89% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 35 reviews and a 67/100 rating, which indicates "generally favorable reviews", at Metacritic. Roger Ebert gave it three-and-a-half out of four stars. He stated, "The Muppet Movie not only stars the Muppets but, for the first time, shows us their feet." The film sold nearly 26 million tickets and grossed $65,200,000 domestically (adjusted for inflation, this would equal $186,508,367), making it the highest-grossing Muppet film. The success of the film gave The Jim Henson Company an opportunity to release more Muppet productions theatrically, all of which were successful.
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.
The film's soundtrack was released by Atlantic Records in 1979, and on CD by Jim Henson Records in March 1993. The songs were written by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher. Williams recalled to Songfacts: "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."
The song "Rainbow Connection" is available on The Muppet Show: Music, Mayhem, and More - The 25th Anniversary Collection released in 2002. On the soundtrack, the second verse of the song "I Hope That Something Better Comes Along", a duet between Rowlf and Kermit, was edited for the film's release, as it contained references that the studio considered too mature for children.
- Track listing
- "Rainbow Connection" - Kermit
- "Movin' Right Along" - Kermit and Fozzie
- "Never Before, Never Again!" - Miss Piggy
- "Never Before, Never Again!" (Instrumental)
- "I Hope That Somethin' Better Comes Along!" - Kermit and Rowlf (extended version)
- "Can You Picture That?" - Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem
- "I Hope That Somethin' Better Comes Along!" (Instrumental)
- "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday" - Gonzo
- "America" - Fozzie
- "Animal...Come Back Animal"
- "Finale: The Magic Store" - Company
- Awards and nominations
- Gold Record (Soundtrack)
- Platinum Record (Soundtrack)
- Grammy Award - Best Children's Album (Soundtrack)
- Golden Globe Award - Best Song ("Rainbow Connection")
- Academy Award Nomination - Best Song ("Rainbow Connection")
- Academy Award Nomination - Best Original Score (Soundtrack)