Friday, April 04, 2008

the not-top ten project
a series of posts in which an amateur film critic discusses ten movies he loves, in no particular order, that may or may not be his favourites.

entry #1: The Muppet Movie

Robin the Frog: Uncle Kermit, is this how the Muppets really got started?

Kermit: Well, it's sort of approximately what happened.

The first copy of The Muppet Movie that I owned was a VHS recording of a CBS broadcast from the early 80's. Although I have since purchased it on DVD, the film feels, to some degree, incomplete without commercial interruptions. I miss the kids with afros hawking Apple Jacks, the passionate families discussing the care they received from the Ronald McDonald House for sick kids, and the delightful jingle wishing me a "Merry Christmas, Merry-Merry Christmas, from your K-mart savings store".

But even without this, The Muppet movie more than stands on its own two feet as a superbly entertaining film for viewers of all ages; after all, The Muppets were never strictly children's fare in the first place. What brings me back time and time again (I've never counted, but I'd wager I've seen it near a hundred times) is the sophistication of humour. Yes, the Muppets are irreverent and slapsticky, even absurdist at times, but they combine all of this chaotic energy with intelligent wordplay and esoteric references:

Bernie: You, you with the banjo, can you help me? I seem to have lost my sense of direction!
Kermit: Have you tried Hare Krishna?
[when seeing Fozzie perform for the first time]
Kermit: This guy's lost.
Waiter: Maybe he should try Hare Krishna.
Kermit: Good grief, it's a running gag.

The film's quest sends Kermit the Frog on a cross country journey to Hollywood, where, he has been informed, a major studio is holding "open auditions for frogs wishing to become rich and famous." Along the way, he is joined by a rag-tag band of familiars. Fozzie is persuaded to come along (Kermit: If they need frogs, they must need bears, too.), and provides transportation in the form of his uncle's old Studebaker. Gonzo is next:

Fozzie: You can come with us.
Gonzo: Where are you going?
Fozzie: We're following our dreams!
Gonzo: Really? I have a dream, too.
Fozzie: What?
Gonzo: You might think it's stupid.
Fozzie: No we won't.
Gonzo: Well, I want to go to Bombay, India to become a movie star.
Fozzie: You don't go to Bombay to become a movie star. You go where we're going, Hollywood.
Gonzo: Well, sure, if you want to do it the "easy" way.

Miss Piggy, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem, and the rest of the gang follow soon after.

Naturally, there's a fair amount of song and dance interspersed throughout the film. Now, as an adult, I tend to be turned off by a lot of the tepid soundtracks that pepper "children's" films, but the music and lyrics in The Muppet Movie never fail to set my toes-a-tappin' and my mind-a-hoppin'. Actor/Composer-- or Composer/Actor-- Paul Williams (who wrote classics like "Rainy Days and Mondays" and "We've Only Just Begun") provides songs that are catchy as heck (Movin' Right Along), clever as all get out (I Hope that Something Better Comes Along), and touching, to boot (i.e. The Rainbow Connection and I Hope to Go Back There Someday). The songs don't feel like interruptions as many do in much of today's fare.

If there is an element of The Muppet Movie that might suffer the test of time, it is likely to be its celebrity cameos. Guest appearances by the likes of Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Elliot Gould, Mel Brooks, Carol Kane, and Orson Welles (amongst others) will never have the impact they did when these performers were more familiar to audiences. Their scenes are no less amusing,and young viewers are not prone to care about how famous the actors in a film really are. I suspect, however, that some of The Muppet Movie's "wow-factor" will diminish as recognition of these stars of yore continues to wane, and the film will lose some of its appeal to the older demographics.

Perhaps the release of the original Muppet Show on DVD will do something to keep the vaudevillian flavour of the Muppets and their human guest hosts alive for contemporary and future generations to enjoy and appreciate (seasons 1 & 2 are available to purchase as I write this).

I maintain full confidence that The Muppet Movie will continue to entertain regardless of any aspects that might become dated. The film is evidence that Jim Henson perfected fun, and he has infused his creations with a sensibility that is, at once, unique and universal. In order to ensure that new audiences are introduced to his genius, it is up to Muppet fans to share Henson's work with friends and family, which is why The Muppet Movie holds the rank of entry number one on my not-top ten list.

No comments: