|The Muppet Movie|
|Directed by||James Frawley|
|Produced by||Jim Henson|
|Edited by||Christopher Greenbury|
|Distributed by||Associated Film Distribution[a]|
|Box office||$65.2 million|
The Muppet Movie is a 1979 American musical road comedy film directed by James Frawley and produced by Jim Henson. A co-production between the United Kingdom and the United States, it is the first theatrical film in The Muppets franchise. The film was written by The Muppet Show writers Jerry Juhl and Jack Burns. Produced between the first and second half of The Muppet Show's third season, the film tells the origin story of the Muppets, as Kermit the Frog embarks on a cross-country trip to Los Angeles, encountering several of the Muppets—who all share the same ambition of finding success in professional show business—along the way while being pursued by Doc Hopper, a greedy restaurateur with intentions of employing Kermit as a spokesperson for his frog legs business.
In addition to the Muppets performers, the film stars Charles Durning and Austin Pendleton, and it features cameo appearances by Dom DeLuise, James Coburn, Edgar Bergen (in his final film appearance before his death), Steve Martin, and Mel Brooks, among others. Notable for its surreal humour, meta-references and prolific use of cameos, The Muppet Movie was released by Associated Film Distribution in the United Kingdom on May 31, 1979, and in the United States on June 22, 1979, and it received critical praise, including two Academy Award nominations for Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher's musical score and their song, "Rainbow Connection". The success of The Muppet Movie led to several other feature films and television series starring the Muppets across different media. In 2009, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
The story opens with the Muppets sitting down at a private screening to watch a movie, for not only a screen testing, but as a pastiche of how they all met.
Kermit the Frog lives a simple life in a Florida swamp. One day, he plays his banjo and sings "Rainbow Connection", and is approached by Bernie, a talent 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 Hollywood.
Kermit meets Fozzie Bear, who is working as a hapless stand-up comedian, and Kermit invites Fozzie on his journey. The two set out in Fozzie's 1951 Studebaker, but are soon pursued by entrepreneur Doc Hopper and his assistant Max in an attempt by Hopper to convince Kermit to be the new spokesfrog of Hopper's struggling French-fried frog legs restaurant franchise. Horrified, Kermit kindly refuses and he and Fozzie drive away. Unwilling to accept Kermit's refusal, Hopper resorts to increasingly forceful means of persuasion. In an old church, Kermit and Fozzie meet the rock band Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, and the band's manager Scooter, who help them disguise their car. Driving on, they meet and are joined by Gonzo and his girlfriend Camilla the Chicken, who are also interested in becoming movie stars. They trade in their failing vehicle at a used car lot, where they meet Sweetums. They invite Sweetums to come with them, but he runs away. The others drive away, only for Sweetums to emerge and reveal that he had only gone to pack his things.
The group meets Miss Piggy at a county fair, and she immediately becomes love-stricken with Kermit. When Kermit and Miss Piggy meet for dinner that night, Hopper and Max sneak up on Miss Piggy and abduct her as bait to lure Kermit. When Kermit arrives at the designated location, mad scientist Professor Krassman tries to brainwash Kermit into performing in Hopper's advertisements, but Miss Piggy furiously knocks out Hopper's henchmen and causes Krassman to be brainwashed by his own device. However, immediately after the fight and saving Kermit, Miss Piggy receives a job offer and promptly abandons a devastated Kermit.
Joined by Rowlf the Dog and reunited with Miss Piggy along the way, the Muppets continue their journey to Hollywood, but their car breaks down in the desert. Sitting at a campfire, the group sadly realizes that they will likely miss the audition the next day. Kermit wanders off, ashamed for bringing his friends on a fruitless journey, but some personal reflection restores his commitment. He returns to camp, where he discovers the Electric Mayhem have come to their rescue, having learned of their plight by reading ahead in the film's script. The Mayhem offer to drive the entire group the rest of the way in their bus.
The group is warned by a reformed Max that Hopper has hired an assassin, Snake Walker, to kill Kermit. Kermit decides to face his aggressor and proposes a Western-style showdown in a nearby ghost town. There, they find inventor Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker. Kermit confronts Hopper with an appeal to Hopper's own hopes and dreams, but Hopper is unmoved and orders his henchmen to kill Kermit and his friends. They are saved when one of Dr. Honeydew's inventions, "insta-grow" pills, temporarily enlarges Mayhem drummer Animal, who frightens away Hopper and his henchmen for good.
Once the Muppets reach the Hollywood studio, they finally meet studio executive Lew Lord, who signs the Muppets to a "standard 'rich and famous' contract". The first take in their attempt to perform the script goes awry when Gonzo crashes into the prop rainbow, and an explosion blows a hole in the roof of the studio. However, a real rainbow shines through the hole and onto the Muppets. Joined by other Muppet characters from The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, and The Land of Gorch, the Muppets all sing together.
Sweetums then tears through the movie screen in the theater, ending the film and catching up with the rest of the crew as they congratulate each other on their performances.
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. Director Tim Burton is one of the puppeteers in the final shot of the film. John Landis is also in the final shot, performing Grover. Landis and Burton were both uncredited.
Many other long time members of Jim Henson's team also provided puppeteer services, including Whitmire, Kathryn Mullen, Bob Payne, Eren Ozker, Carolyn Wilcox, Olga Felgemacher, Bruce Schwartz, Michael Earl Davis, Buz Suraci, Tony Basilicato, and Adam Hunt (brother of Richard Hunt).
(in order of appearance)
The main obstacle the filmmakers were faced with during the development of The Muppet Movie was whether the Muppets would transition seamlessly from television to film. In 1978, director James Frawley, Jim Henson, and Frank Oz filmed several camera tests outside London to test how the characters would appear in real-world locations. 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." Principal photography began in July 1978, and filming locations included Albuquerque, New Mexico as well as various parts of Los Angeles and Northern California.
To perform Kermit sitting on a log, 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. 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 were 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 Oz in front of a blue screen, and they were composited onto a separate reel of the stage. Both of these effects and the bicycle effect were used again, and refined, in subsequent Muppet films.
For scenes involving driving, a dwarf sat in the trunk and controlled via remote control. A television monitor showed what was ahead
The closing reprise of "Rainbow Connection" featured a crowd of more than 250 Muppet characters—virtually every Muppet that had been created up to that point in time. According to Henson Archivist Karen Falk: "137 puppeteers were enlisted from the Puppeteers of America (along with the regular Muppets performers) to perform every Muppet extant. Prior to the day-long filming of the shot, Henson gave the enthusiastic participants a lesson in the art of cinematic puppetry. Amazingly, it did take just one day." The Muppet Show Fan Club newsletter answered the question of "How did they do it?" The response was "There are 250 puppets in the last shot of the film, and they're all moving. How? 150 puppeteers in a 6' deep, 17' wide pit, that's how. They were recruited through the Los Angeles Guild of The Puppeteers of America and almost every puppeteer west of the Rockies reported for pit duty." In September 1978, Edgar Bergen, Henson's idol who appeared in a cameo role, died shortly after completing his scenes. Henson dedicated the film to his memory.
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. In one scene, Kermit and Fozzie encounter Big Bird on the road, offering him a lift to Hollywood, but he declines, heading to New York City to break into public television, referencing the character's role in 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.
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 National Museum in South Bend, Indiana.
Doc Hopper is chauffeured throughout the movie by Max in a 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood 75 Limousine.
The final car driven by the Muppets is a 1946 Ford Woodie station wagon, famous for its wood panel siding and a valuable collectible.
Main article: The Muppet Movie (soundtrack)
The film's music was written by Kenneth Ascher and Paul Williams. 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."
"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, although the song appeared complete in the British theatrical and home video debut versions. In "Finale: The Magic Store", a line performed by Kermit in the film is sung by Fozzie on the soundtrack recording.
In May 1979, CBS aired The Muppets Go Hollywood, a one-hour television special that promoted the then-upcoming release of The Muppet Movie. In April, the film had been promoted when the Muppets hosted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Additionally, a book adaptation of The Muppet Movie, adapted by Steven Crist, was published by Peacock Press/Bantam Books.
The Muppet Movie was the first film by ITC Films to be released on home video when Magnetic Video issued it in May 1980, having acquired the video rights to ITC's films. It was reissued in 1982 and 1984 by CBS/Fox Video. On January 29, 1993, Buena Vista Home Video re-released the film under their Jim Henson Video label on VHS and LaserDisc. The movie was reissued again on VHS by Columbia TriStar Home Video and Jim Henson Home Entertainment on June 1, 1999, followed by a DVD release on June 5, 2001. After Disney's acquisition of the film as part of the core Muppets franchise, the film was reissued as a Walt Disney Pictures release and was re-released by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment on DVD on November 29, 2005 as part of the Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition line. Disney released the film as the Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray Disc and DVD on August 13, 2013.
The Muppet Movie had a royal premiere at the Leicester Square Theatre in London on May 31, 1979, attended by Princess Anne. It was released in the United States on June 22, 1979.
In celebration of the film's 40th anniversary, The Muppet Movie returned to theaters for two days on July 25 and 30, 2019.
In its first six days at the Leicester Square Theatre, it grossed $31,884. The film would later earn over $65 million in the United States and Canada, returning $32 million in box office rentals. Ever since its release, The Muppet Movie was the highest-grossing puppet film until the release of The Muppets in 2011.
The film's successful theatrical release encouraged Lew Grade into furthering his own film distribution company, which later backfired with the massive box office failures of Can't Stop the Music (from EMI) and Raise the Titanic (from ITC), both released by Associated Film Distribution just a year later.
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." 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 is governed by intelligence and wit." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "surely one of the summer's most entertaining films," which "does a fairly nice job of trying to be all things to all people. Which is not an easy job." Dale Pollock of Variety wrote, "'The Muppet Movie' is a winner ... Script by Jerry Juhl and Jack Burns incorporates the zingy one-liners and bad puns that have become the teleseries' trade mark, but also develops the Muppets themselves as thinking, feeling characters."
Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "as you might well expect, it is hip, funny, technically ingenious, fast-moving, melodious, richly produced, contemporary and equally and utterly beguiling to grown-ups and small persons." Katrine Ames of Newsweek stated, "'The Muppet Movie' is a delectable grab bag of influences — stories by L. Frank Baum and Lewis Carroll, Westerns, the Crosby-Hope and Garland-Rooney movies — as well as its own inventive devices. The result is a kind of 'That's Entertainment!' with a plot attached. Its charm — and success — lie primarily in its loving pokes at Hollywood conventions and in the lovable characters who do the poking." Leonard Maltin's annual movie guide found the film enjoyable, though he called the score "pedestrian".
The Muppet Movie currently holds an 88% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 8.00/10, based on 50 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." In 2009, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant". In 2020, "Rainbow Connection" was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry.
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipients and nominees||Result|
|Academy Awards||April 14, 1980||Best Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Adaptation Score||Songs by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher;
Adaption by Paul Williams
|Best Original Song||"Rainbow Connection"
Music and Lyrics by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher
|Golden Globe Awards||January 26, 1980||Best Original Song||"Rainbow Connection"
Music and Lyrics by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher
|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||Best Youth Blu-ray||Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment||Nominated|
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.
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