Friday, April 12, 2013

Cynical Movie Review: The Muppet Movie

In a faraway time and place (1979), Kermit the Frog lives in a swamp, happy with his swamp friends and his banjo. He runs into a Hollywood agent, portrayed by some guy who was probably famous in the 70s and may or may not be Paul Prudhomme, who encourages him to go to Hollywood and become an entertainer, where he will make 'millions of people happy.'

Kermit packs up and heads to Hollywood on his Schwinn bicycle, but runs into Doc Hopper, a restaurant mogul that specializes in southern food-particularly a chain that sells frog legs. He offers Kermit some money to become the new advertising face of Hopper's restaurants, but Kermit refuses to participate in what to him is cannibalism. This drives Doc Hopper crazy, and he starts to pursue Kermit across the country.

Along the way, Kermit meets up with the rest of the Muppets and has some amusing adventures with the notable exceptions of an interminably long 'romantic' music number with Miss Piggy and the newly introduced fact that Doc Hopper has escalated things to the point where he has hired a 'frog assassin' (who explicitly states that his job is to 'kill frogs,' which he demonstrates by firing a trident-like projectile at a Kermit target practice thing). 

Around this time, the children watching the movie start to wonder if they should be watching what is essentially Blade Runner with more music numbers. It all leads to an extremely tense showdown, lacking even a hint of levity, in a ghost town in which Kermit makes an impassioned plea for his life and Hopper advises his assassin to 'kill him.' 

Fortunately, it all end happily when a hellishly large Animal breaks through a roof because he ate some growth pills and roars, scaring all the bad guys away. Unfortunately, they never get their comeuppance, and likely redirect their efforts to murdering Shari Lewis' beloved 'Lambchop' character.

Meanwhile the Muppets get a movie contract and film a terrible retelling of the entire movie we just saw except with ridiculous plywood sets and props. An accident causes the sound stage to collapse and Kermit closes things with the lyrics, "Life's like a movie, write your own ending." So if you were hoping for the movie to end, you are out of luck.

Why Jim Henson thought this would be the right plot for what had to be a lifelong dream to bring the Muppets to the big screen is anyone's guess. All I can think is that he must have had a dark side (after all, Muppets Take Manhattan is based around the hilarious and similarly child-friendly premise of Kermit being hit by a car and left to die in the street) and for some reason thought that modern kids just need to cry themselves to sleep a little more.

Incidentally, he wasn't alone in this perspective. I don't know what it was about the late 70s/early 80s that had people like Steven Spielberg causing beloved alien E.T. to fall into a ditch, get pneumonia, and literally die. Mark Steyn once wrote that he didn't like Sesame Street because it sanitized the 'monsters' in the world and cocooned kids into not knowing that the world was dangerous. Though I disagree and think some childhood innocence is not a bad thing, I assume Jim Henson and others traveled into the future, read that article, and decided to work overtime to horrify children with murdering Muppets and putting scary things in Labyrinth and so on. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It should be noted parenthetically that the Kermit-rides-a-bicycle scene was considered a modern wonder at the time. Siskel and Ebert had a lively discussion on HOW that could have been done.