|The Muppet Movie|
Theatrical release poster by Drew Struzan
|Directed by||James Frawley|
|Produced by||Jim Henson|
|Edited by||Christopher Greenbury|
|Distributed by||Associated Film Distribution[a]|
|Box office||$76.7 million|
The Muppet Movie is a 1979 musical road comedy film and the first theatrical film featuring the Muppets. Directed by James Frawley and produced by Jim Henson, the film's screenplay was conceived by The Muppet Show writers Jerry Juhl and Jack Burns. An American and British venture produced by Henson Associates and ITC Entertainment between the first half and the second half of The Muppet Show's third season, the film depicts Kermit the Frog as he embarks on a cross-country trip to Hollywood. Along the way, he encounters several of the Muppets—who all share the same ambition of finding success in professional show business—while being pursued by Doc Hopper, an evil restaurateur with intentions of employing Kermit as a spokesperson for his frog legs business.
In addition to the Muppet performers, the film stars Charles Durning and Austin Pendleton, and features cameo appearances by Dom DeLuise, James Coburn, Edgar Bergen (in his final film appearance), Steve Martin, and Mel Brooks, among others. Notable for its surreal humour, meta-references and prolific use of cameos, The Muppet Movie was released in the United Kingdom on May 31, 1979, and in the United States on June 22, 1979, and received critical praise; including two Academy Award nominations for Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher's musical score and their song, "Rainbow Connection". 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 success of The Muppet Movie led to several other feature films starring the Muppets: The Great Muppet Caper (1981), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Muppets from Space (1999), The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014).
The film begins with the Muppets sitting down at a private screening to watch a movie that tells the story of how they all met.
Kermit the Frog lives a simple life in a Florida swamp. One day, he enjoys an afternoon playing his banjo and singing "Rainbow Connection", when he is approached by Bernie, a talent agent who encourages Kermit to pursue a career in show business before being chased away by a nearby alligator. Inspired by the idea of "making millions of people happy", Kermit sets off on a cross-country trip to L.A., but is soon pursued by entrepreneur Doc Hopper and his assistant Max, who attempt to convince Kermit to be the new spokesman of Hopper's struggling french-fried frog legs restaurant franchise. Unwilling to accept Kermit's refusal, Hopper resorts to increasingly insane means of persuasion.
Kermit meets Fozzie Bear, working as a hapless stand-up comedian, and invites him on his journey. The two set out in Fozzie's 1951 Studebaker. They meet the rock band Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem and their manager Scooter in an old church, who receive a copy of the film's script from the pair. They meet and are joined by Gonzo and his girlfriend Camilla the Chicken. They trade in their failing vehicle at a used car lot, where they meet Sweetums. They invite him to come with them, but he runs away. Thinking he does not want to come, the others drive away only for Sweetums to come back out and reveal that he had only run away to pack his things.
The group also meets Miss Piggy at a county fair, and she immediately becomes love-stricken with Kermit. While Kermit and Miss Piggy form a relationship over dinner that night, Hopper and Max kidnap Miss Piggy as bait to lure Kermit. Using an electronic "cerebrectomy" device, mad scientist Professor Krassman tries to brainwash Kermit into performing in Hopper's advertisements, but an enraged Miss Piggy knocks out Hopper's henchmen and causes Krassman to be brainwashed by his own device. However, Miss Piggy receives a job offer, and promptly abandons a devastated Kermit.
Joined later by Rowlf the Dog and reunited with Miss Piggy, 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 The Electric Mayhem find the stranded Muppets after reading ahead in the script, and offer to take them the rest of the way in their bus.
The group is warned by Max that Hopper has hired an assassin, Snake Walker, to kill Kermit, who decides to face his aggressor and proposes a Western-style showdown in a nearby ghost town. There, they find inventor Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker. Confronting Hopper, Kermit attempts to 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. Bunsen's inventions, "insta-grow" pills, temporarily turns Mayhem drummer Animal into a giant, frightening away Hopper and his henchmen for good.
The Muppets reach Hollywood, but are soon stopped by studio secretary Miss Tracy, until spreading loose fur causes her to suffer an allergic reaction. They finally meet studio executive Lew Lord, who signs the Muppets to a "standard 'rich and famous' contract", and attempt to make their first movie as a pastiche of their journey. The first take goes awry when Gonzo crashes into the prop rainbow, and an explosion blows a hole in the roof of the studio. As the Muppets stand in stunned silence, a natural rainbow suddenly shines through the hole and right onto the Muppets. Joined by other Muppet characters, the Muppets sing the final verses of "The Magic Store/Rainbow Connection (Reprise)", before Sweetums crashes through the movie screen in the theater, ending the film, finally catching up with the rest of the crew as they congratulate each other on their performances.
- Charles Durning as Doc Hopper, a businessman, entrepreneur, and restaurateur.
- Austin Pendleton as Max, Doc Hopper's shy right-hand man and sidekick.
- Scott Walker as Snake Walker, an assassin who specializes in killing frogs.
- H.B. Haggerty as Lumberjack
- Bruce Kirby as Gate Guard
- James Frawley as Waiter at El Sleezo Café, where Fozzie is doing his comedy act
- Melinda Dillon as a Woman with Balloon (uncredited)
- Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, Waldorf, Swedish Chef
- Frank Oz as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam Eagle, Marvin Suggs
- Jerry Nelson as Floyd Pepper, Crazy Harry, Robin the Frog, Lew Zealand, Camilla the Chicken
- Richard Hunt as Scooter, Statler, Janice, Sweetums, Beaker
- Dave Goelz as The Great Gonzo, Zoot, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Doglion
- Caroll Spinney as Big Bird
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. Also, 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 Steve Whitmire, Kathryn Mullen, Bob Payne, Eren Ozker, Carolyn Wilcox, Olga Felgemacher, Bruce Schwartz, Michael Earl Davis, Buz Suraci, Tony Basilicato and Adam Hunt.
Cameo guest stars
(in order of appearance)
- Dom DeLuise as Bernie, a Hollywood agent who meets Kermit in the swamp. The character's name is a reference to Bernie Brillstein, talent agent and producer of The Muppet Show.
- James Coburn as El Sleezo Café Owner
- Madeline Kahn as an El Sleezo Patron, with the same rhotacism and personality Kahn used for Lili von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles
- Telly Savalas as El Sleezo Tough
- Carol Kane as "Myth" (summoned by name)
- Paul Williams as El Sleezo Pianist.
- Milton Berle as Mad Man Mooney, a used car salesman for whom Sweetums worked as a jack.
- Elliott Gould as Compère, who announces Miss Piggy as the winner of the Bogen County Beauty Pageant
- Edgar Bergen as Himself and Charlie McCarthy, playing judges at the Bogen County Fair. This would be Bergen's final film role, as he died shortly after his scene was filmed.
- Bob Hope as Ice Cream Vendor
- Richard Pryor as Balloon Vendor, a man who sells balloons to Gonzo at the Bogen County Fair.
- Steve Martin as Insolent Waiter, a sarcastic waiter that works at the restaurant that Rowlf used to work at.
- Mel Brooks as Professor Max Krassman, a mad scientist who is hired by Doc Hopper.
- Cloris Leachman as Miss Tracy, Lew Lord's secretary who is allergic to animals.
- Orson Welles as Lew Lord, a Hollywood producer and studio executive. The character's name is a reference to Sir Lew Grade, head of British company, ATV, which co-produced the original Muppet Show.
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." Filming locations included Albuquerque, New Mexico.
To perform Kermit static 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 Frank Oz in front of a blue screen, and were composited onto a separate reel of the stage. Both of these effects and the bicycle effect would be used again, and refined, in subsequent Muppet films.
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 Muppet 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 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 celebration of the film's 40th anniversary, The Muppet Movie returned to theaters for two days on July 25 and 30, 2019.
The Muppet Movie was the first film from ITC Entertainment 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. In 1993, Buena Vista Home Video re-released the film under their Jim Henson Video label. The movie was reissued again on VHS by Columbia Tristar Home Video[nb 1] and Jim Henson Home Entertainment on June 1, 1999, who would then release the movie onto DVD on June 5, 2001. It was re-released by Walt Disney Home Entertainment on DVD and reissued as a Walt Disney Pictures release in November 2005, as Kermit's 50th Anniversary Edition. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released the film as the Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray Disc and DVD in August 2013. This leaves out the rights to the Sesame Street characters already owned by Sesame Workshop.
The film proved to be a huge hit at the box office during the summer of 1979 and ended up grossing $76,657,000 domestically, making it the seventh highest-grossing film of 1979, and also the second highest-grossing Muppet film after the release of The Muppets in 2011. The success of the film gave Jim Henson Productions an opportunity to release more Muppet productions theatrically.
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's 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 8/10, based on 48 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 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.
- American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
- "Rainbow Connection" – #74
- AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals – Nominated
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipients and nominees||Result|
|Academy Awards||April 14, 1980||Best Original Song||"Rainbow Connection" – Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher||Nominated|
|Best Adaptation Score||Songs by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher; Adaption by Paul Williams||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Awards||January 26, 1980||Best Original Song||"Rainbow Connection" – Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher||Nominated|
|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|
- The film's distribution rights were purchased by The Jim Henson Company from ITC Entertainment in August 1984. The film rights were then transferred to Walt Disney Studios upon their parent company's acquisition of the Muppets franchise in 2004. Currently, Universal Pictures, due to prior contractual obligations with the former Associated Film Distribution and ITC, handles theatrical distribution, but the film’s ownership and copyright stands with The Walt Disney Company, and current home media releases label the film as a Walt Disney Pictures presentation.
- Renamed Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment in April 2001, then Sony Pictures Home Entertainment between November 2004 and March 2005.
- Jay Jones, Brian (2013). "Chapter 12: Twists and Turns". Jim Henson: The Biography. Ballantine Books (Random House). pp. 374–375. ISBN 978-0345526113.
- Thompson, Simon (July 25, 2019). "Remembering 'The Muppet Movie' At 40 With Gonzo". Forbes. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
- "THE MUPPET MOVIE (U)". British Board of Film Classification. May 14, 1979. Retrieved July 27, 2015.
- "Box Office Information for The Muppet Movie". The Numbers. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
- Jones, Brian Jay (2013). "Life's Like a Movie". Jim Henson: The Biography. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 296. ISBN 978-0-345-52611-3.
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.
- Roessner, Beth (March 22, 2014). "First 'Muppets' director recalls original". USA Today. Retrieved September 5, 2014.
- Rabin, Nathan (July 29, 2009). "Austin Pendleton | Film | Random Roles". The A.V. Club. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
- 100 years of filmmaking in New Mexico 1898–1998. New Mexico Dept. of Tourism. 1998. p. 118.
- Swansburg, John (December 6, 2013). "Muppet Man". The New York Times. Retrieved April 10, 2014.
- The Muppet Show Fan Club newsletter (vol. 2, no. 1)
- "Rainbow Connection". Songfacts.com. Retrieved December 7, 2009.
- "More Than a Rainbow Connection: The Muppet Movie Revisited". Den of Geek. July 20, 2019. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
- Spain, Tom (January 25, 1993). "The Great Muppet Deal". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 2, 2019.
- "Sony Pictures Renames Columbia TriStar". Billboard. November 19, 2004. Retrieved July 29, 2015.
- Truitt, Brian (August 9, 2013). "Kermit, Fozzie entertain in 'Muppet Movie' camera test". USA Today. Retrieved August 12, 2013.
- Lew Grade, Still Dancing: My Story, William Collins & Sons 1987 p 252
- Ebert, Roger (November 14, 1979). "The Muppet Movie". Chicago Sun-Times. rogerebert.com. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- Canby, Vincent (June 22, 1979). "The Screen: Muppets Go to Hollywood:Roadiest Road Picture". The New York Times. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
- Siskel, Gene (August 3, 1979). "The Muppets plant feet firmly on the big screen". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 13.
- Pollock, Dale (May 30, 1979). "Film Reviews: The Muppet Movie". Variety. p. 16.
- Champlin, Charles (June 21, 1979). "Muppets Invade the Real World". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 17.
- Ames, Katrine (July 2, 1979). "Kermit and His Gang". Newsweek. p. 67.
- "The Muppet Movie". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- "25 new titles added to National Film Registry". Yahoo News. Yahoo. December 30, 2009. Archived from the original on January 6, 2010. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees" (PDF).
- "AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Ballot" (PDF).
- Kilday, Gregg (December 2, 2013). "Satellite Awards: '12 Years a Slave' Leads Film Nominees". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
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