Saturday, March 17, 2018

Classics: A Review of The Muppet Movie By Lauren Ennis

Family films are often dismissed as strictly juvenile fare that have little to offer adult viewers. Some family films, however, earn that family status by providing entertainment that truly is for the entire family. One such film is the 1979 adventure/comedy The Muppet Movie. Over the course of its ninety-seven minute running time the film offers so much laughter, life lessons, and inspiration that even the most cynical of viewers will be cheering for Kermit and company to find the rainbow connection and make their Hollywood dreams come true.

Moving right along, foot loose and fancy free!
The story begins as Kermit the Frog longingly daydreams about life beyond the confines of his swamp. After a chance meeting with a Hollywood talent scout who encourages him to pursue his dreams, Kermit leaps into action and sets out for Hollywood. Kermit soon learns that the road to fame is not paved with gold, however, when relentless restauranteur Doc Hopper attempts to persuade Kermit to become the face of his fast-fried frog legs chain. Despite Kermit’s repeated refusals Hopper will not take no for an answer and doggedly pursues Kermit on what is easily one of cinema’s wildest road trips. Along the way, Kermit encounters a colorful cast of characters including aspiring comedian Fozzy Bear, eccentric dare devil Gonzo, and model/actress Miss Piggy. Through their by turns slapstick and suspenseful adventure the group learn lessons in life and love that will hold equal appeal for the young and young at heart.

Much like Jim Henson’s previous success, The Muppet Show, The Muppet Movie succeeds by prioritizing being a good movie over being a family film. The film merges the best in family entertainment and cinema at large to relate its wonderfully wacky tale. The central premise of a protagonist looking to find himself on the open road would be at home in a number of coming of age films directed towards adult audiences, as would the characters’ struggles to find success in Hollywood. Similarly, the dynamic between Kermit and his cohorts recalls the best in buddy comedies past and present. While the film’s inclusion of these cinema staples maintains the interest of adult audiences, the film’s child-friendly approach ensures that it is still age-appropriate. The script strikes an ideal balance between adult and child humor by including pop-culture references that will largely be lost on young viewers as well as more universal slapstick gags. In this way the film is able to maintain its madcap sensibility while still carrying broad audience appeal. The innovative visuals which largely utilize hand-made puppets in place of actors brings the whimsical world of the Muppets to vibrant life. The inclusion of Broadway-style songs also enriches the story by lending valuable insight into the characters while still keeping audiences’ tapping their toes. The now famous Rainbow Connection particularly stands out for its inspiring message and wistful melody.

Piggy believes in miracles...where you from, you sexy frog, you
The cast perfectly captures the anarchic spirit of the Muppets as actors work alongside their puppet co-stars, to bring the antics of the beloved puppets to life. Charles Durning and Austin Pendleton make an ideal comedic pair as the deranged Doc Hopper and his conflicted henchman, Max. The host of celebrities who pepper the film with cameos also lend apt support even as the spotlight remains firmly upon our felt heroes. The efforts of the voice actors and puppeteers combine to create top-notch performances that will have viewers forgetting that the leads aren’t flesh and blood.

Equal parts comedy and adventure, The Muppet Movie is a journey for the eyes, ears, and above all the heart. Through a combination of song, dance, and setting the film creates a whimsical version of our own world in which even our wildest dreams can come true. The film defies genre expectations through its use of witty but gentle humor, loveably flawed characters, and resonant but not forced life lessons, earning it a spot amongst the best in family entertainment. Nearly forty years after its release The Muppet Movie remains a must-see for the lovers, the dreamers, and the child within us all.


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