There’s a certain joy found in classic films. While I’m a big fan of films with superheroes and car chases, one of my all-time favorite films is The Muppet Movie, which debuted in 1979. This magical film meshes the practical, whimsical puppets of Jim Henson’s imagination with a narrative that holds up against most reboots and original films of today. From Kermit the Frog to Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy, we go on a journey with them, and it’s one of the most human journeys imaginable, considering the main characters are puppets. The way that The Muppets sing a song to express simple joy or to get through a rough spot offers the message that happiness is found in you, that chasing dreams and traveling endless roads only lead right back to you.
Kermit playing his banjo
Technically speaking, The Muppet Movie was cutting edge for the late ‘70’s. To see Kermit ride a bicycle or play the banjo were true technical feats. Conceptually, the film followed the great success of Henson’s The Muppet Show, which first aired in 1976. When the film followed, these were already beloved characters. but by showing us their backstories and by weaving their collective story, the world saw old friends with fresh eyes and fell in love all over again. Henson and his team did something very smart with the film. They kept one of the most successful aspects of the weekly TV show -- celebrity cameos -- and amped it up in The Muppets.
WALDORF: "Just when you think this show is terrible something wonderful happens."
WALDORF: "It ends.”
Fast-forward from 1979 to today. In an era focused mainly on reboots and screen adaptations of books, there’s been a lack of originality in most films, particularly kids’ movies. Studios and filmmakers seem to be more focused on selling than on telling. That’s why in 2011, I was delighted by director James Bobin’s film The Muppets. Far from a re-boot or re-telling, Bobin and screenwriter and actor Jason Segel, a life-long Muppet fan, re-introduced us to The Muppets. They did so without modernizing the characters and their situations, and without going edgy and dark. (And Bobin and Segel paid homage to Henson and their heroes by giving a nod to the original series and films with celebrity cameos. Dave Grohl’s “Animal” is terrific.)
The Muppets take a stand to save their old theatre in the 2011 film
The brilliance of this film is that it makes you smile. I personally feel that with the recent installment of 2015’s Muppet TV show, we’re starting to let go of those smiles. The premise of the new show is that ABC has “modernized” The Muppets, mimicking a style last used by The Office. While initially the concept sounded clever, after watching the first episode, I decided not to continue with it. I just couldn’t fathom -- and didn’t want to fathom -- Fozzie Bear having sex with a human, or Kermit and Piggy filing divorce papers. It’s just disregarding the original purpose of the characters and their spirit.
The Puppet Office
The Muppets immortalize the idea that there’s always some good in the world, and that youalways have a song tucked away inside of you. In the 2011 film by Bobin, the character of Walter is someone people can relate to. Despite the fact that “life’s a happy song,” he feels legitimately lost and therefore goes out to find his dream to join The Muppets, but he stumbles still.
Walter doubts his place in life
He realizes that sometimes the reality of a current situation isn’t what you had pictured in your head. But Walter finds hope when he finds a broken-down, demoralized Muppet family. In truth, Walter is the most realistic and personal Muppet – he represents both coming to terms with yourself and all that you are, as well as honing in the joy that you find in the world, and sharing it. 2011’s The Muppets is human in every way imaginable. By the time the end credits roll, we realize that what began as a movie about a world that had forgotten The Muppets ends with the happy realization that Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo and the crew were with us all along.