The Muppet Movie

Release Date – June 22, 1979

Directed by James Frawley

Starring Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz (The Muppets) Charles Durning, Austin Pendleton

Written by Jack Burns, Jerry Juhl

Review – The international phenomenon, for the first time on the big screen, would have been an easy film to mess up, if they had played it safe.  Instead, you get something that stays true to the spirit of the show (just a bunch of hard-working Muppets, trying to crack into showbiz), carving out a movie within a movie and going through all the motions of meeting all of the major characters.  The effects, groundbreaking then, stand the test of time, appearing quaint and realistic at the same time.  The cameos all hit the right notes, without being too cheesy.  The musical numbers are astounding, especially “The Rainbow Connection,” “Movin’ Right Along,” and “I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along.”  If they never did another film, they secured their place in history with this one film.

Best Moment – Steve Martin, as the incredibly rude waiter.

Worst Moment – Being asked to be a pitch man for Frog Legs…over and over, is kind of sick.

Cameos – Edgar Bergan, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Dom DeLuise, Elliot Gould, Bob Hope, Madeline Kahn, Carol Kane, Cloris Leachman, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Telly Savalas, Orson Welles, Paul Williams

Rating – *****

The Great Muppet Caper

Release Date – July 26, 1981

Directed by Jim Henson

Starring The Muppets (add Steven Whitmire), Charles Grodin, Diana Rigg,

Written by Tom Prachett, Jay Tarsas, Juhl and Jack Rose

Review – In many ways better than its predecessor with only a few drawbacks.  Grodin is deliciously bad and his crush on Ms. Piggy is quite amusing.  The  musical numbers have some instant classics, like “Hey! A Movie!,” “Happiness Hotel” and “The First Time It Happens.”  The latter song has a remarkable dance number, pushing the bounds of puppetry.

Best Moment – Gonzo, after a rough landing, responds to Kermit’s inquiry to his condition by saying “It’s okay.  I landed on my head.” has to be tied with Fozzie and Kermit being twin brothers, and a picture of their dad to prove it.  No one can really tell, of course, unless Fozzie puts on his hat.

Worst Moment – The robbery, taking place in the midst of the opening number, I still don’t realize it, sometimes.

Cameos – John Cleese, Jack Warden, Robert Morley, Peter Ustinov, Peter Falk,

Rating – ****1/2 out of *****

The Muppets Take Manhattan

Release Date – July 13, 1984

Directed by Frank Oz

Starring The Muppets, Louis Zorch, Julia Donald, Lonny Price, Gates McFadden

Written by Patchett, Tarses and Oz

Review – The third time is just as charming as the first two.  In keeping with the let’s put on a show motif, they all head for Broadway, and promptly split up, allowing each to have their own moments.  The music, still very good, is not perhaps to the standards as the other movies.  I will take it, though, and so will my kids.

Best Moment – Any time Pete speaks, it is as intelligible as it is hilarious, and Kermit at the hospital office, getting his reflexes checked.  Oh, and their first night in New York, sleeping in lockers.  Pure Muppet genius.

Worst Moment – Brooke Shields is an easy mark, but the Muppet babies, cute as they were, just felt like a tie in.  An incredibly successful tie in.

Cameos – Frances Bergen, Art Carney, Dabney Coleman, James Coco, Elliot Gould, Gregory Hines, Ed Koch, John Landis, Linda Lavin, Liza Minnelli, Joan Rivers, Brooke Shields

Rating – **** out of *****

The Muppet Christmas Carol 

Release Date – December 11, 1992

Directed by Brian Henson

Starring The Muppets (- Jim Henson and Richard Hunt, who passed away prior to filming), Michael Caine, Steve MacKintosh

Written by Jerry Juhl, based on the original story by Charles Dickens

Review – A fairly straight adaptation of the original story, helped along by Michael Caine’s game presentation as Scrooge.  The world is more alive with Muppets than any of the earlier efforts, with all parts of the screen literally crawling with them.  If ever there was one meant to portray Bob Cratchit, it was Kermit.  An inspired movie all the way, even if it started a trend of Muppet movies based on classic works.  One can appreciate that they did not back away from the scarier parts of the tale.  “One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas” ages as well as the rest of the film.

Best Moment – Statler and Waldorf as Jacob and “Raggae” Bob Marley.  Gonzo as Dickens is a treat, too.

Worst Moment – Miss Piggy is not really allowed to be, well, herself.  She plays Ms. Cratchit straight up, without laying anyone out.

Cameos – None, really.

Rating – ****1/2 out of *****

Muppet Treasure Island

Release Date – February 16, 1996

Directed by Brian Henson

Starring The Muppets, Tim Curry, Jennifer Saunders, Billy Connolly, Kevin Bishop

Written by Jerry Juhl, James V. Hart, Kirk R, Thatcher, based on the original story by Robert Louis Stevenson

Review – The trend of mining classics continues here, and it’s not too bad, if not that original.  The worst part of this is the performance of Jim, by Kevin Bishop.  The kid just couldn’t act as well as Muppets.  It’s doubtful he could outperform an inanimate object.  And he sings like a little girl.  That is fine, when you are a little girl, not the son of a Pirate.  Tim Curry is fine, so far as he goes.  I am not much of a fan.  I prefer Connolly.  The lack of original script takes from the effectiveness of the Muppet allure.  We know that they are a troupe of performers and it is likely this is what they’d be doing anyway, but when comparing this to the wonderful originality of the first movies, and Muppets in Space to follow, it feels a bit like spinning the wheels.

Best Moment – Billy Bones’ death scene is comical, but sad because it meant that Connolly wasn’t going to be on the screen any longer.  Anytime Gonzo is tortured, everyone benefits.

Worst Moment – Too much Jim.  Yeah, I know he’s the central character.  That’s another part of the problem.

Cameos – Connelly’s role is so short, it feels like a cameo.

Rating – ***1/2 out of *****

Muppets from Space

Release Date – July 14, 1999

Directed by Tim Hill

Starring The Muppets (+Bill Barretta) Jeffrey Tambor, Andie MacDowell

Written by Jerry Juhl, Joey Mazzarino, Ken Kaufman

Review – My favorite of the Muppet films and a wonderful return to the original scripts and the first of the films to feature Pepe the King Prawn.  Without a doubt, Pepe is the finest character in Muppet History.  A speech pattern filled with innuendo, along with a punctuated “Okay?” at the end of each sentence, he provides a rush of life to the Muppets, giving them the edge they have long lacked.  The decision to explore the origins of Gonzo is a nice one, and it makes for a sweetly interesting plot.  The cheese of Jeffrey Tambor is at times grating (pun intended), but what he lacks in menace, he makes up for in enthusiasm.  The first movie not to feature original music, this was a drawback, but it is almost made up for with the decision to feature a primarily funk soundtrack.  The cameo’s are sometimes inspired, especially Josh Charles turn as a true match for Miss Piggy’s fists, and sometimes just weird, like David Arquette.

Best Moment – Any of the moments with Pepe are clear standouts.  Josh Charles versus Miss Piggy was awesome.

Worst Moment – The Andy Dick puppet inflicting torture on Gonzo…didn’t go anywhere it normally would with the torture loving Gonzo.  Worse though, was Hulk Hogan doing a call out for all of his fans in a movie is just odd.

Cameos – Kathy Griffin, Ray Liotta, David Arquette, F. Murray Abraham, Rob Schneider, Hulk Hogan.

Rating – ****1/2 out of *****

The Muppets

Release Date – November 23, 2011

Directed by James Bobin

Starring The Muppets ( – Frank Oz, + Eric Jacobson), Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones

Written by Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller

Review – This is a wonderful throwback to anyone who has loved The Muppets from day one.  There is a delightful mixture of decent new songs, like “Life is a Happy Song” and “Man or Muppet,” along with hints of many of the classics.  There are also some well-devised covers that make total sense, when you see who covers them.  Walter is a great new Muppet and the filmmakers wisely move a lot of the focus on him, as well as Segal and Adams.  The altered focus costs some of the others (like Pepe and Gonzo) some screen time, but others, like the Swedish Chef and Animal get awesome, bumped up roles.

The voices, for the die hards, are just a little off.  Those who let it ruin this for them are missing the fact that the characters are just right.  Kermit is still Kermit.  Fozzie does what Fozzie would do, given the options, and who didn’t think that Piggy would be working for Vogue?

The great thing about the Muppets, is that they always knew when they were making a film, and went ahead and took shortcuts, when it would benefit the movie.  This film is no exception, as the first couple of “recruitment” scenes take so long, that they decide to employ some cheap movie gimmicks to gather the rest.

Amy Adams is as good a Muppet girl as they’ve ever had, even if she is a little more sugary than Julia Donald’s Jenny from …Take Manhattan.  Her voice is pure gold and she is willing to take a back seat, which is very smart when working with Muppets.

Jason Segel was born to work with and write for The Muppets.  His humor is harsh on himself and easy on the co-stars, like the best Muppet bits have always been.

This movie could have failed if it were any more sweet and if it were at all harsh.  It walked the line, and we got in line.  With no regrets.

Best Moment – It has to be a tie between the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cover and the Jack Black kidnapping scene…for second place.  First place is when we find out Piggy’s partner for “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.”

Worst Moment – Only one scene for Pepe?  Tell me it’s not so.

Cameos – Alan Arkin, Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Beth Broderick, James Carville, Zach Galifianakis, Ricky Gervais, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Dave Grohl, Neil Patrick Harris,John Krasinski, Mila Kunis, Rico Rodriguez, Mickey Rooney, Kristen Schaal, Sarah Silverman

Rating – ****1/2 


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