The first of many, many cinematic outings shows the Muppets’ humble beginnings, as Kermit goes in search of stardom, picking up his furry friends on the way to Hollywood. Meanwhile he’s chased by the owner of a restaurant renowned for its frogs legs (Charles Durning), intent on securing the charismatic amphibian for his latest commercial.
An origins story, a road movie, a cat-and-mouse chase, a musical and movie within a movie all rolled into one, The Muppet Movie seeks to do a lot. Furs out of the gate is Kermit, who, like Shrek, begins the story in a swamp, long before he sounded like Jordan Peterson. How he got to the swamp is never explained.
There’s plenty of good character stuff, with Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem getting the most screen time of their career. Although muppet fans may begrudge small roles for the Swedish Chef and Sam the Eagle, and long-time Kermit fans may be disappointed to miss out on the Sesame Street years (even as it’s teased with a brief cameo from Big Bird).
Its songs are not all that memorable, and it’s far from the Muppets’ funniest outing, even if it has some very funny moments and plenty of fourth wall-breaking comedy. But the care, attention and love that has gone into it is visible throughout. As the first time Jim Henson and his crew got their hands on a movie budget, they go all-out in using every trick in the book to integrate the famous fist-riders into their surroundings, to great effect.
The celebrity cameos also blow all later Muppet movies out of the water, featuring the likes of Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Elliot Gould and Orson Welles, who never overshadow their puppety co-stars, while keeping you distracted enough not to wonder where the Muppet Babies fit into all this. The result is a solid outing, strong enough to secure the Muppets’ indefinite longevity.