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Back in 1979, The Muppets were approaching the height of their popularity. They regularly commanded massive audiences and could get the biggest names in showbiz to appear on their show and make fools of themselves. Given their popularity, it was inevitable that Kermit the Frog would look to make the leap to the big screen.
The Muppet Movie tells the tale of how the Muppets got together and made it to the big time of showbiz. It might not be the most original story in the world, but it was one which (at the time) lots of people were asking themselves: how did this bunch of misfits ever hook up? Finally, with The Muppet Movie, those people (sort of) got an answer.
The strength of the Muppets was always its ability to appeal to both children and adults alike. Kids love the great puppets and the daft humour, adults appreciate the clever in-jokes and daft asides. It's always had something for everyone, making Muppet movies a real family affair - even if family members are not always laughing at the same thing!
The Muppet Movie carries on this fine tradition and has that rare ability to make you laugh loud. Whilst the extended film format means that the humour is sometimes a little stretched, it still has the ability to make you laugh out loud at the sheer absurdity of it all. Not every joke works, but The Muppet Movie throws so many at the screen that the odd clunker is barely noticeable.
It's good to see so many Muppets get a look in. Inevitably, Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzy and Piggy get the lion's share of things, but plenty of other popular characters put in an appearance (including a big performance from my personal favourite, Animal, in every sense of the word). Even if your own favourite Muppet doesn't feature heavily, the chances are it will be there somewhere. This just adds to the fun as you scan crowd scenes and cry out with joy when you spot yet another face that you recognise.
Accompanying the great humour and fun puppets are some genuinely good songs. Until the most recent release, songs in Muppets films had been on a bit of a downward spiral. This one shows how good they used to be. It opens strongly (with Kermit's Rainbow Song, which won an Oscar) and whilst the other songs never quite hit the same heights, there's not a bad one amongst them. It can be a little tricky to make out the lyrics in some (which is a shame, because some of the songs are as imaginative and funny as the spoken dialogue), but like so much else, they are something that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.
What might perhaps disappoint newer fans is that The Muppet Movie plays things pretty safe. It is essentially a road movie featuring the Muppets, and never strays too far from the successful TV formula (lots of madcap chaos, lots of Muppets, lots of cameo appearances and lots of jokes which break the fourth wall, reminding the viewer that they are just watching a film.) There is some validity in that criticism, but only up to a point. Yes, it's safe, but it never forgets to be funny and in any case at this point, no-one knew for certain that a Muppets movie would actually work. The experimentation would come in later films; this was about proving that the Muppet formula could successfully transfer to the big screen.
Inevitably, there are times when things feel just a little stretched but for every moment that you feel it is starting to wear a little thin, there are half a dozen that will make you laugh out loud. Providing you buy into the Muppets' anarchic humour, then you will enjoy the Muppet Movie. It's not challenging, but it is good fun and also quite clever (in its own stupid way), and that's fine by me.
It's also true that the film has aged slightly. Aside from the fact that road movies are now ten a penny, the film is not quite as star-studded as it was on first release. The film is packed with cameo appearances (Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Elliot Gould) from people who would have been instantly recognisable at the time. Now, however, many have died or no longer appear on our screens and younger audiences will struggle to recognise famous faces. Even older viewers may struggle at times as the film definitely favours American audiences. Having said that, adults will still have fun spotting people they think they recognise and saying "Was that...?" to their fellow viewers.
The Muppet Movie might not be the absolute best Muppets film, but it's certainly a lot better than some of their later efforts and is a genuine family film that everyone can sit down together and enjoy.
The Muppet Movie
Director: James Frawley
Running time: approx. 95 minutes
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