A Cross-Country Oddysey With Puppets

muppet movie 1

by John S

There are several cardinal, inviolate rules to road-tripping. Such as, make sure: (1) your vehicle is up to the task, (2) you map out your route but not so firmly that you don’t leave room for the spontaneous, (3) you bring awesome company for some classic interstate conversation, (4) you’ve got a stellar playlist to jam to when you and your posse have a lull in chatter, and (5) you don’t take any unmarked dirt roads that will lead to the run-down estate of a cannibalistic in-bred family that has just been waiting for the perfect group of tasty idiots to do what tasty idiots do best: take unmarked dirt roads, get lost, and die.

Fortunately, our review today is on the pleasant side and its characters don’t wind up screaming and running for their lives like their counterparts in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jeepers Creepers, and Wrong Turn. Nope, our road-trippers are on their way to Hollywood to chase super-stardom. And, harkening back to Road Trip Rule #3 above, they’re all pretty good company, with one major exception we will discuss later.

They are the Muppets, those zany glorified sock puppets from 70’s TV, and The Muppet Movie is the big-screen debut that captures their cross-country oddysey (emphasis on “odd”) to get to El Lay for an audition that will launch their big-screen careers. So, yes, there’s a bit of a “meta” aspect to this flick which is notable since it was made in 1979, well before “clever” post-modern deconstruction became a near-daily thing. I guess these clowns were more ahead of their time than anyone realized.

It all starts with one of the most random openings in cinema history: Kermit the Frog (voice of Jim Henson) is basically just chillin’ on a lily pad deep in the bowels of a Louisiana swamp, when a powerful Hollywood agent who looks suspiciously like Dom DeLuise just happens to pass by in a rowboat. Yes, really.

Seeing Kermie, Bernie the Agent tells our amphibious hero that he has what it takes to be a star – and that he should get his green butt to the Left Coast to audition, ASAP.  Kermit, being one gullible guppie, falls for it. Never once thinking what anyone else would think: “What the hell is a powerful Hollywood agent doing in the ass-end of a Louisiana swamp? And why is he doing his own rowing?”

Whatever. Anyway, Kermit picks up a traveling companion in Fozzy The Bear (voice of Frank Oz), who has been putting on a comedy show at a local bar that, shall we say, does not exactly have people rolling in the aisles with laughter. More like throwing blunt objects at the stage in psychotic rage. Fearing for his life, Fozzy figures he’ll try his hand in California. Good luck with that, Fozzy. Wakka, wakka, you goofy bastard.

Unfortunately, it seems Kermit has also picked up a nemesis in the form of Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), who runs a fast-food chain that specializes in…frog legs. Imagine Colonel Sanders and KFC, but lose the chicken and substitute Kermie’s gams-and then throw in a dash of pathological obsession. Voila: Doc Hopper! Seems Doc thinks Kermit would make a fine addition to his menu. Never mind there’s a million other frogs in the backwater swamp that Kermit crawled out of. Ol’ Doc is now Captain Ahab—and Kermie is his Moby Dick. The cross-country chase begins.

On the way to Cali, Kermit and Fozzy pick up a few more kooky sidekicks: (1) Rowlf the Dog (Jim Henson again), a blues-playing mutt; (2) Gonzo the Magician (voice of Dave Goetz), a creature of indeterminate origin that looks like the love child of Cookie Monster, a parrot, and Al Pacino; (3) Camilla the Chicken (voice of Jerry Nelson), a hen who inexplicably has serious googley eyes for Gonzo; and last but certainly the most terrifying: (4) Miss Piggy (voice of Frank Oz again), a pig who makes all other cinematic divas in film history look like a bunch of timid wallflowers.

In fact, Miss Piggy is the one exception I mentioned above to Road Trip Rule #3. While she may seem sweet at first, it soon becomes clear she has a hair-trigger tendency to go all “Tactical Nuclear Device” on anyone who: (1) tells her something she doesn’t want to hear; (2) looks at her funny (can’t imagine why they would: don’t all pigs wear blonde wigs and  evening gowns?); or (3) shows more than a passing interest in Kermit, whom she has decided is the, um, love of her life. God help him. In case you were wondering who the prototype for Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) in Fatal Attraction was, wonder no more. This is what happens when Bacon Goes Bad.

But will Miss Piggy’s formidable Bitch Factor actually help our road-trippers evade the pursuing Doc Hopper and his goons? Will Kermit and company ever reach the California state line, let alone the  Los Angeles city limits? And even if they do, will they nail the audition? Will they succeed in making…The Muppet Movie? Gee, I friggin’ wonder.

For anyone wanting a taste of how innocent movies used to be, this is the movie for you. The Muppets are a good-natured bunch to hang with and the sense of family they build together is nicely conveyed. The humor may be a bit dated or “corny” for some, but for others it will be a refreshing change of pace from all the “knowing” and “hip” tones that mark most animated and family films these days. Sometimes, you really just have to take a trip back in time to when jokes were clean and wholesome and tasteful and innocent.

In closing, I’d like to share one such joke: why did Kermit eventually dump Miss Piggy and start dating Camilla the Chicken?

Answer: he got tired of eating bacon.

You’re welcome. That’s all.

John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Dario Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Peanut M&Ms with popcorn, Julia Roberts in PRETTY WOMAN, Theo James in anything, HALLOWEEN (movie and holiday), Scarecrow Video, Russell Crowe as a villain, strawberry soda, and Karaoke – not necessarily in that order. He also thinks he was a Bond Girl in another life, maybe a cross between Dr. Christmas Jones and Dr. Holly Goodhead.

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