Celebrating 30 Years of The Muppets’ Celebration of 30 Years

Published: May 2, 2016
Categories: Commentary, Feature

In 1986, the Muppets threw a 30th anniversary party for themselves, complete with tuxedos, clip compilations, and a room filled with characters from several different Muppet universes.  The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years aired 30 years ago, so we’re revisiting the special on this momentous occasion.

The special is available to watch on YouTube if you’re interested, although familiarity isn’t required to enjoy the following article.


Joe: Hey folks!  We’re here with a triple-whammy of ToughPigs writers for this momentous event.  We’ve got myself, Mr. Ryan the Roe, and Anthony Strand the Bear.

Ryan: Here we are!  Can you believe the Muppets’ 30th anniversary special is 30 years old?

Anthony: I can’t! It seems like I watched it on Nickelodeon only 21 years ago.

Joe: I’m guessing that all three of us (plus a lot of people reading this) discovered the special the same way.  I think I taped it and rewatched it at least once for every year they were celebrating.

Ryan: Actually, this was one of many Muppet things my parents taped for me in the ’80s. They were always had their fingers poised on the RECORD button of the VCR in case of any Muppet sightings.  They missed the first 15 minutes of this one, though, so I’ve only seen those minutes a few precious times.

Anthony: Aww, man. You missed out on that sweet, sweet Sam & Friends.

Joe: Kids today don’t know the VCR struggle.

30-big birdAnthony: Kids today with their cell phones and their Zunes and their Dick Tracy watches. So what is this thing about?

Joe: It’s about 48 minutes long.

Ryan: Good one!  The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years is about the Muppets all gathering in a banquet hall — with no guest stars or humans or anything — to celebrate themselves on the occasion of their 30th anniversary.

Joe: The most bizarre part about that is the fact that they’re celebrating the Muppets, but then they almost immediately switch gears and say it’s a celebration of Kermit.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, especially since they switch the narrative back and forth a few times.

Anthony: Well, Kermit’s the only Muppet who had been around for all 30 of the years. So I buy it on those grounds. Kermit the character and “The Muppets” as a concept are both marking 30 years in show business.

Ryan: Yeah, and they weren’t going to turn it into a special tribute to Mushmellon.

Anthony: Frankly, I’m kind of surprised the Henson company didn’t do that after they lost the Muppets and Sesame. Mushmellon: the Graphic Novel.

30-sam and friendsJoe: I would gladly give all the money and moths in my wallet for that.  But that said, one of the most surreal moments of the special is when they check in with Sam (the wooden guy, not the eagle), Harry the Hipster, and Yorick.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but it was the first time they’d been featured in decades, and probably for the last time ever.

Anthony: I won’t correct you, because you’re *right.* But yeah, it’s nice to see those guys, especially Yorick, who gets one of the special’s best (new) gags when he hides under the table cloth and then eats it.

Ryan: So, when you’re celebrating your own anniversary, and your entire existence is archived on film and videotape, you cram in as many clips as you can fit into an hour-long special.  As I re-watched the special, I remembered watching as a kid and being fascinated by all the clips.  I wanted to know what they were all from… And today, I think I can identify all of them!  Muppet fandom has come a long way.

Anthony: I watched it at my Grandma’s house for the first time. We didn’t get Nickelodeon, so getting to watch it at her house was always a huge deal. And this special was an especially huge deal – it was the first time I’d ever thought about my favorite characters having a history. It really was a big moment for me. The first step on my path to becoming an amateur film historian.

30-scooterRyan: That makes sense.  This would be the perfect gateway special for a budding Muppet geek.

Joe: I actually had an opposite reaction to seeing all those clips for the first time.  They were great, but it was incredibly frustrating to not know the sources or to be able to see any more.  We didn’t have a YouTube to reference back in the stone age.

Anthony: That might be due to the age difference between us. In 1995, you were 13 and I was only 10, so it makes sense that you were more concerned with citations. Middle-schoolers love citing their sources.


Ryan: I get the frustration.  It’s like, “Whoa, birds bouncing on telephone wires!!!  I wanna see more of — oh, they’re gone.”

Joe: Right!  And I feel like it’s happening all over again, whenever a Muppet fan gets to see something from seasons 4 or 5 of The Muppet Show and wants to see more.  Sorry Muppet fans, but Disney hates you.

Ryan: Other than the cruelly brief clips, what are your thoughts on the clips they chose?  Not every montage strictly adheres to a specific theme, but I think the special does a good job of using an assortment of obvious and lesser-known moments.

30-bert and ernieAnthony: It’s hard for me to even judge, because for several years, this was one of the few non-movie Muppet things I had on tape, so I grew up thinking of all of this stuff as The Classic Moments.

Joe: Same here.  As far as I knew, this was the best of the Muppets.  It was also the worst of the Muppets.  It was all of the Muppets.

Ryan: Even the clip of Big Bird’s American Express commercial parody about holding a grown-up’s hand to cross the street, which would be lost on 2016’s audience.

Joe: That might have even been lost on 1986’s audience.

Anthony: Ha! This special was most valuable for me as a source of The Muppet Show. I loved TMS when it was on Nick (again) in the early 90s, but after that I hardly saw it until I got into tape-trading, and even then I spent a lot more time collecting other, more obscure projects. So until the DVDs came out, the clips here were basically everything I could remember about The Muppet Show.

Ryan: Once again: Muppet fan kids today don’t know how good they have it. Here’s a detail-oriented question… At the beginning of the special, the announcer says it features “All of Jim Henson’s Muppets, except the ones who couldn’t make it.”  It’s a solid joke, but can you think of any characters who didn’t show up that you would have expected to see?  It seems to me all the biggies are there.

Anthony: Everyone except SAM the Robot.

30-mattJoe: There are some pretty deep cuts in the audience.  Big Bird is sharing a table with Miss Finch and the Dodos. Emmet and Alice Otter are in there somewhere. Even The Muppet Show Executive Producer David Lazer’s Muppet caricature made it to the show. But one glaring omission, or more like five, are the main Fraggles.  Traveling Matt and Sprocket are there to represent the show, but Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, Boober, and Red must not have gotten the invite.  Which is unlikely, since we know for a fact that they have a system for receiving mail.

Anthony: See, I love that. When Kermit & Piggy got married a few years earlier, Matt was the only Fraggle in attendance. It seems like they really wanted to preserve the idea that he’s the only one exploring outer space.

Ryan: That’s what I assumed.  Oh, but can you imagine if the Doozers or the Gorgs had been there?  That would have been cool, if logistically implausible.

Anthony: There could be a li’l Doozer on every table, delivering napkins.

Ryan: Missed opportunity!  But I do like some of the other arrangements.  There’s a table full of pigs, a monster table where the Two-Headed Monster sits near Sweetums, and an old geezer section, where Pops shares a table with Statler and Waldorf (It makes so much sense!) right in front of Geri and the Atrics.  It must have been fun for the Muppet people to devise the seating chart.  And unlike a wedding reception, they didn’t have to worry about who had to sit with the weird, smelly uncle.

30-old menJoe: Oh, everyone knows that the weird, smelly uncle is Doglion. It’s also interesting to see who got to sit at the main table with Kermit.  His oldest pal Rowlf is there his family is represented with Robin, Bert and Ernie showed up for a little hometown pride, and then Miss Piggy makes one of her trademark entrances as she tumbles down a light-up staircase.  For some reason, Oscar is next to the podium, probably to make sure everyone can see him scowl.  But Gonzo chose to sit in the audience with his chickens (who, according to him in a rare moment of potential racism, all look exactly alike).

Anthony: Speaking of the “Gonzo can’t tell which one is Camilla” joke – how do you guys feel about that? I think it’s hilarious, but I can see that some people might think it cheapens their relationship.

Ryan: It’s funny.  For some years I was under the impression that it was an ongoing running gag, which must have just come from my memories of this special.  I recall Dave Goelz commenting in at least one interview that he believes Gonzo just addresses whichever chicken is nearest to him at any given time as “Camilla.”  Which is also funny, but perhaps best left as subtext in the long term.  And it would break the hearts of the fans with Gonzo/Camilla posters in their lockers.

30-gonzoJoe: I like the joke, because Gonzo is a weird little creature, and we have no reason to believe that he has a healthy relationship, with a chicken as his partner or otherwise.  Why not make him a little more of a creep, as Miss Piggy so often calls him?  But seeing it with 2016 eyes, it almost seems like a comment on race.  Does Gonzo also think that all Asians look alike??

Anthony: Ha! You should ask him next time you see him. Also, my wife wants me to add that she thinks Gonzo is just teasing her and he totally can tell her from other chickens.

Joe: That is likely the cutest explanation.

Ryan: That’s how their relationship works!  I’ll buy it.

Joe: So, we’re used to seeing Muppets and Sesame Street residents and Fraggles occupy the same screen, thanks to specials like Muppet Family Christmas, but how do you guys think this special handled the crossover?

Ryan: It’s different than something like Family Christmas, or even the Manhattan wedding scene, because it’s not a story.  It’s more like all the “real” Muppets getting together for this event.

Anthony: Maybe it’s set in the world from the 2015 TV series!

Ryan: I think there’s something to that.  Or it’s like when Kermit’s on a talk show and he says, “Yeah, the guys and I hadn’t seen each other for a while before we made this movie…”  It’s not the Muppet characters, it’s the Muppet actors who play variations of themselves on television.  And it’s cool to see them all in the same room.

Anthony: Right, these are just a bunch of people who’ve all worked with Kermit the Frog before (plus Traveling Matt and Sprocket, who have the same agent).

30-floyd janiceJoe: By far the weirdest part of the crossover to me is when Floyd, the beatnik musician who’s been slumming on a variety show since 1976, says, “Our first big hit was Ernie singing ‘Rubber Duckie’.”  There’s a strange disconnect there where you’re not sure if Floyd is talking on behalf of the Muppets as a whole, or if he genuinely had something to do with “Rubber Duckie”.  Maybe he played washtub bass.  Washtub bass.

Ryan: He’s just readin’ the cue cards, man.  We talked a little bit about how the show sums up the Muppet world up to this point, but it’s also an unintentional time capsule of the one brief moment when they thought Little Muppet Monsters would be the next big thing.  Too bad about that, but at least Tug and Molly and Boo got a free fancy dinner.

30-little muppet monstersJoe: Oh man, we have to talk about Little Muppet Monsters.  It’s such a weird thing, that they expected it to be a Muppet Babies-sized hit, but it was canned before this special aired.

Anthony: That’s the thing – Big Bird proudly lists it as one of the heirs of Sesame Street, part of the 1980s Trinity with Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies. But even when this aired, I’m sure a big chunk of the audience had no idea what it even was.

Joe: And because of this 30th anniversary special, a lot of Muppet fans (ourselves included) thought of Little Muppet Monsters as some lost gem.  Little did we know, it was garbage.

Anthony: Oh man, it was so bad. There’s one episode where all they do is use magic to make a sandwich. A sandwich! Little kids can do that without magic!

Joe: Yes, and then there were two other episodes and then it died a horrible, fiery death.

Ryan: I felt so bad for the monsters in the clip here, when they exclaimed, “Do you know what this means?  We can make our own TV show!”  Not for long, youngsters.

30-kermit and fozzieJoe: I want to talk a little about the end of the special.  Fozzie gives a heartfelt speech to Kermit, thanking him for all the joy he brought to the world.  That introduces a compilation of all the sad bits from The Muppet Show, including “Saying Goodbye” from Muppets Take Manhattan, Gonzo hugging Kermit in the Lola Falana episode, Kermit seeing a shooting star in The Muppet Movie, and other tearjerking images, all set to the tune of Linda Rondstadt’s “When I Grow Too Old to Dream”.  And then it cuts back to the Muppets in the banquet hall, and they’re all sobbing.  Yay for those slapsticky, fun-loving Muppets.

Ryan: Yeah, it’s not the most predictable way to go with the tribute to Kermit, but I kind of like that.  I especially like that they went with a guest star song from The Muppet Show instead of something more obvious, although I suppose at that point they had already used “Bein’ Green” and they were saving “Rainbow Connection” for the group finale.  And I love that Kermit reacts to the outburst of emotion by making his trademark scrunchy face.


Joe: He’s a humble frog.  Earlier in the special, Fozzie calls Kermit “an institution”, and Kermit reminds him that’s he’s just a frog, “let’s not forget that”.

Ryan: It’s hard not to think of this stuff in terms of “Kermit = Jim.”  Jerry Juhl and the performers must have had that in mind when writing and performing the Muppets’ salute to their boss.

Anthony: Oh, I think that’s exactly what it is. It’s not all that different from the tribute song they did for Jim’s TV Hall of Fame induction a year or two later.

30-jimJoe: Most definitely.  But if we’re going with the Kermit/Jim connection, I’m glad the last moment isn’t the Muppets eulogizing their friend (although they came pretty close with that somber moment). Instead, it’s one of Jim’s best cameos in the history of the Muppets, in which Grover the waiter gives him a comically long bill for the reception.

Anthony: And Jim does the *best* annoyed-but-also-amused take afterwards. All I want is a Jim/Grover buddy sitcom.

Joe: So, what were the low points of the special for you guys?

Anthony: I’m not sure the “Pure Imagination” montage works all that well. There’s a lot of excellent weird clips in that sequence, and Ben Vereen’s version of the song is lovely, but I don’t know how well they mesh. Something more upbeat would have been better, I think. Maybe Joel Grey singing “Razzle Dazzle”?

Ryan:  Ha, that’s one of my favorite parts.  I like that it seems to contain all the clips they couldn’t fit anywhere else.  But sure, another song would have worked just as well.  I didn’t note any real low points, although I was surprised Fozzie’s boasting about the Muppets’ global reach didn’t turn into a whole segment.  It certainly could have, what with The Muppet Show airing in 326 countries and the co-productions of Fraggle Rock and Sesame Street.

30-oscarJoe: If I had to choose one complaint (and the difficulty of finding a complaint is a testament to the quality of the special – even a Muppet clip show with 95% recycled material is hugely entertaining), it’s the lack of a plot.  I guess I’m spoiled by all the other Jerry Juhl stories we’ve seen, and I would’ve liked a B-plot of Piggy being late to the show or the Sesame gang continuously breaking into song or Fozzie getting stage fright or something.  It’s extremely straight-forward for the Muppets.

Ryan: I hadn’t thought about that.  But sure, since we have the Count and the Swedish Chef (and Guy Smiley and Fozzie, and so on) in the same room, it would have been nice if something had actually happened.

Anthony: See I think that’s what Muppet Family Christmas was for (almost exactly two years later). Here, the banquet setting is an excuse for some jokes, but it also lets them get out of the way and focus on the clips. And as we discussed earlier, those clips were a valuable commodity in those days.

Joe: Okay then, enough complaining.  What were your high points?

Ryan: One of my favorite things was Miss Piggy’s grand and glamorous entrance, immediately followed by her tumble down the stairs.  If this is a gateway special, that’s a pretty good introduction to Piggy.  Also: I’m so glad I re-watched this thing, because now I know Lew Zealand’s favorite Muppet movie scene is the bicycles in Great Muppet Caper.

Joe: Super important information there, Lew.  I wrote down a bunch of one-liners that made me laugh.  Beauregard wondering “How did we do that?” regarding the bicycles.  Big Bird’s “The cake must be missing.  Try not to panic.”  Miss Piggy reminding Kermit that she joined the Muppets “as a child star”.

Ryan: Ernie yanking Bert’s nose off, and Bert’s half-irritated, half-sentimental realization that Ernie’s been rearranging his face for 16 years.

30-kermit and robinAnthony: The one that sticks with me is when Kermit says sometimes the Muppets aren’t funny, and Robin says that he blames the writers for that. I think about that joke every single time a joke in a Muppet thing falls flat (but strangely, not during the actual emotional moments).

Ryan: I like that line too!

Joe: Me too!  I think all three of us wrote that one down as one of our favorite moments of the special.  Nice job, Robin!

Anthony: On the whole, it’s really hard for me to choose favorites with this one. It’s just a solid hour of everything great about the Muppets, with no real slow spots. I’ve been watching it for twenty years – this special *is* the Muppets in a nutshell.

Ryan: Kermit’s last line wraps things up in the most perfect way I could imagine: “The next 30 years begins tomorrow, so don’t forget rehearsal is at 9:00 sharp!”  The Muppets are show people, and even when they take a break to throw themselves a party, the show never ends.

Joe: So now that their second 30 years is just about over, I guess we can start prepping for our 30th anniversary coverage of our 30th anniversary article about the 30th anniversary in 30 years.  I’ll see you guys then!  9:00 sharp.

Ryan: As long as I can sit with Traveling Matt and Sprocket, I’ll be there!

Anthony: As long as I can sit with the Little Muppet Monsters, I’ll be there!

Joe: I’m busy that day.


Click here to start the next 30 years on the ToughPigs forum!

by Joe Hennes, Ryan Roe, and Anthony Strand


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