The Great Muppet Caper was released into theaters on June 26, 1981 – 35 years ago! In honor of this classic Muppet film, ToughPigs is dedicating a week’s worth of articles to the European heist musical comedy to end all European heist musical comedies! Enjoy!
One of our most beloved classic articles on ToughPigs is “The Road to Hollywood” (From waaaay back in 2002! Pretty soon that article will be old enough to get a driver’s license.), in which Danny Horn found an early script of The Muppet Movie and wrote a 12-part series noting every bizarre change and omission from page to screen, including things like a recurring cameo by Henry Kissinger.
Recently, we discovered an early script for The Great Muppet Caper. It’s the third draft of the script written by Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Jerry Juhl, and Jack Rose, dated July 22nd, 1980. Most of the script is dangerously close to what ended up in the film, but there are some huge changes including celebrity cameos, deleted songs, and a lot more breaking of the fourth wall.
We read through the script and highlighted some of the most notable changes. Keep reading to discover just how different The Great Muppet Caper could’ve been!
First off, right on the front page, we have a big change. The working title, “Muppet Movie II” is still being used. Considering how close this script is to the shooting script, it’s a little surprising that they hadn’t settled on a title yet.
The film opens in the same way – Animal appearing as the MGM lion, and Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo in the hot air balloon. The big difference in this scene is the dialog as the trio comment on the opening credits. Here are a few samples of my favorites, which reference the aforementioned title confusion, Kermit’s history on Sesame Street, and even Star Wars. For a couple of them, be sure to note which character is speaking for added layers to the joke.
Fozzie: You like the title?
Gonzo: They probably went through a thousand titles.
Fozzie: And that’s what they decided on?
Kermit: Raposo’s good.
Gonzo: Is that how you pronounce it?
Kermit: Yeah. I’ve worked with him before.
Kermit: I know Lazer and Oz.
Fozzie: I don’t think Oz is his last name.
Gonzo: Didn’t one of those guys play Yoda?
Kermit: Yeah. Lazer.
Kermit: Henson directed it, too. Spreading himself pretty thin if y’ask me.
When the balloon lands, the characters jump into “Hey, a Movie!”, but it’s not called “Hey, a Movie!” here. Instead, the title is “We’re Gonna Be a Movie”, which makes little sense. But it does explain why the chorus repeats that line a few times. Interestingly enough, at the end of the script, the title has reverted back to “Hey, a Movie! (Reprise)”, so maybe it’s just a mistake.
In the newspaper office, Kermit gives a good reason for why they need Mr. Tarkanian to pay for their travel to London: They spent all their money on the opening production number. The writers may have held onto this deleted joke for the premise to the unmade film The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made.
Also, Mike Tarkanian actually fires Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo. There are multiple references in the script to the fact that they’re going to bust open this story so they can get their jobs back. It adds a little bit of urgency to their exploits in London, although I can also see why it’d be a little distressing to see someone fire Kermit the Frog.
Next up is what would’ve been quite possibly the best scene. When Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo plummet from the airplane and into the pond, they don’t meet a well-read British man with a wealth of information for broke tourists. Instead, they meet a birdwatcher with a beard who looks and sounds exactly like Jim Henson. Yep, this was Jim’s original cameo. He seems to recognize Kermit right away and asks, “Do you know me?” Kermit then begins to recap the entire movie (much like Fozzie did in The Muppet Movie) and stops when he begins to bore Fozzie and Gonzo, who then sinks into the pond.
Later, Fozzie shows his distrust of the bearded stranger. “I don’t know if I trusted that birdwatcher… He seemed manipulative.”
Next up, the trio rides the big red bus to the Happiness Hotel. I love this scene because of how they comment on the stuff they see out their windows, but the script handles it a bit differently. Instead, Statler and Waldorf are on the bus commenting on the sights, like Big Ben (“Why don’t they get with it and make it digital?”), the Thames River (“It’s pronounced ‘Tems’”), and the Tower of London (“It’s pronounced ‘Thower’”).
In the Happiness Hotel, Sam the Eagle has a slightly larger role, introducing himself as the house detective, whose job it is to enforce the rules. Rules like “No elephants after 6:00,” and “Don’t tip the rats”.
Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Lady Holiday and her nephew (yes, nephew, and not her brother) Nicky. That’s a pretty big change, slightly moreso than the fact that he wears white and red striped socks rather than flowered socks. Man, Nicky is all but unrecognizable in the script!
Once Miss Piggy secures her new job as Lady Holiday’s secretary, she has a deleted song, which I’m assuming would’ve been called “Could It Be Me”. Here are a few sample verses:
Could I take the first step
Could I open the door
Could I learn to be someone
Who I wasn’t before
Is there somebody here
Who I never could see
Could it be me
Could I change how I feel
Learn to laugh and to cry
Could I walk in the sun
Could I reach to the sky
Someone must know the place
I’ve been longing to be
Could it be me
While she and Kermit are having their meet-cute, Fozzie is unsuccessfully flirting with the models and explaining about how he hibernates every year while his twin brother goes to jumping contests. Gonzo gets his nose stuck in the elevator, and soon after falls down an open elevator shaft, and his body turns into an accordion. Classic, clumsy Gonzo.
I also appreciated the brief conversation between the models Marla, Carla, and Darla as they discuss what they’re planning to eat (or not eat) for lunch. “I had lunch last week.” “I’m going to have lunch at the House of Lettuce… suppose I just order one leaf.”
Once they arrive back at the Happiness Hotel, Rowlf serenades them with a brief rendition of “Rainbow Connection”. Kermit notices and tells him, “Wrong movie.” Rowlf replies, “Oh yeah, sorry. I still think it should have won the Oscar.” Me too, Rowlf. Me too.
Of all the cameos and potential cameos, only one had a celebrity in mind that actually came to fruition. John Cleese was obviously on the writers’ minds as one half of the boring British couple whose house Miss Piggy breaks into. Most of the scene plays out just as it does in the script, except for one minor change. His name isn’t Neville, it’s “Greville”. Greville and Dorcas: British Power Couple.
On the way to The Dubonnet Club, Kermit and Miss Piggy hitch a ride in Beauregard’s taxi, and not the bus (which follows the taxi, blaring “Night Life”). Beauregard makes a lame attempt at being a tour guide, incorrectly pointing out landmarks. (“…And over there on your left is some famous place. Either the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower.”)
Here’s a fun trivia fact that will almost certainly never come up in conversation: The conductor of The Dubonnet Orchestra has a name. He’s Armando di Fiore.
This bit was likely filmed and deleted, as there’s a photo of it on the internet. Fozzie orders the lobster, which pinches his nose. Then he says, “I guess I shouldn’t have ordered the lobster rare.”
All the while, Kermit and Miss Piggy dance, and Kermit claims that he’s “dancing on air”. Literally, as it seems, because we see his feet float several inches off the ground.
After everything goes to hell, Kermit finds himself cradling Piggy’s glass slipper on a park bench. The homeless man (played by Peter Falk in the film) gives his incorrect take on Kermit’s story, but after Kermit disproves him, he begins a second attempt: “Okay then, how about this? You were walking along the beach one Tuesday morning when you saw the shattered hulk of a World War Two tanker bobbing up and down near the jetty…”
During Kermit and Piggy’s argument (when Kermit accuses her of overacting), Piggy further breaks the fourth wall, complaining about the script. She says, “I don’t have to stand around and be insulted just because you’re jealous. It’s a stupid script anyway. Twin brothers. Red and white striped socks. Climbing up drainpipes… it’s enough to make you cry.”
Afterward, Miss Piggy is anxious to start the next scene, as she attempts to leave for the fashion show (“I’m Miss Piggy, soon to be the world’s leading fashion model but now the world’s leading gopher, and I’ve gotta go goph”), but Kermit stops her because she forgot about the upcoming production number. “Could be the prettiest number in the whole movie.” Can you believe she almost forgot about the bicycle scene??
Backstage at the fashion show, there’s one minor detail that was left out that actually adds a lot to Nicky Holiday’s evil motives. In the film, when he’s rejected by Miss Piggy, he tells her that he “can’t be responsible for what happens”. In the script, he tells her that if she chose him over Kermit, it would’ve given his life purpose, and he wouldn’t be turning to a life of crime. So in some twisted sense, he blames her for his impending misdeeds.
One of the great Muppet mysteries is the identity of Charles Grodin’s dubbed singing voice. The script doesn’t reveal anything, but it does say, “if Bert Parks were around, it’s obvious that he would be singing”. Strangely enough, the guy who sang the “Miss America” song was still alive – he didn’t pass away until 1992 – so I have no idea why they didn’t use him.
The deleted Jim Henson scene may have a little competition for best cameo. When Miss Piggy is thrown in jail, the prisoner in the cell next to her is one of the most famous women in the world: Queen Elizabeth II. (Piggy: “I used to be a famous model.” Prisoner: “Yeah, and I was the Queen of England.”) Can you even imagine how epic that would’ve been???
And here is where Miss Piggy’s second deleted song would’ve gone. “Stop” would have been a sad melody for her to sing while wasting away in prison. Here are a few sample verses:
Hours on end in this cell
In this prison of pain
I will not complain
Without reason or hope
No one coming to save
I’ve got to be brave
Beauty fading away
How could things go so wrong
I’m going to be strong
With my frog at my side
That is how it must be
For my Kermy and me
During the song, we would’ve seen Miss Piggy Xing days off of her calendar, making license plates, growing a beard, stealing a spoon and digging a hole in her cell wall, discarding rubble from the wall in the yard, building a dummy of herself (with Raquel Welch’s head), escaping the prison, and finishing her song in the spotlight of the search light. She would have been in the prison for years.
Of course, it all turns out to be a fantasy, and she spends a total of about 45 minutes in jail.
Here’s a pretty huge change: Lew Zealand isn’t the one who brings the paper towels. That honor went to Rowlf. Is your mind blown yet?
Beaker never gets electrocuted on the roof of the Mallory Gallery. Instead, Animal gets shocked when he tries to bite through the electric fence.
The Muppets never intended to repel into the gallery. Instead, their plan was to have Gonzo take a picture of Nicky Holiday stealing the diamond. But the fatal flaw in their plan was that Gonzo ran out of film. Too many kneecap pictures, I guess.
Once Nicky is arrested, Lady Holiday arrives, upset that nobody called her for the big climactic scene. Successful, Kermit says that the Daily Chronicle will roll out the red carpet for them. Lady Holiday gets in on the joke and quips, “What color is the carpet now?”
The rest of the script ends just like the film, with all the Muppets parachuting and singing. The final lines go to Kermit and Miss Piggy:
Piggy: Y’know, when we land, I think you and I should go out and celebrate. We could paint the town red.
Kermit: What color is it now? Whoooie!! Didja hear that? I waited and waited and I finally got it in! What color is it now?! Ha-haaa! Yessir. I did it!
And there you have it! Most of the other differences are minor dialog changes, so this draft is dangerously close to what we got on screen. Hopefully someday we’ll get to see the first draft, which is bound to be absolutely bonkers. At least, it is in my imagination.
Click here to trust the bearded birdwatcher on the ToughPigs forum!
by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com