Over the course of the Muppets’ eight theatrical films, there have been highs and lows. I think there’s no one among us who wouldn’t agree that The Muppet Movie is perfection from start to finish, but movies like Muppets From Space may be lacking in comparison. There must be a reason why some Muppet movies thrive, while others dive. (No, I don’t know what that means either, but it rhymes, so it must be true.)
First, we have to draw a line somewhere to decide what is a “great” Muppet movie and which ones are debatable. Despite the love fans may have for Muppets Most Wanted or Muppet Treasure Island (whoever those nutcases are), the truth of the matter is that many of the Muppets’ theatrical outings are debated amongst fans as to whether they’re classics or Vlasiks. (Which, I guess means that pickles are contestable? Again, the rhyme makes it true.)
It’s pretty fair to state that the first three Muppet films: The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan are the trifecta of perfection, so that’s what we’ll be investigating. (Yes, The Muppet Christmas Carol is also near the top of most Muppet fans’ rankings, but for the sake of avoiding adaptations and because I really like the Rule of Three, we’ll stick with the original trilogy.)
Looking at just those first three Muppet movies, there’s got to be a pattern that led to their long-lasting love. A secret formula that, if followed, would guarantee the success of any future Muppet movie. A Konami code, entered in the exact sequence at the exact right time, granting the filmmakers infinite lives. And folks – I think we’ve cracked it. For any future writers or directors who may be producing the next Muppet movie, we implore you to follow these strict guidelines to ensure that your movie will a blockbuster, and not lackluster. (An imperfect rhyme, but close enough!)
Kermit gets thrown around like a rag doll
It’s easy to forget that the Muppets are puppets – I know, they seem so alive! So a key element to the success of a Muppet movie is reminding the viewers of this, and the easiest way is to give Kermit the ol’ heave-ho and see him crumple on the pavement.
- The Muppet Movie – Kermit gets tossed around the El Sleezo Café, spinning on a ceiling fan and landing inside a piano.
- The Great Muppet Caper – Kermit, along with Gonzo and Fozzie, get thrown out of a double-decker bus.
- The Muppets Take Manhattan – Kermit nonchalantly wanders into traffic and gets pummeled by a taxi cab.
Animal shouts “WOMAN”
One of the most important elements to any Muppet movie is making sure that Animal screams about women at the top of his lungs. Sure, it’s not really a part of his character anymore (for good reason), but it’s an important element to any hit Muppet movie.
- The Muppet Movie – After Floyd states that nothing is too good for his woman, Animal responds by shouting “WOMAN” like some sort of… well, animal.
- The Great Muppet Caper – Animal yells “WOMAN” several times during the Baseball Diamond heist, most likely as a way to cleverly distract the model thieves. What a devious red genius!
- The Muppets Take Manhattan – Animal shouts “WOMAN” and chases a poor, defenseless woman out of their college auditorium.
Scooter sells popcorn
I know what you’re thinking – how important can Scooter selling popcorn be to the quality of a Muppet film? I genuinely don’t know, but what I do know is that it happened three times, so it’s likely more important than any of us think.
- The Muppet Movie – Scooter sells popcorn during the screening of The Muppet Movie.
- The Great Muppet Caper – Scooter sells popcorn during the Baseball Diamond heist.
- The Muppets Take Manhattan – Scooter sells popcorn (technically, he works with the Swedish Chef, who seems to be ruining the popcorn) at a movie theater in Cleveland.
Frank Oz cameo
Frank Oz! We love to see him! There’s nothing like spotting that bald head and prominent mustache in the background of your favorite Muppet movie to remind you that Frank Oz exists, and he is a perfect human being.
- The Muppet Movie – Frank is a leather-clad biker who hates Fozzie Bear but loves drinks on the house.
- The Great Muppet Caper – Frank is a journalist at The Daily Chronicle who takes notice when Gonzo stops the presses.
- The Muppets Take Manhattan – Frank seems to be reacting positively to the Mad Ave. frogs’ presentation about Ocean Breeze Soap.
Janice says something revealing
Oh that Janice – she has amazing and private stories, and yet no censor. She can’t help but reveal personal things about her life at the least opportune times, which is another essential part of a perfect Muppet film.
- The Muppet Movie – “Jelly belly giggling, dancing and a-wiggling. Honey, that’s the way I am.”
- The Great Muppet Caper – “Look, Mother, it’s my own life, okay, so if I want to live on a beach and walk around naked…”
- The Muppets Take Manhattan – “Look buddy, I don’t take my clothes off for anyone, I don’t care if it IS ‘artistic’…”
Muppets get wet
The best way to recognize if the Muppet movie you’re watching is a good Muppet movie or not is to notice whether or not one of the characters gets doused in water. It’s a sign that the filmmakers are willing to risk damage to the puppets as a sacrifice to the greater good. Or it’s a sign that wet Muppets are often entertaining. Either way.
- The Muppet Movie – Kermit goes for a swim during Miss Piggy’s “Never Before, Never Again” fantasy.
- The Great Muppet Caper – Miss Piggy performs an underwater ballet.
- The Muppets Take Manhattan – Gonzo fails spectacularly during his amusement park stunt show.
Caroll Spinney characters make a very brief cameo
Of all the classic Muppet performers, the most prominent who didn’t get to play with the Muppet gang on a regular basis was Caroll Spinney, who was busy holding down the fort on Sesame Street. So it was a class act giving him – and his characters – an opportunity to pop in for some memorable cameos.
- The Muppet Movie – Big Bird hitchhikes his way to New York City to break into public broadcasting.
- The Great Muppet Caper – Oscar the Grouch meets Peter Ustinov next to some trash cans.
- The Muppets Take Manhattan – Both Big Bird and Oscar attend Kermit and Miss Piggy’s Broadway wedding.
Fake facial hair
I’m not entirely sure why, but it seems especially difficult for Muppets to grow facial hair. But despite this shortcoming, they manage to stop shaving long enough to gain a few whiskers when it really matters.
- The Muppet Movie – Fozzie dons a fake beard to impersonate the El Sleezo bartender.
- The Great Muppet Caper – Kermit wears a mustache in his role as Rosenthal the lawyer, which he then passes along to Miss Piggy.
- The Muppets Take Manhattan – Kermit wears a mustache once again to become a hot shot producer at Sardi’s, or so his whispering campaign would have you believe.
A post-credits moment
Despite what Marvel movies may want you to believe, the Muppets really invented the post-credits sequence. Long before Nick Fury surprised Tony Stark, even longer before Ferris Bueller questioned why you were still in the theater, the Muppets were popping up to reward anyone for sticking around and reading all those names. (Hey, they all have families.)
- The Muppet Movie – The Muppets socialize in the screening room after watching The Muppet Movie, and Animal shouts at you to go home.
- The Great Muppet Caper – Gonzo parachutes into frame and takes your photo. (He’ll send you a copy.)
- The Muppets Take Manhattan – The Muppets finish singing “Together Again,” and Animal shouts “bye-bye” and “hasta luego,” most certainly inspiring the trend of Baby Animal telling us to “go bye-bye” at the end of every episode of Muppet Babies.
The real reason these movies stand out as the best of the best is because of one man – Jim Henson. While we still feel the pain of his much-too-soon passing, we’re grateful that he left us with so much quality entertainment, which happens to include three perfect films.
While we know it’s impossible for Jim to return for any future Muppet projects, the real secret formula to creating a perfect Muppet movie is to evoke his spirit and ask “What would Jim do?” He’d push boundaries, give us iconic Muppet moments, and keep the true essence of what makes the Muppets great present on the screen. But mostly, he’d have fun, and in the end that’s all any of us really want out of a Muppet film.
That, and fake mustaches.
Click here to grow a mustache for fame and fortune on the ToughPigs forum!
by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com