As I’ve recently mentioned here, one of the cool things about doing a podcast devoted to The Muppet Movie is that it led to my thinking about the film in ways I never had before. And in Episode 44 (with guest Tansy Rayner Roberts), I ended up thinking about one particular element of the film in a way that practically made me dizzy.
We were discussing the “Magic Store” number at the end of the film, and how wacky it is that the Muppets apparently made a movie about themselves that included a scene about them making a movie about themselves. Then we got to thinking… Just how many levels of reality are we talking about here?
I wanted to know for sure, so I sequestered myself inside my private conservatory and started taking detailed notes in my Deep Thoughts Journal, which is a spiral notebook with an Elmo sticker on the cover.
The most obvious level was this:
LEVEL 1: The Muppet Movie
- Director: James Frawley, a real human.
- Starring: Jim Henson, a puppeteer, as Kermit the Frog
- Produced by: ITC and Henson Associates
- Duration: 96 minutes
- Crew Members: Many professional film industry people, all of whom are real humans
- Opening: Kermit screens a movie for his friends at Worldwide Pictures
- Ending: Kermit and friends, in the screening room, celebrate the great job they did as credits roll
- Kermit Rides a Bike: This is amazing, because he’s a puppet
- Fozzie Drivers a Car: This is also amazing, because he’s also a puppet
- Big Bird Makes a Cameo: It winks at his role on the TV show Sesame Street, where he is a Muppet performed by puppeteer Caroll Spinney. He can later be glimpsed in a huge crowd of Muppets
- Orson Welles Makes a Cameo: He plays Lew Lord, a film producer based on one of the film’s actual producers, Lord Lew Grade
So far, so good. At this point, my sanity was fully intact, so I kept going: The film features the Muppets watching a movie called The Muppet Movie. What do we know about this one? That brings me to the next level:
LEVEL 2: The Muppet Movie WITHIN The Muppet Movie
- Director: Presumably Kermit the Frog, an amphibian who is fictional at Level 1 but very real at Level 2
- Starring: Kermit the Frog, the Level 2 amphibian, as a dramatized version of himself
- Produced by: Worldwide Pictures
- Crew Members: A bunch of Muppets, all of whom are understood at Level 2 to be sentient and autonomous even though we know from Level 1 that they’re puppets
- Duration: About 89 minutes (96 minus the screening room scenes)
- Opening: Kermit sings “Rainbow Connection” in the swamp
- Ending: The Muppets make a movie, during which the ceiling explodes and a huge crowd of Muppets finishes the “Rainbow Connection” reprise
- Kermit Rides a Bike: Big deal. Lots of people can ride a bike
- Fozzie Drives a Car: Sure he can. He took a correspondence course!
- Big Bird Makes a Cameo: He’s Kermit’s friend from Sesame Street, a TV show they both appear on. He can later be glimpsed in a huge crowd of Muppets
- Orson Welles Makes a Cameo: He plays Lew Lord, the producer of this movie. Or is that the “real” Lew Lord playing himself?
Okay, it’s starting to get weirder. Now there’s still the matter of the the Muppets working on a movie during the “Magic Store” sequence. That’s even further down the reality hole! Here’s what I can come up with about that:
LEVEL 3: The Muppet Movie WITHIN The Muppet Movie WITHIN The Muppet Movie
- Director: Kermit the Frog. I know this for sure because we see him wearing a director’s hat, just like the ones worn by Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Michael Bay
- Starring: A dramatized version of Kermit the Frog as a further dramatized version of himself. What?! Can that be right???
- Crew Members: Rowlf as camera operator, Bunsen as sound engineer, Beaker as makeup person, Crazy Harry as electrician, etc. But how did that happen? Who in their right mind would hire Crazy Harry as an electrician?!?
- Produced by: Worldwide Pictures. I guess?
- Duration: About four minutes? But what kind of movie is only four minutes long? If they’re hoping to get a wide release for this thing, they have a serious problem! If a movie-goer is delayed a few minutes buying Goobers at the concession stand, they could miss the whole film!
- Opening: Kermit and his friends singing “Rainbow Connection” in front of sets that recall scenes from Kermit’s journey to Hollywood. But everything is compressed at an alarming rate. Kermit goes from the swamp to the El Sleezo to watching Gonzo fly away with his balloons in just about twelve seconds! Time is losing all meaning!
- Ending: The ceiling explodes and a crowd of over 200 Muppets finishes singing “Rainbow Connection.” Where did all of those Muppets come from? They weren’t there a minute ago!
- Kermit Does Not Ride a Bike: I feel so sorry for the audience of the Level 3 Muppet Movie. They’re deprived of one of the most memorable moments from the movie!
- Fozzie Does Not Drive a Car: But he carries a prop car. (You don’t need a license for that.)
- Big Bird Makes a Cameo: But only in the huge crowd of Muppets. Big deal!
- Orson Welles Does Not Make a Cameo: And neither does Lew Lord. But maybe he would have if the ceiling hadn’t exploded? Speaking of which, how did a sparking arc light cause an explosion big enough to blow a hole in the ceiling, especially with the ceiling being so far above the light? And the way the rainbow flows into the soundstage in an arcing motion… That’s not how rainbows work! NOTHING AT THIS LEVEL OF REALITY MAKES SENSE!
And I think this covers it. Which is a good thing, because I don’t know if my poor, feeble brain can take much more of this.
So what do you think? Was this a good use of my time?
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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com