This article was written by longtime Muppet Mindset contributor Kieran Moore. Thanks for the incredible work, Kieran!
When I was asked to pitch an idea for a Pride month article here on ToughPigs it took me all of about 3 seconds to know I wanted to write about The Muppet Movie and how it’s taken on new meaning since I came out a few years ago.
To give you some background, I came out relatively late in life at the grand old age of 40. And it wasn’t some sudden revelation – I’d been keeping that side of me hidden for a very long time. When I did finally come out it absolutely rocked my world and I had a lot to process and deal with. It was through the wonderful support of friends and family (new and old) that I found myself strong enough to head out into the great wide world and truly live my life as a happy gay man. And if that sounds familiar to Muppet fans it’s because it’s essentially Kermit’s journey in The Muppet Movie.
Let’s be honest, The Muppet Movie has a fairly loose story that can easily be seen as allegorical for lots of different scenarios. You wanna make it in showbusiness? Then this story is about you. You wanna open a coffee house that’s mellow and profitable? This is basically the guide on how to do it. Whatever your situation, you’re likely to find it reflected back at you if you look hard enough.
BUT The Muppet Movie so perfectly captures the experiences of queer people coming out and finding their tribe, it’s hard to ignore the possibility that it might *almost*, with a very lower-case a, have been written with that in mind.
I’m not going to argue that the film was purposely made to reflect coming out and/or the queer community too strongly because quite frankly there are people on the Earth who could answer that question definitively (and they probably would have by now), but if I were, Exhibit A would surely be Rainbow Connection.
I mean, it’s literally a song about rainbows and answering the call to be who you’re “supposed to be”. You couldn’t get much more obvious than that – it’s hiding in plain sight. As the movie’s opening anthem its job is to set out the stall of what the film is going to be about. And that message is important enough to be reprised at the end. The rainbow pride flag was first used in 1978 – The Muppet Movie debuted in 1979. You do the math.
As what is essentially the start of the story, Rainbow Connection is a great place to begin drawing parallels between coming out, my experience of it and The Muppet Movie, but first I need to give a quick shout out to the screening room prologue. That scene, with its madcap moments and hi-jinks could easily be read in this context as mirroring the chaos and noise that are the internal machinations of a queer person trying to figure themselves and how they fit into the world around them out. It’s not a stretch to say at this point in my story it felt like the world was populated by boomerang fish throwers and I was the only Kermit in the room.
And then we’re into the movie proper. And what do we see? A huge rainbow and a moment of calm. The message here is find your rainbow connection and the world will begin to make sense.
At this point Kermit is happy enjoying the swamp, but he knows that something is missing. His long tongue for one thing… When he first hears about the auditions he turns them down, as many LGBTQ+ people might turn down the notion that they’re different, but he looks at it again and realizes maybe this is where his heart is leading him after all…
I could go through the film scene by scene, but the internet does have a word count apparently so from here on out I’ll just pick out selected moments that stand out to me and my story. (I have notes on the whole movie though so maybe one day I’ll start a “Why The Muppet Movie is Gay” blog to get it all out!)
It doesn’t take long before Kermit meets Fozzie and that’s significant because this is the first time we see Kermit share his truth with anyone. In telling Fozzie about his dream to make people happy, he is laying himself bare (bear pun intended) and this is essentially what queer people do every time they tell someone new, but even moreso the very first time. I honestly don’t know if I can ever explain to someone who hasn’t gone through it just how huge the moment is when you tell someone for the first time that you’re LGBTQ+. Life gets heavier, yet lighter. More real, yet more fantastical. The world shifts yet somehow everything falls into place. And like the best friend he is, Fozzie takes this in his stride and shares his dream too. These revelations cement their friendship and they never look back. (Does Fozzie even have a rearview mirror?)
Then of course there’s Doc Hopper. What he represents in my version of the story is the element of society that wants Kermit to be something he isn’t. But worse than that, he’s not telling Kermit he can’t have his dream – he can sing and dance and do all that stuff, but only in a way that’s agreeable to Doc Hopper. It’s that insidious homo/trans/biphobia that says “Sure you can be your true self, but can you do it in a way that makes me feel comfortable?”
During Movin’ Right Along we see Kermit happy and at ease with his friend by his side. He’s ready for the big time, is it ready for him…? I identify with this so much. When I first came out to my Fozzie I knew it was just the first step. And it took time to feel ready to share my news with the world but when I was, was the world ready for me?
Kermit and Fozzie meet many other new friends along the way. The Electric Mayhem sing Can You Picture That? A true self-belief anthem. Do what you believe in. Focus on what makes you happy. During this song life literally becomes more bright and colorful for Kermit. Then Gonzo and Camilla show Kermit there is life beyond definitions. Be who you want to be. Love who you want to love. The messages are coming through loud and clear. As I told more people and got great responses to my truth, I too started to learn these lessons. Of course I knew them already, but sometimes we need a crazed drummer or plumbing artiste to make us truly understand.
And then it happens – Kermit meets his first love – Miss Piggy. Never Before, Never Again speaks of the defiance of love. How true love is greater than anyone’s opinions of it. This isn’t a meek love song asking for permission. This is grand and bombastic and saying love will always win no matter what. Love is love is love. This is as much a Pride anthem as Rainbow Connection. If anyone at Disney is reading this can we get Piggy to sing it on the next Pride special? It would be iconic!
But like many queer people who are still on their journey of self discovery, at first Kermit doesn’t quite know how to react to this. It’s telling that while he’s happy for Fozzie and Gonzo to join him on his trip, he has no intention of asking Piggy. He’s still processing what this all means. He can’t quite get over that final hurdle yet. I can’t even begin to tell you how hard I identify with this.
Gonzo flying through the air attached to a bunch of balloons is one of the most iconic Muppet moments there is. He’s having the time of his life and the simple message here is life with no constraints is thrilling and freeing (as long as you have friends to catch you). And like Gonzo, my journey was and still is full of crosswinds that blow me off course, but I wouldn’t trade my time in the air for anything.
Despite that sky-based interlude, Kermit can’t deny his true feelings for long and on his date with Piggy we see it’s very much she who takes the lead. And whether in a romantic setting or not, when you first come out you do look to others for guidance on what to do and how to be. I still do this constantly. (We also see Steve Martin in teeny tiny shorts which might have awoken something in me at a young age, but that’s probably oversharing.)
In I Hope That Something Better Comes Along we hear Kermit and Rowlf sing about inevitability and ultimately this is a song of acceptance. Kermit has now built up a support network and is getting more comfortable with himself. This is another stage LGBTQ+ people go through on their journeys. And it continues into the next musical moment, I’m Going to Go Back There Someday. From a literal point of view Gonzo is recalling his moment in the sky from earlier, but he’s also singing of the feeling of freedom he found there and how it can also be found through friendship, love and acceptance. He questions whether he’s found his place and has he been there before or is he still on his way? This feeling of familiarity in the new resonates so hard with me. Everything I was going through, the person I was becoming was brand new and yet I was still me, nothing had changed. I looked familiar, but maybe only “vaguely” familiar.
And this leads to one final moment of reflection for Kermit. His speech in the desert is the moment he truly realizes he’s where he’s supposed to be. With his found family of bears, chickens and whatevers who share his dream and believe in it. But more than that, Kermit acknowledges he was unhappy with his old life and understands he promised himself the dream he wants and deserves. This isn’t about making people happy or even about being gay, straight, bi, trans or anywhere within that rainbow. This is about being your true authentic self – whoever that may be. When I came out it was the bravest thing I’ve ever done, but it was ultimately me making a promise to myself that from now on I would be the full version of me and not just the parts I chose to show. In this scene Kermit speaks to another version of himself and I often thank the old version of me for being so amazing. He was brave and strong – much stronger than I’ll ever be – but he was tired too and needed to rest. Without him I wouldn’t be here now. He sacrificed himself so I could live this incredible life.
And everything that’s gone before gives Kermit the bravery to stand up to his adversary as he meets Doc Hopper face to face for the final time. Throughout my life, Kermit’s family speech has always resonated with me. Whether I’ve equated it to my real family or the found family I now have as part of the gay community. I’ve been so lucky to meet some amazing people who share my dream and build me up everyday. Often in ways they know nothing about. If you haven’t found your tribe yet, I promise they are out there and you will be loved by them simply for being yourself. We see the personification of how friendship can save the day literally writ large across our movie screens as a giant Animal scares away Doc Hopper once and for all. Friendship and love will always win.
With his new family’s belief, Kermit does the impossible and gets his dream. This is the moment “It gets better” is talking about. We’ve seen him struggle with internal and external forces, but Kermit has got through it. As do we all.
The Magic Store reminds us we can’t change who we are, “It starts when we’re kids…” and true success comes when we fully embrace that. It’s beautiful. And then here comes that Rainbow Connection again. This whole movie has shown Kermit making his rainbow connections and he notices that we as viewers are going through life doing the same. As a rainbow streams into view the Muppet family expands and becomes a community and we’re reminded to write our own ending, to keep believing and keep pretending. With the help of other lovers and dreamers just like ourselves anything is possible. It’s beautiful.
And then Sweetums tears through the screen and causes mayhem, and if that’s not a metaphor for life then I don’t know what is, quite frankly.
Of course, not everyone’s coming out story is the same. I dare say there’s at least one person reading this now that didn’t have a 4 foot prune present at any point. Sad, I know. But there are very definite touch points that as queer people we all go through and I see so many of them reflected in The Muppet Movie. I’ve always identified with Kermit and others have commented on our similarities – it’s the ping pong ball eyes I think – and watching this film since I came out I can see my story reflected so much. I have my own Fozzie, my own Electric Mayhem. And I have my own Piggy too. After I came out I left my swamp and my family and moved to a new city to find more people like me. And I did. Wonderful, crazy people who lift me up and believe me when I say I’m going to wear a coat made of Kermit the Frogs at my next musical performance (which I did). I have two amazing families now and though the road was hard with frog killers, broken down vehicles and detours to Saskatchewan along the way, I know the journey was worth it.
And yours will be too.
Click here to find your own rainbow connection on the ToughPigs forum!
by Kieran Moore