Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Muppet Movie (1979)

Benign and likeable children's feature starring everyone's favorite plush whatsits. (Like Homer Simpson says, "Well, it's not quite a mop, and it's not quite a puppet...") The pun-heavy antics of last year's Corpse Bride and Curse of the Were-Rabbit likely spoke to Henson's influence on those films, as this film (and, as I remember from my cloudy childhood viewings, the TV show) rides that punny impulse into head-spinning heights of humor. (My personal favorite: "Gone with the Schwinn.") This also likely marks the beginning of self-awareness in children's entertainment -- "Good grief, it's a running gag!" -- which has led to works both giddy ("SpongeBob SquarePants") and obnoxious (anything released by Dreamworks in the last five years). I'd wager the latter impulse was introduced into the mix not only as an extension of Henson's gently warped sense of humor but also as something to keep the adults just as entertained as the kids, which is fine by me. This would probably also explain the cameo parade from people like Richard Pryor (as an unscrupulous balloon vendor), Carol Kane (as a recurring gag) and Steve Martin, who nearly walks off with the film as a surly waiter. Underneath the veneer of child-safe entertainment, it is indeed a movie about starry-eyed movie-love amidst a cynical world. I do wonder, though, about the ending -- it feels a bit bleakly anti-Hollywood. I mean, look at it: The Muppets romp through America to get to Hollywood, and when they get there, they become stars only for us to see that the so-called Hollywood magic is all plywood and artifice? And what of the irony of Orson Welles, of all people, giving the Muppets "the standard 'rich and famous' contract"? I dunno, ignore me.

Grade: B


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