Monday, 17 July 2017

1,001 Films: "The Muppet Movie" (1979)

Muppets assemble. The Muppet Movie constitutes one of the most purely fun and touching origin stories the movies have ever given us, and you can get a feel for the essential Kermit-esque sweetness of Jim Henson and collaborators from the juxtaposition of the first reel's rowdy framebreaking business - the chaos that attends a screening of a film we ourselves are about to see - with the entirely unmediated sweetness of a song like "The Rainbow Connection": there's a loyal and true heart beating behind these frantically reconfiguring jazz hands. As Kermie heads from his swamp home to Hollywood - driven less by the prospect of becoming rich and famous than by a desire to "make millions happy", as he and Henson surely have over the years - he turns not just one into many, but the fragile hopes and dreams expressed in that opening number into tangible big-screen reality.

It's hard not to see the carnival that follows as Henson's attempt, through writers Jack Burns and Jerry Juhl and director James Frawley, to dramatise his own struggles for artistic independence: the malevolent interventions of fast-food maven Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), obsessed with getting his mitts on Kermit's legs, are recognisably those of a system keen to eat unwary creatives up. Other elements have worn a little less well. That writing can feel as episodic as latter-day kids' films; the novelty of its celebrity cameos has lessened over time as its human faces have faded or died off; and Paul Williams' songs aren't as consistently hummable as they were in the later The Muppet Christmas Carol. The freewheeling irreverence of some of its pageantry does, however, make it very much a Muppet movie for the decade of Nashville (Elliott Gould is on hand, to seal the comparison), while the full-body Muppets - Kermit on bicycle, Gonzo pulled away by balloons - remain somehow indefinably funny.

The Muppet Movie is available on DVD through Disney.

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