?Hi-ho! Thanks to Jason Segel and company, the Muppets are back in top form. This turn of events is enough to make any fan of Jim Henson’s puppet creations wave their arms over their heads and scream “yay” a la Kermit the Frog. For awhile there though it seemed like the characters would fade into irrelevancy thanks to changing cultural tastes and a string of less-than-stellar projects over the past decade. Fortunately, the success of The Muppets has changed all of this. While the new movie reintroduces Muppet magic to audiences, it, um felt like the right time to look back at how the old films have held up. Some like The Great Muppet Caper are just as great as the day they initially hit the big screen, while others like the underrated Muppet Treasure Island are definitely worth re-examining. But what moments from these flicks (including all of the theatrical releases and telefilms but not the short specials or series) stand out as being terrific, and which are enough to make you go as mental as Crazy Harry? From unforgettable songs to misguided prequels and beyond, let’s get things started with this look at the five best (and five worst) Muppet movie moments. Now, although I’m sure there will be absolutely no disagreement with these choices, remember this is one man’s opinion. On the off chance you possibly disagree, please list your favorites — and least favorites — in the comments.
5) The Finale of The Muppets Take Manhattan
The end of The Muppets Take Manhattan had Kermit finally marrying Miss Piggy. It was all incredibly romantic. Well, it was once you got past the fact that the only reason the nuptials went down at all is because Piggy fooled recovering amnesiac Kermit into tying the knot for reals with her in front of an opening night Broadway crowd. Despite the relationship trickery involved, the marriage ceremony marked the end of a truly unique pop culture courtship and as such is worth celebrating. Now what I want to know (along with what Frank Rich thought of Manhattan Melodies) is how many people have actually included “Somebody’s Getting Married” into their own wedding ceremonies.
4) “Pictures in My Head” from The Muppets
The Muppets is nothing less than a valentine to Jim Henson that is packed with emotional moments. The greatest of these occurs early on in the film as Kermit wanders the halls of his dilapidated mansion and sings “Pictures in My Head” while thinking about his now estranged friends. The song, one of the few in the film not written by Flight of the Conchords‘ Bret McKenzie, is a rumination about the past that somehow manages to be melancholy and inspirational like the best Muppet songs of yesteryear. It also lyrically sums up the movie’s entire reason for existing in the first place: to remind people that these characters used to be so great and they still are. Yet it never feels too self-aware. Or maybe it does, I’m too busy getting weepy each time I hear it to be an effective judge of its true merits.
3) “Movin’ Right Along” from The Muppet Movie
Has there ever been a better road trip song than this? However, it is much more than a duet between a directionally challenged frog and bear. With lines like “we don’t need a map to keep this show on the road” and “we’re in this together and we know where we’re going,” it subtly reinstates the film’s recurring theme about the importance of friendship. Clich? though it may be, it is a reminder that life’s journey is far more important than the ultimate destination. Plus, it’s just so damn humable.
2) “Couldn’t We Ride?” from The Great Muppet Caper
If a puppet-obsessed maniac forced me into some weird Sophie’s Choice situation and I had to pick between The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper as to which one of the pair was my favorite I would go with the latter. Look, I totally get it if this statement disgusts you and you want to stop reading this list right now. Don’t get me wrong, The Muppet Movie is damn near perfect entertainment. But if I’m being completely honest, I think that Muppet Caper has a slight advantage in that it is perfectly paced, every song is a gem and the cameos are arguably better than the first go round. (That John Cleese scene? Pure gold). Better still are the Muppet special effects on display, especially during the “Couldn’t We Ride?” musical number that features Kermit and the gang on a leisurely bike outing. As you’ll see on the flip side of this list, I’m not a huge fan of Muppet schmaltz. It would have been easy for this song to fall in that category if the accompanying visuals weren’t so breathtaking. Even though I know how this sequence was done (30-year-old spoiler alert: with wires, rigs, large costumes and plenty of ingenuity), it still makes my jaw drop. Unless your name is Statler or Waldorf, the scene should cause you to have the same reaction.
1) “The Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie
There really was no other choice. “The Rainbow Connection” kicks off the Muppets’ cinematic adventures and its lyric/melody has become inexorably linked with Jim Henson’s creations. Anyone who grew up during the 1970s or 1980s found tremendous inspiration in the song…and still does. That’s not to say that it didn’t resonate with all age groups, but for fertile minds back then Muppet melodies like this one had an immeasurable impact. After Henson died far too young in 1990, the song’s optimism became something bittersweet. But the ultimate message of “The Rainbow Connection” of pursuing your dreams remains. It is a modern classic that is every bit as affecting as “Eleanor Rigby” or “Someday We’ll Be Together.” (Which is probably why Segel trotted it out again for his Muppet movie). Now if only we could make it through a listen without bawling our eyes out. Then again, that kind of proves the song’s enduring power, wouldn’t you agree?
Hit the jump for the worst Muppet movie moments.
5) “Never Before, Never Again” from The Muppet Movie
Look, it gives me no joy to be negative about the original three Muppet movies. But as a total bastard it is part of my job to do so. With that in mind, let me just say what you’ve all been thinking for over 30 years: “Never Before, Never Again” stops The Muppet Movie dead. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate that the visuals poke fun at clich?d romantic film tropes. The trouble is that in comparison with the flick’s other songs — all of those mentioned previously in this list as well as gems like “Can You Picture That?,” “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” and “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along” — this one just didn’t stand a chance.
4) Quentin Tarantino’s Cameo in The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz
Unless you are The Wiz or that episode of Fame where Doris got whacked on the head and wakes up in the Emerald City, it’s really not a good idea to try to remake The Wizard of Oz due to the popularity of the definitive 1939 version. Granted this Muppets take that aired on ABC in 2005 was based on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book, but the inclusion of songs meant that comparisons to the Judy Garland version would be inevitable. Unfortunately, the lame music is just the start of this production’s problems. Where things really shit the bed here are in terms of the shoehorned celebrity cameos. Having Kelly Osbourne pop up was bad enough, but the film completely derails once Quentin Tarantino’s scene arrives. During a climatic battle between The Wicked Witch (Miss Piggy) and Dorothy Gale (Ashanti, who manages to survive this film with her dignity intact), the action quickly cuts to Tarantino discussing his ultra-violent ideas for the sequence to would-be movie mogul Kermit. Meta moments are nothing new for the Muppets to be sure. Unfortunately, this one is so tonally off base in terms of content that when paired when Tarantino’s grating acting it results in more head-scratching then chuckles. Speaking of bad cameos, Hulk Hogan’s appearance in Muppets from Space is abysmal too. At least that one is only lasts about 40 seconds though.
3) The Entirety of Kermit’s Swamp Years
This quasi-prequel to The Muppet Movie has a young Kermit detailing an early adventure in which many of his defining personality traits were established. It’s like the Young Indy sequence of Last Crusade, just much longer and with characters you don’t give a shit about. The argument can be made that the events depicted here contradict/completely discount the Muppet Babies continuity (which itself is kind of convoluted), but as you’ll soon learn this isn’t too much of a problem for me. I guess what I’m really getting at is that I’m not really interested in Kermit having adventures with folks who aren’t his regular cohorts. Judging by how often I see used DVDs of this, most others weren’t either.
2) “I’m Gonna Always Love You” from The Muppets Take Manhattan
I fully expect the comments will be exploding with hate for this one, but I totally agree with the school of thought that says the Muppet Babies were Henson’s equivalent of the Ewoks. In The Muppets Take Manhattan, they serve no purpose other than to be cute (and show how Miss Piggy is even domineering in her fantasy sequences). If I want to get really nitpicky here, and obviously I do, it also completely disregards the origins of the gang’s friendship from The Muppet Movie. I really don’t want to get into an elaborate discussion about Muppet timelines and what events from the films are canon, etc, so maybe we can just agree that, troublesome concept, aside at least the Muppet Babies cartoon was fun.
1) Kermit’s Bad Attitude in It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie
Before The Muppets hit theaters, there were news reports that Frank Oz turned down being involved with the project because he felt that the characters were being respected by the script. There was no big hubbub about the 2002 NBC telefilm It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, but you’ve got to wonder if some of the same kind of reasons resulted in his lack of participation in that as well. (It should be mentioned that both films place the fate of the Muppet Theatre in jeopardy). Throughout the movie, Kermit repeatedly acts out of character. Mean and petulant, he shouts at his friends, has tantrums and generally engages in non-Kermitlike behavior. As a diehard Muppet fan, I can forgive everything from the rise of Pepe to bad Pizza Hut commercials. One thing I won’t accept it however is Kermit acting like a world class douche. Yet it gets worse. At one point during the flick’s half-baked It’s a Wonderful Life homage, he discovers that if he were never born the Muppet Studios would be a seedy nightclub where this would be going on:
?Yep. Scooter as a male cage dancer. Good luck getting that image removed from your head. There really is no acceptable place for misanthropy and Muppet eroticism being together. Well, besides Fan Fiction Friday anyway.