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The Muppets Take Manhattan

Posted by martinteller on August 17, 2014

When I was growing up, “The Muppet Show” was appointment television.  The family gathered around the TV every Sunday night to watch the antics of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and celebrity guests.  The show was consistently excellent entertainment for young and old alike.  You can’t even pick a favorite Muppet, they’re all so endearing in their own ways (if pressed on the issue, though, I’d probably say Rowlf.  I love an underdog.  Yuk yuk).  And when we got a VCR, The Muppet Movie was one of my “heavy rotation” cassettes.  It was a long time ago, but I’m pretty sure there was a two-week period where I watched it twice a day.  I knew that picture backwards and forwards.  And yet, somehow I never bothered to see any of the follow-up films.  I can’t tell you why, it just never happened.  Until now.

The third movie in the Muppet franchise (the second being The Great Muppet Caper) finds the gang all graduating from college, and heading to the Big Apple with hopes of getting their senior variety show produced on Broadway.  This is, as one would expect, more difficult than they imagined.  With their funds dwindling, the other Muppets turn to Kermit for guidance, who reacts with an outburst, fed up with their reliance on him.  Kermit’s friends scatter to other regions of the country while he continues his endeavors to get the show produced, with the assistance of a waitress/aspiring fashion designer named Jenny (Juliana Donald).

Some of the stuff in this movie doesn’t work.  A sequence that introduces the idea of “Muppet Babies” is far too cutesy and dumb.  Juliana Donald is an absolute zero of an actress, and it was no surprise to check her IMDb page and see that her career never went anywhere.  She’s totally bland and doesn’t deserve the amount of screen time she gets.  Animal getting all rapey is a bit uncomfortable.  Some of the gags fall pretty flat, and it’s weird to go back to a time when a “Where’s the beef?” joke was still somewhat fresh.  And — until the ending — none of the songs are anywhere on the level of a “Rainbow Connection”.

But more works than doesn’t work.  The story is very formulaic (oh, amnesia… the plot device that people keep using even though it so rarely satisfies), but who cares?  It’s all about the fun in the execution.  It’s an easy, enjoyable (except the Muppet Babies bit) watch that breezes along, and for every joke that doesn’t quite hit the mark, there’s one or two others that do.  The puppets are integrated beautifully into the real world settings (with a couple of minor exceptions, like a full-body shot of Animal).  In most cases, celebrity cameos would feel like a cheap gimmick, but they work so well in this universe because it’s such a hoot to see them so game to interact with the Muppets.  Gregory Hines, Dabney Coleman and Joan Rivers especially knock it out of the park (and “Star Trek” fans will instantly recognize a pre-“Beverly Crusher” Gates McFadden).

And then, there’s that ending.  My feelings about the film were much more lukewarm until the last few minutes.  I was a bit bummed that none of the songs were that special… and then we get hit with “Somebody’s Getting Married”, “Waiting for the Wedding” and “He’ll Make Me Happy”.  Bam bam bam.  It’s a sequence that overflows with delight and joy (there are those words again…).  I’ll confess: I got teary-eyed.  Yes, I cried over a Muppet wedding.  And now I kind of want the whole audience to sing at my wedding.  Okay, the Kermit/Miss Piggy dynamic is a little dysfunctional, but they’re still one of the great onscreen couples.  The ending of this movie earned an awful lot of bonus points for a movie that often feels merely okay up until that point.  It was a conclusion that left me smiling and wiping my eyes, and made me really appreciate taking this journey with the Muppets, even though it’s a bit bumpy at times.  Rating: Very Good (83)


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