Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, Charles Durning, Austin Pendleton, Edgar Bergen, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Dom DeLuise, Elliot Gould, Bob Hope, Madeline Kahn, Carol Kane, Cloris Leachman, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Orson Welles, Paul Williams
Written by: Jack Burns, Jerry Juhl
Directed by: James Frawley
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 95
Date: 05/31/1979

The Muppet Movie (1979)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Movin' Right Along

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Long before the cynical 1990s, before Meet the Feebles and "Greg the Bunny," came this post-modern puppet tale. The filmmakers took the familiar characters from the 1976-1981 television show, Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, etc., and tell their "origin" story, following them from their humble beginnings to the gates of Hollywood.

But unlike any ordinary rags-to-riches story, this one plays around with its own format. The already-famous characters are aware that they're making a re-creation, and they intermittently break the fourth wall to rattle things around. For example, the film begins and ends in a screening room, in which all the actors (Muppets) gather to watch their hard work. The film "breaks" in the middle, returning us to the screening room for a quick rest stop.

In another amazing scene, Kermit and Fozzie meet Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem rehearsing in an old church. Rather than reading expository dialogue explaining who they are, where they've come from and where they're going, they simply produce a copy of the screenplay for Dr. Teeth to read.

The Muppet Movie also sets the bar for celebrity cameos, featuring quotable walk-ons by Orson Welles ("Draw up the standard, rich-and-famous contract"), Richard Pryor ("She'll go ga-ga for it"), Steve Martin ("Would you like to smell the bottle cap?"), Mel Brooks, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, James Coburn and many more. Charles Durning gets an actual role as the villain, Doc Hopper, who wishes to slice off, cook and serve, Kermit's legs for dinner.

Not surprisingly, the writing on the film -- by Jack Burns and Jerry Juhl -- is highly clever, as it was on "The Muppet Show". Like a well-oiled comedy troupe, the characters fit together perfectly, and their various comic sensibilities brilliantly bounce off of one another.

Even the songs by Paul Williams, including the Oscar-winning "The Rainbow Connection" behave as more than mere filler. They are catchy, funny and actually move the film forward. (Only the Miss Piggy love ballad has a tendency to drag.)

But most amazing is this: not only was The Muppet Movie a great children's movie in 1979, one that viewers of all ages could enjoy, but it's still a great children's movie today. It barely seems to have aged at all.

For the 50th Anniversary of Jim Henson's Muppets in 2006, Disney released a whole slew of "Muppet" features on DVD. This disc comes with only one extra, but it's a good one: Pepe the Prawn presents "Kermit: A Frog's Life." In 2013, Disney released a "nearly" 35th anniversary Blu-ray edition. It includes the Pepe the Prawn extra, and a few other goodies, including some old test footage, trailers, and sing-a-long songs, but not much more. The audio and video quality is terrific; it hasn't looked so good since 1979, but could still use some fine-tuning.

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