The Muppet-A-Thon: The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

In this instalment of the franchise Kermit and the gang have recently graduated from, what I can only assume was an arts programme, University. Having produced a musical that hit big during their collegiate days they get the idea of heading to New York City and getting their show up on the big stage on Broadway.

Like the second film, The Great Muppet Caper, the film diverts from the cameo a minute style and creates a full blown narrative of The Muppets actually attempting the accomplish something. However, finally we don’t have to sit through these characters pretending to not know each other. Therefore we can skip all of the known things and jump into the middle of an already running episode of The Muppets.

In this film we finally get to ask the question as to why they look to Kermit for the answers always. We already know the answer though. It’s just natural. Kermit is the natural leader and the rest of the group refuse to emerge as true individuals. However, it’s what must be done in order to allow Kermit to rediscover his aptitude for the position as leader of the Muppets.

What makes The Muppets so great is the relationships and how they interact. Why Kermit and Ms. Piggy are the leads are how wonderfully beautiful and hilarious they are. We get to see Kermit, this mild mannered calm frog, act like a normal person (am I allowed to call it a person?) and when Ms. Piggy sees something as innocent as a hug between friends and reacts the way she does we are mildly entertained by the insanity of it all; which includes a group of big burly construction workers gawking at a pig.

The rest of the film is as expected. We’re given a handful of ‘people’ characters to help push Kermit along his quest. This time around we have Jenny (Juliana Donald) who becomes Kermit’s personal costume designer for all of his plans and schemes to get ahead in the New York theatre scene.

I still believe that to this point the most underused Muppet has to be the Swedish Chef. His moments just make me smile no matter what he’s doing. He even got a singing line (which of course I didn’t really understand) in the final musical moment.

Rating: 7.0/10

The Muppet-A-Thon: The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

Only three years after the theatrical debut of The Muppets and we’re already into sequel territory. We’ll it isn’t so much a sequel as it is a whole new story with the Muppets in the middle of it all.

Jim Henson manages to improve on his previous effort by not only focusing the story by keeping the – while enjoyable at times – unnecessary cameos to a minimum but also by making sure that the film feels like what it ought to. Good old fashion family fun.

What makes The Muppets different, other than being a glorified puppet show, is that it never apologizes for its at times blatantly obvious plot lines or ridiculously cheesy resolutions. We know going in that the story is going to centre around Kermit, Fozzie and maybe Gonzo (as it does this time around). We know that Kermit and Ms. Piggy are going meet each other for the very first time and fall in love, and we know that the people are the bad guys.

I wonder what someone seeing the 70s and 80s Muppets content (I wonder how updated they are in the soon to be released film) would interpret it? Would they dismiss or embrace its insane reality that is Kermit and the gang someone solving the mystery, getting to the place in time or even just magically getting a yes out of an important person just because he said a heart warming speech about being friends.

The main plot of this film follows Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo as reporters who head off to England to follow-up on the story of Lady Holiday and the theft of her prized diamonds. The crime becomes a recurring one as she has more and more diamonds stolen right off her neck at times and the gang must get to the bottom of it all.

As stated above, the goal of a Muppets film isn’t to wow us with suspense (since most times we as the audience already know the answer to all the questions you’d need to ask) or to bring us in with engaging characters, but rather to just let us enjoy the ride along that is a Muppets film. Does this film allow for that? I believe it does.

There are few scenes as beautiful that break the fourth wall as Kermit stopping Ms. Piggy from over-acting and starting to direct the film from in front of the camera, or as hilarious as Fozzie having to get the gang all excited to go out and save their friend by calling “shame on them” in one of the greatest on screen speeches of all time.

The Muppets is a film that never apologizes and asks only for acceptance and I’m here to give it to it.

On the side note, great cameo moment from Peter Falk, John Cleese and The Grouch from Sesame Street.

Rating: 6.5/10

The Muppet-A-Thon: The Muppet Movie (1979)

For the month of November, to celebrate the release of the new Muppets film I will be reviewing all the previous 8 Muppets Films (Including those made just for TV). I hope you enjoy.

The muppets is a sacred piece of cultural entertainment that at times I feel surpasses criticism. It wasn’t created for the purpose of analysis but rather for enjoyment. You may be thinking that this can be said about a lot of films that I take ludicrous amounts of time to bring a peg (or two) off of, but in this case it’s almost impossible to see the incredible genius that goes into creating these characters for the world the world to enjoy.

While the plot of the film, and this can be said of most all Muppet films, can be summed up as a glorified road film filled with number of pretty much random sketches and an unlimited number of very memorable and talented cameos by the biggest name in Hollywood, it still doesn’t stop the critic in me having to shut off completely and just enjoy watching Ms. Piggy use her karate (I assume it’s karate) skills to subdue a room full of Germans, or Fozzie fall completely flat on stage telling corny one liners, or Rowlf playing the blues.

The film decides to propose an origin story for how all the Muppets actually got together and eventually do The Muppet Show. A talented green frog, Kermit, is spotted by an agent who just happens to be rowing around in the middle of the swamp and mentions to him that he may be perfect for a part being advertised in Hollywood. This immediately prompts him to pack his banjo, hop on his bike and head West to the coast. Along the way he manages to meet Fozzie, Gonzo, Rowlf and Miss Piggy and together they all head to Hollywood together.

At the end of the day the film is an enjoyable mess. I love The Muppets and I love everything about them – let’s hope not every review will just be a copy and paste of that thought. I mean, what’s not to love about a film which happens to not only feature Muppets, but also: Bob Hope, Steve Martin, Dom DeLuise, Elliot Gould, Richard Pryor, Madeline Kahn and Mel Brooks.

The Muppet Movie feels like a sketch show mainly because that’s what the show always was. It’s a show of bits and a sum of its parts may not be the best way to represent itself, the film still manages to entertain me in its bits.

I will say however, as whimsical as a Muppets Movie is allowed to be, I’m never a big fan of massive MacGuffins like what was used in this film.

Rating: 5.5/10

1001 Films: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dune) are travelling in Britain when they come upon a small town late one night. The townspeople aren’t that welcoming and they find themselves back on the road in the weather very soon. That very night Jack and David are attacked by a monster in the night. Jack is killed, but David survives and he is now infected with the curse of the werewolf and will transform whenever there’s a full moon out.

How do you judge movies like this? If this were to be released shot for shot today it would be lauded as a great comedy poking fun at the effects of years gone by. But as a film that was released three decades ago this was the greatest thing you could ever see in a cinema. Do I have to chalk it up to a generational thing? I don’t think so (especially after my lauding of the work in the film that was released a year after this one, The Thing).

The effects just didn’t do it for me this time. While I can see the amazing detailed work that Jim Henson and everyone in the costuming department did in this movie, I just was never engaged by it. I felt that Landis spent too much time focusing in on the transformation and not enough on the physicality of the creature. There were just too many cut aways to show each piece of the puzzle that was David transforming into the monster, when we eventually got there, for me to buy it. However, at the same time I understand why Landis did it this way due to the limitations of the technology at the time. In order to make the transformation in anyway believable he had to show it in bits and pieces that he could control in such a way that it didn’t look silly.

What I did enjoy about the movie was its brand of comedy. While it was directed by John Landis (The Blues Brothers and Spies Like Us) he definitely wanted this to be as frightening as possible. However, at the same time he gave us two main characters who had a sense of humour among themselves. Like most horror/comedy films where the movie starts and stops being scary intermittently for a joke to be said with drum roll and snare to indicate that it’s time to laugh all the jokes came from these characters reacting to their surroundings and what’s actually going on rather than being ironic for the sake of a cheap laugh.

What I did love about the movie was the psychological transformation that David went through. After the attack he’s left in shock, but not confused at all. Closer to the first time he’s about to transform he’s visited by his dead friend, Jack, where Jack explains everything that David suspects is true. This starts an internal conflict with David. He starts to question if this is really happening or if he’s just going insane and that is what kept me going. I especially loved the make-up work on the undead version of Jack, especially as the movie went on seeing how more and more his form began to decompose for us. It’s a perfect way to create not only doubt in our mind, before the actual transformation occurs, but also the protagonists’.

IMDB says 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes says 88%
I say 6.0/10