Nov 25, 2011

[Movies] The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
I have a soft spot for the Muppets - then again, I'm sure most people do, too. And I am proud of the fact that I've most if not all of the Muppet movies in my lifetime including some of the TV movies like The Frog Prince, which we used to have on a beat up VHS tape.

I've been slowly re-watching the various movies in an effort to help myself disentangle my childhood memories of each movie from the other. Believe me, it's a lot easier than you think to get them all mixed up.

The Muppets Take Manhattan wasn't necessarily my favorite of the first wave of Muppet movies, but it was notable for its introduction of the Muppet Babies into the public consciousness. Now there's a cartoon that I got oddly hooked on to the point that I died to get those silly Happy Meal toys they came out with for cartoon based on the one scene in this movie.

Muppet movies are always rather weird on the comedy spectrum since they generate appeal for the very young and the not quite so young. They're witty and yet campy at the same time, and I suppose that's part of their appeal. And of course, they also have to have major song and dance numbers.

The Muppets Take Manhattan is the third movie in the franchise and I suppose you could classify it as a musical comedy of sort. It was directed by Frank Oz alone with a screenplay by Tom Patchett Jay Tarses and Frank as well. The movie was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Original Song although composer Jess Moss did not win.

The movie begins with the Muppets now graduating from college and performing in a show called Manhattan Melodies that they put together. While Kermit (Jim Henson) can't help but feel that there's something missing from the production, the rest of the group urge him to take the play all the way to Broadway. In terms of personal motivations, Miss Piggy (Frank Oz) hopes the show will mean earning enough money so that she and Kermit can finally get married.

So the group sets off for Broadway but find getting a producer to pick up their show is harder than they thought. They try producer after producer with nothing to show for it, thus making the group start to lose hope. Eventually the rest of the Muppets need to leave and get jobs across the country as Kermit stays in New York to try and continue to search for someone to carry their show.

There are many elements that help make Muppet movies and other productions work, but the biggest is the need to suspend belief and respect the fact that Muppets are "real". And when I saw this, I mean that everyone in the production has to act like the Muppets are regular people who just happen to be brightly colored and tend to be soft and squishy. And this dichotomy of fantasy and reality always gives the Muppets a unique allure that brings out the kids in all of us.

And the best way to stress how real the Muppets are is how these movies always tend to involve interesting celebrity cameos. This movie was no exception with appearances by the likes of Frances Bergen, Gregory Hines, Elliot Gould, Liza Minnelli and even Gates McFadden (for you fellow Star Trek geeks out there). Seeing fairly big name or familiar stars acting along side puppets adds a certain degree of credibility to the whole thing and a bit of silliness to boot. Oh, and the puppeteers themselves cameo in the movie too, if you can spot them.

The music for the movie was enjoyable, but I can't say it was all particularly memorable. I mean come on, we can only listen to the opening bars of Together Again so many times before it starts to really drag. Of course I enjoy any number like their William Tell Overture given the involvement of the Chickens (Jerry Nelson, etc. and then there's Somebody's Getting Married, which really felt like the kind of stuff you're bound to get in a Broadway musical production.

The story isn't as simplistic as it seems though given how Kermit has that weird incident in the middle of the movie. And their slightly ironic stab at the advertising industry was a lot of fun too - typical of the kind of subtle wit these productions tend to work into the script.

The Muppets Take Manhattan is not the kind of movie you'd write essays or even odes about. Instead, what it is is a lot of honest to goodness fun with anthropomorphic chickens, frogs, pigs and whatever Gonzo (Dave Goelz) is supposed to be. Thus the movie gets a rating of 4 attempts by the rats to generate buzz about the musical through a "whisper campaign" out of a possible 5.

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