This Friday, Muppets: Most Wanted will enter the American Cinema.
Will this new adventure harken back to the glory days of the Muppets, proving a worthy successor to Jim Henson’s original crew? Or, will it be a pale imitation of what can be a great and marvelous franchise?
In other words, will it be Moopety or Muppety?
A Moopet is from the most recent film, 2011’s The Muppets. They are a grotesque imitation of the original Muppets, attempting to take on their identities. They are not remaining true to the lightness, warm fuzzies, and silliness of the original crew.
A true Muppet adventure, on the other hand, includes the following:
- The Muppets staying true to character
- Fun and ridiculous musical numbers, as well as musical numbers which warm the heart
- Ridiculous gags, bad puns, and general silliness
- Random current celebrity cameos, which include getting celebrities to do silly things.
- A plot that is absurd, relatable, and coherent at the same time
So, as Muppets: Most Wanted prepares to launch here are the Muppet movies released in theaters, ranked from most Moopety to most Muppety.
7. Muppets From Space – 1999
Rating On The Muppety Scale: 1
The only glimmer of the Muppet’s true glory are in the integration of Pepe The Prawn as one of the key Muppet characters.
The rest of the film is a grand mis-fire, involving Gonzo being an alien rather than the ambiguous “whatever” he is normally portrayed as, and has a plot which is a stereotypical, uncreative “aliens may be coming, government conspiracy”. Also, there are no real musical numbers, and the music used was dated when the movie was released.
Honestly, I have blocked most of this film out of my Muppet-Filled memory to prevent pain. Including, Gonzo’s ‘family’ singing “Celebrate” without any Muppetness added to the number.
6. Muppets Take Manhattan – 1984
Rating On The Muppety Scale: 3
This film almost receives a two due to the weak, slow plot, and splitting up the Muppets. The Muppets work best when there is mayhem and ridiculousness. Despite the overall film’s weakness, it is redeemed by the great individual gags by the following:
- Miss Piggy chasing a mugger through Central Park
- Miss Piggy and Joan Rivers working together at a make-up counter
- Lou Zealand throwing fish in the middle of a 3D killer piranha movie (I can’t find a clip)
- And the best marriage song. (And, yes, this is a real wedding between Miss Piggy and Kermit)
5. Muppet Treasure Island – 1996
Rating On The Muppety Scale: 4
The rest of the Muppet films listed are all ranked highly, and have their individual strengths.
Muppet Treasure Island is a wonderfully bizarre mix of classic literature and Muppet ridiculousness. Even though the Muppets are filling in as characters in the original book, they remain true to themselves. Kermit is in cool and in command, Miss Piggy is fiesty and fabulous, Gonzo is random and ridiculous, and on and on. Even Sweetums remains part of the good guys.
The musical numbers are fun and ridiculous. Cabin Fever is my particular favorite, if for nothing else but randomness. The jokes are Muppety, and lighten what could be a dark story full of piracy and murder. While there are few actual humans in the film, and only one celebrity, Tim Curry as Long John Silver is a grand mix of pirate villainy and Muppety silliness. He plays Silver straight, which builds a reality in the film that helps give it the heart. He also gets one musical number.
4. Muppet Christmas Carol – 1992
Rating On The Muppety Scale: 4.1
The only reason this film is ranked higher than Muppet Treasure Island is the warm fuzziness of Christmas. What I find ironic is that this is one of the most heart-felt, warm, and accurate adaptations of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, while still mixing in all of the Muppetness.
The sound track is fantastic, and possibly one of the strongest of all Muppet movies. “It Feels Like Christmas” is a perfect Christmas song. Michael Cain is straight-faced and sympathetic as Scrooge, grounding the movie just as Tim Curry’s Long John Silver grounds Treasure Island. And in the midst of the heart-warming story, there are Muppety jokes and silliness. Gonzo and Rizzo carry the narration, but also add to the gags, and every Muppet remains true while fulfilling the story’s roles.
3. The Muppets – 2011
Rating On The Muppety Scale: 4.2
I find it ironic this movie stemmed from a business meeting Jason Segel had with Disney because of an R-rated film (Forgetting Sarah Marshall). The film has the Muppet-fandom of Segel combined with the silliness of Flight of the Conchord from James Bobin (director) and Brett Mckenzie (song writer). Together, the creative team is able to capture the fun and warm essence of the Muppets, as well as the ridiculous and silly.
Brett McKenzie’s songs are as great as anything written by Paul Williams (who wrote most of the original music for the Muppet Show and the two first Muppet movies). Here’s a great interview with McKenzie about the challenges of making a Muppet soundtrack. The knocks on current pop culture and celebrity cameos are blended in. Jack Black plays straight as the kidnapped host of the Muppet Show revival, Amy Adams and Jason Segal are fantastic and warm human leads. My favorite human moment, however, is Chris Cooper’s rap.
However, the Muppets themselves take center stage and are able to flourish and be themselves. The gags are true to the original Muppet show, while remaining relevant to the modern world. The whole movie builds up to the frenzied pace that the Muppets really succeed at, and there are explosions.
2. Great Muppet Caper – 1981
Rating On The Muppety Scale: 4.5
Of all Muppet films, I believe this is my favorite for its sheer sillyness. It takes the Muppets out of ‘show business’ and places them as characters in a caper of thievery and mayhem. The plot is over-the-top and allows each character to have a great moment. I especially love that Kermit and Fozzie are supposedly twins and they think they look alike. Miss Piggy gets to use her fashionableness in this world of London fashion, and the rest of the Muppet gang hangs out at The Happiness Hotel, (which, for better or worse, highly resembles my family).
The musical numbers are hilarious and allow for full Muppitieness – from the 4th wall breaking opening number “Hey! A Movie!” to Miss Piggy’s synchronized swimming musical number. There are great action scenes – Miss Piggy breaking out of jail and stealing motorcycle, the Muppet gang using the baseball diamond to play baseball and keep-away from the thieves, to Peter Falk’s random cameo in the park.
However, the most Muppety Movie of all is…
1. The Muppet Movie – 1979
Rating On The Muppety Scale: 5
Everything that makes the Muppets great is in this film. There are random occurrences, absurdity, all grounded by getting the gang together to go to Hollywood. This movie introduces “The Rainbow Connection” and Kermit riding a bicycle. It features one of Miss Piggy’s best fight scenes, against Mel Brooks as a Mad Scientist and his goons. There are hijinks and chase scenes, frolicking, and cameos from comedy greats Bob Hope, Charley McCarthy and Ed Bergen, and Steve Martin. It also has a plot involving the Hollywood dream and Kermit maintaining his integrity by not being the spokesperson for fried frog legs. (We’ll try to forget the period when Miss Piggy was used to sell Pizza Hut pizzas.)
Being the first Muppet film, it also proved that the Muppets can put together a story for more than the 25 minutes allotted for the original Muppet Show. While the Muppet Show is classic, the Muppet Movie takes everything the puppetteers and Henson learned during the first few years of the Muppet Show and elevates it.
After Jim Henson’s passing in 1990, the identity and ownership of the Muppets have gone through various changes. While Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island are great, Muppets From Space was a misfire. Disney acquired Muppets in 2004, but has not known what they want to do with them. There have been various and forgettable TV Movies and Specials, but nothing truly worthy of the Muppet title until the arrival of The Muppets in 2011.
Therefore, Muppets: Most Wanted is not only the next movie featuring the Muppets, but the potential linchpin in a continued revival of the Muppets.
That’s a lot of pressure for a movie featuring a Kermit doppelganger and Tina Fey with a purposefully bad Russian accent.
What’s your favorite Muppet movie? What makes something Muppety rather than Moopety? If you were a Muppet, which one would you be? What’s your favorite Muppet musical number?
SIDE NOTE 1
If you like the Muppets and you like space, you’ll probably like my friend Andres Salazar’s latest Kickstarter project:
It’s a bear. In Space. How much better can it get? Oh, and there are random sci-fi references as well as educational facts. It’s a cool project, and some of the incentives include stickers and a nifty patch for your space jacket.
If you want to learn more click here, or on the pictures above.
SIDE NOTE 2
Here in Southern California we had a 4.4 earthquake the other day. That’s just enough to feel it, but not enough to do any real damage. In the video below, despite the male anchor’s amazing facial expression, the news anchors perform the proper drop-and-cover technique children in California have practiced for decades.
SIDE NOTE 3
I still haven’t seen Frozen, but its arrival on DVD may change that within the next few days.
SIDE NOTE 4
My brother Michael just left this morning for a 2 year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You can follow his adventures here. My sister Natalie is 7 months into her 18 month mission, and you can follow her adventures here.