The Muppet Movie Marks 45th Anniversary

Fozzie Bear and Kermit the Frog in the Muppet Movie. © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Muppet Movie recently marked the 45th anniversary of its 1979 world premiere and returns to theaters for special screenings.

“Why are their so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side? … Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection. The Lovers, the Dreamers, and me.” – “Rainbow Connection”

Following the success of The Muppet Show, it was only a matter of time before the Muppets hit the big screen. Lo and behold, they did exactly this in 1979. It is not lost on me that the Disney+ release of Jim Henson Idea Man fell on the exact anniversary of the UK premiere in 1979. The release date could probably be a coincidence but maybe not. In any event, fans can watch one film on the streamer or both–most of their films are on Disney+. I’m not in a position to attend either of the Fathom Events screenings so I watched on Disney+. It was my first viewing since just before the 2011 theatrical release of The Muppets. The film should be the first feature that anyone watches when it comes to Kermit and friends. It’s certainly a game-changer when it comes to placing puppets in the real world.

Not too long after singing “Rainbow Connection,” Kermit (Jim Henson) decides to become rich and famous in Hollywood. Joining him on the journey are Miss Piggy (Frank Oz), Fozzie Bear (Frank Oz), Gonzo the Great (Dave Goelz), Camilla the Chicken (Jerry Nelson), Dr. Teeth (Jim Henson) and Electric Mayhem, Scooter (Richard Hunt), and more. Many of Hollywood’s biggest names in 1979 make appearances in the film. Unfortunately for Kermit and company, Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) has his own plans, kidnapping Miss Piggy in the process. Much like The Muppets Take Manhattan, it features a Sesame Street cameo: Big Bird (Caroll Spinney). In fact, the closing finale features characters–250 in all–from the likes of Sesame StreetEmmet Otter’s Jug-Band Xmas, The Land of Gorch, and more.

L-R: Gonzo, Janice, Rowlf the Dog, Camilla the Chicken, Scooter, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and Dr. Teeth in The Muppet Movie.
L-R: Gonzo, Janice, Rowlf the Dog, Camilla the Chicken, Scooter, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and Dr. Teeth in The Muppet Movie. © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

A number of the franchise’s future films stick to the formula set forth with this one. They are filled with celebrity cameos and music while taking audiences on an adventure. This film contains the same sweetness as the 2011 film. As far as their films go, the original and the 2011 films are easily the best in the franchise. The box office results speak for themselves–to be fair, the 2011 film’s box office should take inflation into account. In fact, I would argue that both films are the reason why the Academy needs to add a Best Comedy category. As things stand, the only Oscar nominations are for Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher’s score and “Rainbow Connection.” They did not win but Henson gave the duo so much freedom to do their work. Anyone else would probably offer direction throughout the process.

It was not quite a happy set. Austin Pendleton, who played Max, said so himself. Up until Muppets in Space, it would be the last time they hire a director from outside the Muppet family. If not for being persuaded against doing so, it’s possible that Henson would have directed himself. Instead, they went with an experienced filmmaker in James Frawley. Regarding their senses of humor, it seemed like a good fit on paper. But anyway, knowing how much work goes into making a Muppet movie or series work, it’s unbelievable that they pulled it off, especially taking them into the real world. The mere fact that Henson had to be in a tank while performing as Kermit for the early scenes is just unfathomable. I mean, I’ve seen the location on the Warner Bros. backlot where they filmed the sequence. You have to see it to believe it!

Jack Burns had written the initial draft of the script before Jerry Juhl came and polished it up. They really combined the best of both worlds when it came to their humor and the Muppets making their big screen debut. It is not just the fact that there are so many laughs. There are brief celebrity cameo sequences that would not be out of place on a variety show such as the one where Mel Brooks is a German mad scientist. Only Mel Brooks could pull something like that off! Meanwhile, it wasn’t until the rewatch that I really appreciated all the references to previous films, such as Gone with the Wind, High Noon, etc.

The Muppet Movie changed cinema forever and much like “Rainbow Connection,” the iconic classic remains fun for the whole family.

DIRECTOR: James Frawley
SCREENWRITER: Jerry Juhl and Jack Burns
CAST: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, and Charles Durning, Austin Pendleton, Edgar Bergen, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Dom DeLuise, Elliott Gould, Bob Hope, Madeline Kahn, Carol Kane, Cloris Leachman, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Telly Savalas, Orson Welles, Paul Williams, and Caroll Spinney

Associated Film Distribution released The Muppet Movie in theaters on June 22, 1979. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.