The Muppet Menagerie—Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, The Great Gonzo, Animal, Doctor Teeth, Crazy Harry and the rest of the zoo parade from TV'S most popular show—has come to the movies. And The Muppet Movie packs all the thrills, laughs and excitement of a . . . well, two-ring circus. The anarchic zaniness of the TV show is missing, as is the rapport the show establishes between Jim Henson’s furry puppets and the guest stars. In its place, writers Jerry Juhl and Jack Burns have fashioned an engaging— but not quite hilarious—entertainment, which falls somewhere between a unique TV show and a successful movie.
The spotlight is on Kermit, a pleasant, clean-cut frog with absolutely no star quality. Kermit is the calm, unblinking eye surrounded by a hurricane of weird and lovable creatures—and that’s fine for the Muppet TV show. But a movie needs a more dynamic central figure. Kermit, alas, is no frog prince, and the movie suffers for it. (Mickey Mouse wasn’t exactly Mr. Charisma either, and that’s probably why Walt Disney never built a feature film around him.)
On their TV show, the Muppets and their guest stars fit smoothly into a music-hall
format: songs, skits, old jokes and a big production number. But the Muppet movie is burdened with a story line, and though it’s no more complex than the narrative of The Wizard of Oz (Kermit sets off to meet a Hollywood mogul, and on the way picks up some adorable friends and nasty foes), too often the movie has to stop dead in its tracks to make a plot point. The story could have been as flimsy as a clothesline, on which the writers would hang sketches and bits of business that played to the comic strengths of the Muppets and such stars as Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Madeline Kahn and Richard Pryor. Instead, the cameo appearances are often no more than a few seconds long, and except for Mel Brooks (as a mad German-Jewish scientist) and Steve Martin (as a sarcastic waiter), the stars are given little chance to shine.
Still, there is Miss Piggy. This enchanting amalgam of Scarlett O’Hara and Barbra Streisand, of Elizabeth Taylor and Bruce Lee, of sugar and spice—and, if truth be told, of Styrofoam and Dynel—turns every
frame of her appearance into a series of golden moments. Her admirers have long awaited the image of that upturned snout, that porcine pulchritude, those eight-inch eyelashes on the big screen. Her debut is worth the wait. Miss Piggy’s entrance—40 minutes into the movie, as the winner of a beauty contest—and her dreamy love duet with her beloved “Kermie” are the high points of the Muppet movie, and indeed of the movie year.
All praise to Frank Oz, the Muppet magician who created and animates Miss Piggy. With millions in TV, movies and merchandise, Jim Henson may be the next Disney. But Frank is the Wizard of Oz.
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