Two months in, and there was a nervous air of anticipation gripping BlogalongaMuppet HQ. I thought I remembered all of the Muppet movies from when I was younger, but I have to admit that, having watched it, I really didn’t recall much of The Muppet Movie. For some reason, I remembered the “watching-the-movie-within-the-movie” opening, I vaguely remembered Big Bird’s cameo and Animal bursting out of the top of a building left some sort of impression. But very little else in The Muppet Movie seemed to imprint on me, so it came as something of a surprise when I found it just a bit “meh”. And I was not alone; the general reaction to the first in the Muppet series from my fellow BlogalongaMuppeters was also to be similarly underwhelmed. What had I done? Like Moses leading the Israelites into the wilderness only to discover I’d left the satnav back at Pharaoh’s palace, I was suddenly concerned that this was all a mistake. Were we facing six months of tedium and torture?
Thankfully, of course, my concerns were unfounded, and the reason that we’re all looking forward to The Muppets next year is that the Muppets have made great movies before, and The Great Muppet Caper is a great Muppet movie. Somehow The Muppet Movie managed to get all of the pieces in place, but didn’t manage to quite get them to fit together, but Caper pulls it off much more successfully. So what did The Great Muppet Caper manage to do so much more successfully than its predecessor?
1. The Songs
No Oscar nominations this time round, but the songs are much more successful, bypassing the maudlin mish-mash of The Rainbow Connection and keeping with a selection of songs that all keep the pace moving. The best of the bunch is probably The Happiness Hotel (above), but there’s a much wider range going on, all of which serve the action well and which mimic and parody a wide variety of styles.
2. Showing the Muppets as they really are
Some people seem to have this daft notion that the Muppets are actually puppets, and that the reason we don’t see their legs is due to a need to keep the puppeteers off screen. You crazy fools! Watching The Great Muppet Caper will reassure you that the Muppets are, of course, living, breathing creatures with as much life in them as you or I. Seriously, how could Miss Piggy possibly be involved in a song and dance number if she was a puppet, much less an Esther Williams tribute? It would take some kind of puppeteer to train as a scuba diver and to spend days, possibly weeks, underwater? Nonsense.
3. Celebrity starring roles are spot on
The Great Muppet Caper was filmed in Britian, but the main actors represent both sides of the Atlantic; the lead roles this time go to the unflappable Diana Rigg and the scheming Charles Grodin.Of course, the original Muppet Show relied heavily on its guest humans each week, and The Great Muppet Caper works because their characters are just fleshed out enough to work and because both Rigg and Grodin commit heavily to the cause. The crying shame is that it’s not got the recognition factor for the actors involved: look, for example, at the “Known For” section of Grodin on IMDb:
Beethoven’s 2nd? REALLY?
4. Celebrity cameos are even better
Even now, one month on, I’m struggling to remember what most, if not all, of the celebrity cameos actually added to The Muppet Movie, but here each one is memorable and adds to the film without bringing it to a crashing halt. Highlights are the two Peters; Peter Falk as a Kermit-pestering tramp, and Peter Ustinov facing off against Sesame Street’s Oscar The Grouch, in what might be the greatest screen pairing ever committed to celluloid.
5. The best bits are the bits with the Muppets in
Yes, the level of self-awareness is even higher here than it was in The Muppet Movie; from dissecting the opening credits mid-balloon flight to Miss Piggy insulting Charles Grodin by suggesting he’s been dubbed over, the Muppet characters are always aware they’re in a movie, but that only serves to add to the fun once again. There’s also running jokes at work, which the TV show also indulged in; the best starts out odd, with the implication that Kermit and Fozzie are identical twin brothers, but by sticking to the conceit, it serves up not only the best lines of the whole film but also the most disturbing image:
All in all, The Great Muppet Caper captures the true essence of the Muppets and it’s 95 minutes of excellent family friendly entertainment, with only one issue. A caper is defined in the dictionary of the internet as follows:
So it should have actually been called The Great Holliday Caper (With Muppets). Let’s hope for a more factually accurate title next time.
Current ranking of the Muppet movies:
1. The Great Muppet Caper
2. The Muppet Movie
Next time: 300 Muppets take on 10,000 New Yorkers and win. Or something. It’s The Muppets Take Manhattan.