The Muppets Take Manhattan: It’s Not Easy Being Ginger

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Well, I did think about dyeing it, but I've got bigger fish to fry; my eyes are actually attached to my glasses, for a start.

I set out on the odyssey that is BlogalongaMuppets for many reasons; partly my enthusiasm for the Muppets; partly for my anticipation for their upcoming film, The Muppets; but mainly because I’m a shameless plagiarist incapable of having my own ideas, content to copy other, more respectable Blogalongas. What I hadn’t realised before I started is quite how much I’d forgotten about the Muppet movies, having seen them all before – apparently; in the case of The Muppets Take Manhattan, this is particularly shameful as I saw half of it on TV only three months ago.

Watching The Muppets Take Manhattan on a lazy Bank Holiday a few short months ago inspired in me just enough nostalgia to start off this whole crazy enterprise, but having seen the first three in order, I’ve come to the unexpected realisation that The Muppets Take Manhattan is to The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppet Movie what Alien 3 is to Aliens and Alien. Let me briefly explain by running through the elements of the formula that I looked through for Movie and Caper.

1. The Songs. After a selection of catchy tunes in the first film, and a genuinely great soundtrack for the second, the songs here are all eminently forgettable. Watch the video below, and see if you can remember any of it ten minutes later without the benefit of prescription drugs.

2. The Muppet stunts. There’s a lot of good rat parts in The Muppets Take Manhattan, but most of the other Muppets are very poorly used, and too often the film seems less than interested in maintaining the illusion.

3. The Human Leads. Last time we had Charles Grodin and Diana Rigg; this time we have “Constable” from Fiddler On The Roof and someone whose other main career role to date was sixth lead in a film with Mel Smith and John Turturro.

4. The Celebrity Cameos. We’re back to the pattern of the original Muppet movie here, except with lower quality names overall; pretty much the only person who gets a worthwhile cameo is Gregory Hines, in his attempt to mediate a lovers’ tiff between Kermit and Piggy. Joan Rivers gets vaguely messy with Miss Piggy and Elliott Gould has one line. When the best you can do is the Mayor of New York, maybe it’s time to stop.

5. The Muppets themselves. In keeping with everything else, the formula has been abandoned, with the knowing in-jokes of the first two films completely absent and a plot which effectively casts Kermit as the sole protagonist and reduces most of the others to bit parts or their own cameos. The plot consists entirely of  (and spoilers, obviously):

  • The Muppets attempt to “take” Manhattan
  • They unsurprisingly fail badly
  • Most of them go home, but Kermit keeps at it
  • Kermit gets an unlikely break, but then loses his memory in a car accident
  • Kermit recovers his memory just in time to join the show which has been very well produced by his colleagues in his absence, thus rendering most of his contribution fairly irrelevant anyway
  • Er… that’s it

So a wafer thin plot, poor characterisations and some dancing rats; pretty much everything that made the first film good and the second great has been discarded, and it barely even feels like a Muppet movie. The one claim that the Muppet movie can make is that it launched a successful spin off, but even I will admit that the Muppet Babies are something of an acquired taste.

What the third Muppet movie really struggles with is understanding what to do with its actual Muppets. There’s a core cast of Muppets, which the Muppet Babies song generally reflects: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Rowlf and Scooter. The actual Muppet Babies series wisely added Animal, Bunsen and Beaker to their core cast as well, but that’s a fair list of the regular Muppets. Sadly, in the transition from TV to film, we’ve kept the Muppets but not always kept a reason for them to be there. When you consider what function each of the Muppets actually serves:

  • Kermit – leader, general go-to guy
  • Miss Piggy – love interest, diva
  • Fozzie – comic relief
  • Gonzo – village idiot
  • Rowlf – musician
  • Animal – drummer for The Electric Mayhem, witty raconteur and bon viveur
  • Bunsen / Beaker – scientists
  • Scooter – er, well…

Yes, the Muppets are once again a reflection of real life – it’s the ginger one that gets left on the sidelines, and the Muppet movies have done a generally poor job of servicing Scooter. In the TV show, he actually had a rich back story – Scooter got the job at the Muppet theatre thanks to his rich uncle, J.P. Grosse, who owned the theatre, but eventually won the trust of Kermit and the other Muppets, acting as the gofer and effectively the stage manager as the series progressed. Consequently his job was tied completely into the TV series, so when the Muppets hit the road, Scooter has struggled for purpose.

In The Muppet Movie, he managed to snag a small role as The Electric Mayhem’s manager; in The Great Muppet Caper he’s just a resident of The Happiness Hotel, not serving any real purpose other than filling out the background. It gets worse here, as his sole effective role is to split the Muppets up the minute Kermit’s back is turned! Sadly, due to the death of Muppet performer Richard Hunt, who lent him a voice and an arm, Scooter doesn’t even appear in The Muppet Christmas Carol and barely makes an impact on the other, later films either. Even in The Muppet Babies, he was often overshadowed by his made-up sister Skeeter, who doesn’t appear in any live-action Muppet products. Not easy being green? You want to try being ginger, mate.

And in case you haven’t guessed by this point, I am also afflicted with the ginger gene. Scooter, you have my sympathies.

Current ranking of the Muppet movies

1. The Great Muppet Caper

2. The Muppet Movie

3. The Muppets Take Manhattan

Next month: Following the sad death of Jim Henson, it’s a full-on reboot for the Muppets. It’s The Muppet Christmas Carol.

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