When Jim Henson wanted every Muppet in the grand finale of his first feature film to be operated by a person, rather than being static or electronic (there was no CG in 1979), the call went out for performers to converge on the studio where it was filming. Among them were a young animator (Burton) and a fledging filmmaker (Landis).
And while The Muppet Movie was the first feature for the Henson crew, it was the last for legendary ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, whose Charlie McCarthy character was a forerunner for figures that transcended their technology. It didn’t matter that Bergen’s lips moved, or that he when he was on radio there was no visual, Charlie McCarthy was a living breathing soul, just as Kermit and Miss Piggy are, regardless of whether you can see the puppeteer.
When you see The Muppet Movie, you are seeing the cutting edge in puppetry and an endless procession of celebrities. Even though both are still impressive and make many current billion dollar special effects extravaganzas of today pale in comparison, what stands out is the clever script, the music and the unearthly talent of the Muppet performers.
Even though The Muppet Movie was a major release in 1979 and a huge hit, it has a gentle smallness, almost an underground film feel. Though it looks better than I’ve ever seen it on Blu-ray, there is a marked difference between this film’s image and sound quality and that of the Muppet films that followed.
If you’re a Monkees fan, The Muppet Movie is helmed by the same director of much of that series, a nice blend of the fourth wall breaking style of Monkee and Muppet.
This new “Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition” includes Frawley’s test footage of The Muppets in natural settings – a feature well worth the price of the package that was left off the 2005 DVD edition.
Perhaps the major stars of the film is not seen but heard – the musical score and songs by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher. “The Rainbow Connection” has become a standard, while the song that took its Oscar, “It Goes Like It Goes” from Norma Rae, is largely forgotten. Ah well, such is also like it goes with many awards and their ultimate meaning...