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The Muppets: Best Movies and Moments

It’s time to play that music and light those lights. After 11 years, the Muppets are back on the big screen today in The Muppets. Jim Henson’s creations, said to be a combination of “marionettes” and “puppets,” first emerged on the children’s show Sesame Street beginning in 1969, but Henson’s desire to reach a wider audiences resulted in the creation of The Muppet Show, a slapstick variety show that premiered in 1976.

Since then, the Muppets have taken many forms, predominantly in television and film, and persevered for more than 40 years entertaining folks young and old. As the gang prepares to make its comeback, we wanted to take a look back at share with you our favorite Muppet movies and moments.

The Muppet Show (1976-1981)

Parody, satire and slapstick — the Muppets did it all. The show was before my time and the time of many Muppet fans, but it holds some of the most beloved moments in the Jim Henson Company’s history. For one, there’s the beloved “Manamana!” song. Here’s a link to the 1969 Sesame Street version, though the more famous one is from The Muppet Show.


The show was also known for featuring a new renowned musical guest each week. One of the most famous appearances was of Elton John wearing a flamboyant peacock costume and singing “Crocodile Rock.” This was the sketch that inspired Cee Lo Green’s memorable outfit and performance at the Grammy’s.


Muppet Movies We Love: The Muppet Movie (1979)
By Sam Woolf

Did the Muppets really need an origin story? Despite Jim Henson's back-stage struggles to get his felt friends on TVs, The Muppet Show became a fixture of prime-time so quickly that it didn't really matter where these lovable characters came from. But characters they are and that's really the magic of the Muppets; they're not puppets, they're entertainers, with distinctive personalities and a "let's put on a show" attitude that's simply infectious. Perhaps that’s why The Muppet Movie is such a joy to watch; you get to see how all this wonderful silliness got started.

Well, sort of. True to the show, the film finds the gang watching a private screening of The Muppet Movie, which follows “approximately” how the Muppets came together. Opening with Kermit strumming away in a swamp to the hit “Rainbow Connection,” the frog of many talents impresses a passing agent from Hollywood, that’s right, Hollywood!


When Kermit hears there’s an open casting call for frogs looking to be rich and famous, it doesn’t take long for the little guy to be off on his way to California.

The trail to LA is laden with most of the key Muppet performers and it’s fun to see introductions that are on the nose (Ms. Piggy’s grand entrance is, of course, a beauty pageant) mixed with more absurd ones (Gonzo starts off a plumber dreaming of movie stardom ... in Bombay). Their cross-country escapades are a fine framework that's buoyed by the Oscar-nominated music that’s as catchy as ever. Though most remember “Rainbow Connection” as the film’s big number, Kermit and Fozzie’s practically life-affirming “Movin’ Right Along” will have even the most curmudgeonly audience members toe-tapping along with grins on their faces.


And this being the first Muppet adventure set in the real world, they get full license to empty the show’s exhaustive Rolodex of guest comedians and celebrities that sets a high bar for cameo frequency, as well as quality. There are nice pop-ins from the likes of Bob Hope and Richard Pryor in addition to more involved appearances, like Steve Martin as a short-tempered short-short-wearing waiter. The capper has to be Orson Welles’ studio exec Lew Lord, who has just one line of dialogue but on a per-word basis, makes it one of the most memorable cameos ever filmed. 

It’s just really hard to find fault with The Muppet Movie; for what is ostensibly a kid’s movie to be enjoyable by adults is no small achievement but for it to remain that way for three decades is something else entirely. This is the movie that will make you fall in love with the Muppets, though it’s not like that was a hard thing to do in the first place.


Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies (1984-1991)

As if the idea of fuzzy little puppets weren’t enough to hook kids, in the wake of The Muppet Show, Henson decided to put this kid-aimed animated television series in the works. The show featured baby versions of all the Muppet characters and used the same character tropes (such as Miss Piggy obsessing over Kermit) only made more Rated G.

The show was in many ways a precursor to Rugrats except more steeped in fantasy. The Muppet Babies would venture into worlds completely of their imagination as they tried to turn their boring old nursery into a detailed fantasy. The classic gag of the black-and-white animated movie in the closet was made famous in this show as well. It ultimately proved the Muppets could be accessible at even the youngest of ages.



Muppet Movies We Love: The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
By John Gilpatrick

The Muppet Movie is like Kermit himself. If people ranked their favorite Muppets, the little frog would top most lists, and if they ranked the movies, the gang's first big-screen adventure would probably earn the lion's share of the love. I just wish folks paid more attention to The Muppets Take Manhattan.

This film has so many great singular moments (the Joan Rivers cameo, a great riff on 3D movies), but it also comes together in a very cohesive way. It features some of the series' best songs, as well as the most impressive production number (Kermit and Piggy's wedding). Maybe what I love most, though, is that each Muppet featured in this film gets plenty of time to shine. The biggest strength of the series is the diverse cast of characters. Unsung players like Rowlf, Scooter, and Electric Mayhem get entire sequences dedicated to them. And each character makes the most of his or her opportunity.


The film follows Kermit and the gang's attempts to get their original musical, Manhattan Melodies, produced on Broadway. But while they are the kings and queens of their college campus, big-time New York producers won't give them the time of day. So they all part ways, with Kermit electing to stay in the Big Apple and continue pursuing his dream. Eventually, his determination pays off, but can the group reassemble in time?

The Muppets Take Manhattan is definitely one of the more emotionally satisfying Muppets movies. "Saying Goodbye" is a tearjerker of the first order, and the aforementioned wedding sequence guarantees a smile on your face. Kermit has a tremendous arc, showing more vulnerability than you might expect as the pressure of the situation starts to become too much. Perhaps my one complaint with the film would be the amnesia subplot. But ultimately, that's small potatoes.

We'll find out soon what Jason Segel and company have in store, but barring some unparalleled feat of cinematic excellence, it will be hard to top The Muppets Take Manhattan. It's a joyful film, capturing the enthusiasm and fear of being young and on your own. Plus, it's really funny. Can't beat that! 


Muppets Tonight (1996-1998)

The Muppets tried a TV revamp in 1996 that lasted two seasons. Instead of taking place in a theatre, this show took place in a TV studio and was hosted by Clifford, the purple dreadlocked Muppet. Although not as successful as its predecessor, Muppets Tonight did help reintroduce the ‘80s kids who had not grown up with the original show to the more satirical side of the Muppets. The show’s lack of success indicated the Muppets had mostly been relegated to child’s fare.

The show did use different kinds of guests. One of the more memorable episodes featured Sandra Bullock fresh off her turn in Speed. It features a spoof of a famous Muppet bit that you’re sure to enjoy.



Muppet Movies We Love: Muppets Treasure Island (1996)
By Simon Brookfield

For me, “The Muppets” is as much about nostalgia as they encompass and epitomize fantastic family entertainment. I grew up specifically with my VHS copy of Muppet Treasure Island, and while I must have watched it a dozen times or more, I legitimately never realized the level of charm they infused into this spin on the popular pirate novel. I would like to believe that my adoration was not achieved simply through the blind and naïve eyes of a child, but that even at a young age I could recognize witty, high pedigree filmmaking … hmmm probably not, but I like that explanation better.

In terms of continuity to the actual Muppet universe, “Treasure Island” contains none, but that doesn’t stop the son of Jim Henson, Brian, from populating the lively adaptation with all of the most popular lovable puppets. Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat take the front stage (early on at least) before Kermit and Miss Piggy enter the picture and the dispersion of focus (and surprisingly faithful adherence to Treasure Island) make for a much more interesting film than when Kermit is always at the forefront.

Then of course are the human counterparts, and here the standout is Tim Curry as Long John Silver who is as charming as he is larger-than-life. The young Jim Hawkins is played by an unknown by the name of Kevin Bishop who recalls a performer like one would find in Billy Elliot (and in fact so do the caliber of songs). The last time I viewed Muppet Treasure Island must be in excess of a dozen years (when did my old VHS player break?) but despite that time gap, the lyrics to the original songs came flooding back in such a vivid fashion I could even sing along to a few verses of each.


Not only are the tunes composed for this movie by Disney memorable, they are also among the best ever crafted by the studio (and I do mean in the echelon of The Lion King, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast) and the fact that none received awards consideration is nothing short of a blasphemy. The day after re-watching Muppet Treasure Island I found myself humming along to not just one, but also a handful of the catchy ditties – not a feat easily matched for a movie of any kind, let alone a kid-centric one. If it is at all possible, I enjoyed this installment of “The Muppets” more now than I did as a young boy and epitomizes the “for the entire family” quip, and in my opinion is still the best Kermit & Co. have to offer.


Others Songs/Music Videos

Most of them can be attributed to Sesame Street, but sometimes it’s not the show or the movie that matters so much as the moment. He are some of the ones that have stood out.

“It’s Not Easy Being Green”

Amazing how a non-traditional linear song could be so moving. Obviously if nothing but for the title alone this is one of the most memorable Muppet songs.




I’m not sure where this can be sourced to, but this video of Kermit crooning to this Beach Boys hit was used to promo the Muppets on a number of occasions. Sometimes it was just thrown in with your regular programming. Needless to say, it caught on.



Animal is one of the few Muppets that ever gets to shine, though he plays some mean drums, which makes “Wipeout” the perfect song for him. Set to images of people surfing, Animal and his drum set come in and out and he simply screams “WIPEOUT!” in countless absurd ways.


“Bohemian Rhapsody”

Who could forget this Muppet classic, which in all honesty probably did help the Queen song achieve an immortal status?


Weezer “Gone Fishin’” Video

Weezer has been known for its music videos, particularly the homages such as the “Buddy Holly” video looking like a Happy Days episode. Here, Rivers Cuomo and Co. rock out with their beloved Muppet friends in a time when the Muppets needed a lift. The new movie’s soundtrack featuring popular artists is probably largely due to this collaboration and in fact, it’s called “The Green Album.”

Thanks to Disney, Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller and James Bobin, hopefully we have another 40 years of Muppet memories in store. 


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