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Shelf Life: “The Muppet Movie” (1979)

Shelf Life: “The Muppet Movie” (1979) (photo)

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Last week, “The Muppets” arrived in theaters, and even though I’ve been a lifelong fan of Kermit and company, I was genuinely surprised by how emotionally involved I became in the film while watching it at a recent press screening. But it dawned on me soon afterward that it’s possible it’s been so long since I’ve actually watched the original Muppets content – either via “The Muppet Show” of the theatrical films – that perhaps the reason for my newfound appreciation was simply the dimming of my memories of it. As such, it seemed like a good time to go back and watch “The Muppet Movie,” James Frawley’s epic saga about Kermit’s journey from a Florida swamp to the movie studios of Hollywood, California.

After more than 20 years, is the (rainbow) connection to The Muppet Movie as strong as ever, or as moviegoers have we kept movin’ right along?


The Facts

Released on June 22, 1979, “The Muppet Movie” was a huge hit almost immediately, earning more than $65 million domestically in theaters (which today would translate to more than $205 million) against its $28 million budget, according to Wikipedia. Currently “The Muppet Movie” sits at 90 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, thanks to four negative reviews of the film against its 35 positive ones. It was the first Muppet film, and it produced nine follow-up theatrical and telefilms, including the 2011 movie, “The Muppets.”


What Still Works

As a brilliant feat of meta-storytelling, “The Muppet Movie” is hilarious, and hilariously self-aware, without sacrificing genuine, affecting sentiment. The opening shots of Kermit, sitting on a log in what looks like a real swamp, strumming a guitar and singing the now-iconic “Rainbow Connection,” offer a powerful expansion of the world Jim Henson created on the small screen, and there’s an immediate emotional substance created by connecting the characters to the “real” world, even if they remain charmingly puppet-ish.

The story ranks even today as one of the movies’ great “getting a crew together” films as it somehow manages to introduce almost every core character in the Muppet universe in a unique, memorable, and most of all balanced way. Kermit, Fozzie and Piggy are as always at the epicenter of the action, but Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Gonzo and so any others show up in substantial roles in the film, showing that Henson and co.’s affection extended well into the supporting players – or at the very least, their respect for audiences’ appetite for them did.

Finally, the humor still feels fresh, fun and engaging, even when the characters dole out some of the corniest puns and entendres you’ve ever heard. My personal favorite gag in the film is when Sweetums (the big, oversized monster who chases them all of the way to Hollywood) smacks a fly, creating a decimal point on the price tag of a car at a used lot where Milton Berle is trying to hustle Kermit and Fozzie, but there are countless other goofs like that, which are not overly complex or self-referential or aggressively clever, and yet work completely effectively to wring laughs from the audience.


What Doesn’t Work

Not a whole lot. I think the film’s simple idealism slightly lacks a deeper emotional engagement; the idea of sharing a dream is beautiful, sweet and fun, but I feel like it doesn’t quite have the same palpable connection that some of the other films offer. But as a whole, the characters are interesting and multidimensional and you do care about them, not the least of which because viewers get to see them literally from head to toe for the first time in Muppet history.


The Verdict

“The Muppet Movie” still works, and it works wonderfully. There’s humor, heart, and intelligence, all keenly observed in ways that are accessible without being overly simplistic. If this were the first time anyone had ever seen the Muppets, it would have been an historic introduction, but as their first big-screen adventure, it established an empire. And most amazingly, it operates with just as much life and energy now as it did in 1979, making “The Muppet Movie” rare among even family entertainment as a film that feels truly timeless – and best of all, its appeal is ageless.

Leave your own memories of “The Muppets Movie” in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.