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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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