Reaching back a bit, I reviewed The Muppets, the reboot/sequel to The Muppet Movie. However, The Muppet Movie itself was an adaptation, of sorts.
In 1976, The Muppet Show debuted as a variety show sketch comedy program. Each week, a different guest star would appear and get caught up in the antics and running gags of the Muppets. While the range of guest stars were more theatrical and British in the first season, as the series went on, more and more stars appeared. Mark Hamill reprised the role of Luke Skywalker for one episode while also playing himself shortly after filming The Empire Strikes Back. There was no fourth wall, and the show was seen, in-universe, as bad vaudeville. The Muppet Show was family entertainment, not the “family, but really only suitable for the under-five set” but “something for everyone in the family, from brightly colour puppets to double entendres to high art”. The series ended in 1981, with Roger Moore as the last guest star.
During the run, Muppetmania caught hold. Naturally, when there’s a mania, people want to exploit it. The need was there, so Henson Associates and ITC Films released The Muppet Movie in 1979. The movie told, approximately*, how the Muppets first came together, from Kermit’s early life in a swamp to running Muppet Theatre. The writers, Jack Burns and Jerry Juhl, were also the writes for The Muppet Show, and the core cast of performers came from the same spot.
The movie delivered. Favourite characters appeared, Miss Piggy was head over heels in love with Kermit who wasn’t as thrilled about her, Fozzie told bad jokes, Gonzo was weird, and Animal was Animal. Instead of a special guest star, there were cameos. Of note, The Muppet Movie was the last film Edgar Bergen appeared in; he passed away shortly after his scene was shot. Bergen was one of Jim Henson’s inspirations. The fourth wall didn’t exist. When the Electric Mayhem catch up to Kermit and friends, they explained that they used the script to find them. As for the running gags, there were several, from “Lost? Try Hare Krishna,” to “‘That’s just a myth! Myth!’ ‘Yeth’?”
The years since The Muppet Movie was made has added some new twists on the gags in the film. Gonzo’s desire to become a movie star by going to Bombay isn’t that odd now that Bollywood has become better known to North American audiences. Still, it’s not the easy way. The movie, though, really hasn’t aged. The Muppets picked up on a few ideas in The Muppet Movie and continued with them, including Gonzo’s old plumbing business.
As an adaptation, The Muppet Movie works. The form of The Muppet Show, a vaudeville theatre show, wouldn’t work for a movie, but showing how the Muppets got together, approximately, while keeping true to the nature of the characters, the show, and the overall tone more than made up the difference. The core writers and performers understood what the audiences would be expecting, and delivered without being predictable.
Next week, riffing off the It’s A Wonderful Life sequel.
* “Well, it’s sort of approximately how it happened.” – Kermit.
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