Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Muppet Movie, Part 2: Muppets Assemble!

Now that the plot is set up, we enter the portion of the movie that I refer to as "Collecting the Cast."  While the duo of Kermit and Fozzie is wonderful and "Movin' Right Along" is one of the best songs in the movie, the movie is about the whole group, not just two individuals.  Because the the next few scenes are just a cattle call of character introductions, let us examine them one at a time.

After we take a moment to enjoy the scenic drive.

Big Bird

The third Muppet introduced in the movie proper is not from The Muppet Show.  Stopping in to make a quick cameo, Big Bird informs Kermit and the cast that he is headed for New York City to achieve stardom through public television.  Although his appearance is just for a joke, this segment reminds us that, before The Muppet Show, Henson was best known for Sesame Street.  And, if we are chronicling the symbolism of Kermit's journey as equal to Henson's, this moment implies not only that Big Bird/Sesame Street will achieve fame and recognition before The Muppet Show, but that he is also traveling in a direction opposite to the way Henson wanted to go.  Because Henson wanted to break away from the kid stuff, this was his nod to the previous enterprise, acknowledging that it was important and helpful, but it wasn't his true calling.  (Of course, if it weren't for the revenue that Sesame Street merchandise made for the Henson company, many of his projects would never have gotten of the ground.)

Giving credit where credit's due.

What follows is another interaction with Doc Hopper and his toadie Max (like the Grinch!).  This roughly repeats the same information as the earlier scene, with the added implication that Hopper will stop at nothing until he employs Kermit.  This isn't particularly necessary, but it allows Max to display his first sign of humanity.  Apparently, the actor who played Max wanted a bigger role than just "driver/henchmen" so director James Frawley added more lines to give his character an "arc."

Doc Hopper: "So, you're going to end up betraying me by helping the protagonists, aren't you?"

Max: "Yes, and whenever people think of The Muppet Movie, they'll remember that Max saved the day!"

...Moving right along...

The Electric Mayhem

Kermit and Fozzie take a rest at an abandoned church which is in the process of being converted into a coffeehouse by a group of freeloading hipsters.  I mean, rock gods.

Also, this is the third instance of a recurring gag that I never noticed when I was younger.

Each member of the band is introduced succinctly, which is helpful for an audience who is aware of the Muppets, but not too familiar with them.  Since the Electric Mayhem was the first recurring fixture that Henson envisioned for The Muppet Show, they are introduced before the rest of the main cast.  While they won't be joining the road trip just yet, they will have their time to shine eventually.  Since they were always in the back of Henson's mind, he is suggesting that he keep them in the back of our mind for now.  Unfortunately, there is one character who for some reason gets lumped in with the band in this scene, which doesn't do his character justice:

He has to stay isolated up in the nosebleeds, too.


Instead of using the backstory created for him in The Muppet Show, Scooter is reintroduced as the band's road manager (as opposed to the nephew of the owner of the Muppet Theater).  I would understand the need to change Scooter's past if he were going to join them on the trip to Hollywood (because he could very clearly pull a lot of strings and eliminate all of the conflict) but the script keeps him saddled to the Electric Mayhem the whole movie!  I feel as if this is unfair to Richard Hunt.  Scooter was his main character, and it just feels odd not to have him travel with the rest of the crew.  At least Jerry Nelson gets to come along as Camilla the Chicken, even if he has little to do.

Also, you can clearly see Hunt's arm in this shot.  Scooter don't get no respect.

Anyway, rather than join the frog and bear on their trip to Hollywood right away, the band and Scooter decide to camouflage their car to help them elude the villains of the movie.  Sure, they use bright, gaudy colors, but at least we get an original Mayhem song to accompany the painting sequence.

And sure enough, the new paint job helps our heroes escape the clutches of Hopper and Max!

That's pretty clever.

The victory is short-lived, because it suddenly seems as if the screenwriter realized the movie was running over time, so the next introduction comes crashing headfirst into the story.

And his vehicle's ornament looks very familiar.

Gonzo and Camilla

Like Scooter, Gonzo gets gypped for his introduction.  With little warning, he is literally thrown into the movie by way of a random collision.  Driving his plumbing van, Gonzo ends up joining the bear and the frog without any hesitation (except Gonzo was actually headed for Bollywood).  While this fast-paced scene is amusing, it would have been nice to hear more of Gonzo's backstory before he joined the caravan, since this is representative of Dave Golez's addition to the group.  He's a plumber?  Where did that come from?  Fortunately, he becomes a permanent traveling partner and his allowed a few moments to shine later on in the film.

This portion of the movie moves so fast that we barely get to enjoy the rainbow Studebaker.

The trio avec poultry decide to trade in their insurance nightmare for a more reliable vehicle (during an ADR'd moment, implying there was probably more to this scene that was cut).  Milton Berle is on hand to play the sleazy used-car salesman, since we haven't had a celebrity cameo in a while.  He calls out his assistant who is another Muppet favorite:


Aww, he's the best.  This is probably why Scooter couldn't join the trip (Hunt plays both characters).

Actually, this is probably Sweetums' best known role for people unfamiliar with The Muppet Show, for reasons that will become clear later on in the film.  For now, he unintentionally aids our heroes by decreasing the price of a car into Kermit's budget (under $12).  This mimics his original role in the Muppet television special The Frog Prince where he played a villain's sidekick-turned-big-ol'-softy.  Kermit extends his offer to give him a lift to Hollywood, and the brute runs off, missing his chance.

"Wait for me!  I want to go to Hollywood!" - Every dreamer's nightmare.

Tomorrow:  The gang meets the most beautiful pig in all of Bogen County.

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