Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Great Muppet Caper, Part 5: Postmodernist Fun for the Whole Family

I briefly touched on this aspect earlier, but in case it wasn't clear, the Muppets are attacking this movie with comedy, literally.  The weapons they have chosen to stop the heist involve typical joke-shop gags, like rubber chickens, whoopee cushions and Groucho Marx glasses.

How could they possibly lose?

They don't explain why they have chosen these items, and it's not as if these items are particularly specific to the Muppets (except perhaps Fozzie).  These are just common elements that remind the audience of the comedy genre, and they are being forcibly inserted into the film in the climax where they have absolutely no business.  Like the toons in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the Muppets biggest weapon is laughter.

Piggy, meanwhile, has escaped from prison and it always bugs me how people are always escaping from prison in movies and TV shows.  Not that they make it look easy, or anything.  The fact that they are doing it at all, even if they are innocent (especially if they are innocent).  Isn't it illegal to break out of jail?  Won't that just add further charges and prolong their sentence? ...Anyway, Piggy breaks out, and if that weren't already a crime, she hijacks a truck to drive to the Mallory Gallery.

Allowing for two final cameos from Peter Ustinov and Oscar the Grouch.

The Muppets have trouble getting past the guards, even with their disguises and paper towels, so they create a new plan that "depends" on the visual resemblance between Kermit and Fozzie.  They pretend to be the "Pizza Twins" delivery boys so that they can be allowed through the gate.

So the audience can tell them apart, Fozzie (left) dons a thick Italian accent.

Once through, the Muppets make their way up to the roof and Beaker gets his moment in the sun by checking the burglary alarm system.  I've noticed that each puppet apart from the lead four get one memorable line or moment to warrant their inclusion.  Beaker's is exactly what you'd expect.

He seems okay, but he is being burned internally.

Finally, with thieves and heroes in the building, we get to see the fabulous Baseball Diamond.

Visual puns for visual fun!

In case you can't tell by the picture, the diamond is the size and shape of a baseball, and it's time for the film to finally take a crack at sports movies in the moments before the ending.

With Louis Kazagger giving us the play-by-play out of nowhere.

I was going to say that the villains and Muppets fight over the diamond in a rousing game of baseball, except, the villains don't partake in any of the tomfoolery.  The Muppets just continue to toss the diamond around even though they have it in their possession and could easily put it back where it belongs.  Nonetheless, as a kid, I found this to be the most hilarious scene in the movie.  It's just so confusing and slapsticky that it works.

That is, until Nicky puts an end to the madness and holds the diamond and Kermit hostage, explaining that he has to do this because he is the bad guy.

Oh right, he's a competent villain.

Now, I know you're wondering, "Didn't the poster for this movie feature Miss Piggy riding a motorcycle?  Why hasn't that happened yet?"  Don't fret!  Miss Piggy has become an action star extraordinaire while everyone else was playing around.  She has ditched the truck and swiped a motorbike and, in a crowning moment of awesome (and spoilers?), busts through the stained glass window on the bike, landing on Holiday.  Unfortunately, there is only one clip of this on Youtube and it is of poor quality, so you will have to enjoy this scene through the wondrous magic of The Great Muppet Caper promotional tie-in glasses distributed through McDonalds!


And so, the day is saved, and Miss Piggy is our hero!  As Nicky is carted away, Piggy reveals that she learned a lot about love and loyalty.  She may want to be glamorous, but it's better to be good.

The whole gang gets to fly back to America, including the Happiness Hotel residents because stop worrying about the plot, it makes no sense.  I particularly enjoy Scooter's one great line of the movie about how he had lost all of his luggage except for his radio which is frozen to his wrist.  I am positive this line was ad libbed since in order to make it look like Scooter was holding a radio, it had to be awkwardly glued to his hand.  Anyway, the movie is over, and the gang gives us a reprise of the opening, telling us that we have just watched a movie.

We have made it through the second Muppet movie and Henson's first stint as a director.  How does it fare compared to The Muppet Movie?

Well, you are going to find hardcore fans for each and it makes sense because the two are completely different takes on what a "Muppet movie" should be.  The first one is a movie about the Muppets.  It tells their story, contains their humor, and most importantly, is sweet.  There is a lot of heart and emotion in The Muppet Movie that is almost missing from Caper.  Kermit basically speaks to the audience and tells them to follow their dreams, just like he did.  It's a lot of fun and is exactly what one would think of when they envision a movie about the Muppets.

Caper is the inverse of The Muppet Movie.  It assumes its audience is familiar with movies and the Muppets and decides to move beyond that.  The Muppet Movie is like the origin story of a superhero series, in a way.  It was Henson's chance to expand his audience and have them fall in love with the characters.  This movie knows you love them and runs with it.

Any sort of continuity or canon is thrown out the window from the starting scene, as the audience is drawn into a world where movie conventions will be played with mercilessly.  It's quite clever and the focus is purely on humor.  That isn't to say there aren't moments of genuine emotion and intelligence.  Fozzie sitting alone at the supper club is subtly heart-breaking, Gonzo cleverly uncovers the whole mystery and, Kermit and Piggy's romance takes on a certain weight that had been absent from any production prior.

In fact, I would say this may be Piggy's best performance to date.  She isn't overbearing or violent or manhungry.  She is excitable and has high aspirations of grandeur, but they aren't exaggerated to the extreme as she usually is (save for her meltdown in the park).  Piggy in general can be a very grating character, but here, she is very likable.  The first couple of scenes show her as clumsy and insecure.  She is humanized in this movie, and it makes us root for her.  The ending may be ridiculous but it totally makes sense that she would be the one to save the day.  This is her movie, and she has to prove us that she can be a lovable protagonist.

Having the Muppets appear as actors in a non-Muppety story was a great decision and I am saddened that they have yet to follow this up.  Part of me wishes that Muppets could start appearing by themselves in other movies in supporting roles.  It would be great to see Gonzo in The Fast and the Furious or Scooter in Superbad.  This movie proves that just because the Muppets are present doesn't mean that the story has to change.  They certainly added a lot of humor to the scenes, but the basic plot wasn't altered in the slightest.

If I had to change one thing about this movie, it would be the appearance ratio of the supporting Muppet cast.  The rest of the Muppet gang had very little to do, save for a couple lines here and there.  Since I don't see how their parts could have been made larger given the story, I would have reorganized them so that they made smaller cameos throughout the film.  Happiness Hotel is a great location, but did all of the Muppet have to be stuck there?  They could have been spread throughout London at various points and then, they would all be on hand for the finale.  But this is just a minor gripe because they still provided quote-worthy moments.

Lew Zealand earns his keep with this scene alone.

So, for people who complain that their aren't enough Muppets in the movie, or that the story doesn't fit with the other films or that it doesn't have enough heart, I say, who cares?  That's not what this movie was supposed to be.  It was supposed to be a celebration of films in general.  Despite being made in the '80s, the film is surprisingly not dated at all.  The plot seems to be lifted from the '30s, yet nothing seems out of place.  Every aspect of this movie is self-referential, and for many children, it was their first taste of postmodern art.  If this was the first movie you saw, you would be scratching your head the whole way through.  But if it's the second to millionth you saw, then you are the perfect audience.

This is my favorite Muppet movie because it is so unique.  Everyone looks like they are having the time of their lives making this movie (especially Charles Grodin).  I feel that the jokes hold up to this day and it is presented in a neat little package.  They will be making more Muppets movies in the future, but I doubt they will ever be able to capture the spirit that this one had.

*          *          *

One last thing I want to mention about this film is that there was a companion book released in conjunction with the movie about the "making of the masterpiece."  This touts the film as the most influential movie ever made.  Just like the film it represents, it is pure parody and satire.  

Add it to the wish list!

The book is filled with "true" stories about the plot's conception (it was based on a short story from the pulp fiction magazine Pardon My Guts!), deleted scenes (Fozzie parts the Red Sea, the infamous Lew Zealand shower scene), and descriptions of the horrible mishaps that befell the cast and crew during shooting.  This is a very rare treasure and would make a great gift for any fan of the film.


  1. I'm in agreement on this. Caper's my favorite Muppet movie because it's the most bizarre in its core concept, that the Muppets are actors in this heist film. I can only hope that since the new Muppet movie was cut from similar cloth as the original Muppet Movie, the sequel will be somewhat similar to this one in that it will go all-out crazy.

  2. I'm very late to the party on this, but I am here for the image of the McDonald's collectible glass. I want to create a full pan of each glass on Photoshop. If you think you can help, let me know. NO IDEA if anyone will ever see this.
    This movie is easily the funniest of the lot. They never drop the concept that Muppets are people too, and everyone is brought down a few mental notches to make an even playing field. The fair assumption that the Muppets can save the day exists because Grodin and company are just as nerfed in the head as their felt counterparts. While some people might be frustrated to see a slo-mo underwater battle of the wits, I couldn't get enough.
    Meanwhile, the jokes are quick and brilliant. Jerry Juhl's best work.