Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Muppety Watch: The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

Watched:  12/27/2021
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1980's
Director:  Frank Oz

For old-skool Austinites, I saw this movie in the theater in 1984 at Northcross Mall.  That summer my dad was living in Austin and the family in Spring, TX as we worked to move everyone to Austin for my father's new job.  My thinking is that on one of our many trips to Austin to see The Admiral and check out the town and where we'd live, my folks took the evening and took me (9) and my brother (11) to see this movie.

Mostly I remember thinking the bits with Kermit in disguise as Hollywood and Broadway types were hysterical.  I recognized a good number of the cameos at that point (Dabney Coleman, Brooke Shields, Linda Lavin, etc...) and it was good to see my old muppety pals again on screen.

That year I also picked up the official Marvel Comics adaptation, but it was released as a few issues, and I didn't get one of them.  Still, they used exact dialog from scenes, went very cartoony, and so I know some very specific dialog from this movie from re-reading those comics over and over (the Penguins yelling "well, excuuuuuse me!", for example).  

It's tough to figure what may have led to lower box office for The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), as "making it in the Big Apple" was all the rage in the 1980's.  Even for kids, as we were all home watching HBO as our parents worked all summer, so we had plenty of access to movies about making it in NYC.  But it looks like this movie did less well than the predecessors.  Meanwhile, Jim Henson was also mucking about with The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, which came out on either side of this movie.  

I dunno.  It's funny!  It's got some good gags, but maybe too Kermit-centric and not enough of the wider cast of characters as they really lean into their new rat characters.  Fozzie and Gonzo get really sidelined here.  It does feature the debut of the Muppet Babies, which became a thing in the coming years with cartoons and whatnot.  And, yes, it's probably really the best part of the movie.  I think the movie would have been better served to keep the Muppets in NYC looking for work instead of splitting them up for individual gags.

It also doesn't feature a lot of numbers as in a musical, which even The Great Muppet Caper had done, and which seems kind of odd in a movie about a bunch of scrappy kids putting on a show.  Instead, they really, really go to town for the show within a show at the end, which is... fine?  Cute?  I like it, but that may be nostalgia talking.  

That makes it sound like I don't like the movie.  I genuinely do.  It's not the lightning in a bottle that was The Muppet Movie, and it feels more like work than that film.  Nor does it have the set-up of The Great Muppet Caper with a terrific villain.  But it does have some great visuals and you can feel Frank Oz really figuring out how to direct on his own here.  


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