Many films that we watch for nostalgia are not empirically as great as we remember them to be. When you step away from them for years and come back, you may realize that it was your love of the characters, or the feeling the film gave you as a child, that clouded your ability to see it for what it actually is. It is with this vigilant caution that I rewatch the films I loved as a child. However, the crushing realization that your nostalgia outweighs the quality of the film does have a positive counterpart. There is a satisfying joy in revisiting your childhood films and finding that not only have you remembered them correctly, but they have much more depth to them—depth added specifically for adult viewers—than you knew.
To begin revisiting the Muppet films, I started at the beginning: THE MUPPET MOVIE. Originally I set out to watch the film again by attempting to remove the overwhelming nostalgia I have for the Henson characters. This proved problematic. Not only was it impossible for me to remove my emotional attachment to the film, I found it artificial. The very nature of THE MUPPET MOVIE is to bank on the audience’s love for these characters.
The film is a quintessential road trip film. Though unlike THE BLUES BROTHERS, we are witnessing the formation of the gang, rather than their reconciliation (we get the satisfaction of getting the band back together in 2011’s THE MUPPETS). Kermit has been living his life happily in the swamp with his banjo and all the flies he can eat. When he helps out a lost Hollywood agent who suggests he aim higher in life, Kermit entertains the notion and sets out on the open road. Along the way he meets and gathers all of the rest of the Muppet gang and manages to out run and outwit an evil restaurateur who wants to use Kermit as a pitchfrog for his fast food frog legs franchises.
The very core of my excitement in the film is getting to see their meeting for the first time. I grew up with the Muppets, but contemporary audiences at the time had a good amount of familiarity with the Muppets, too. The Muppet Show first aired in 1976, which means that audiences had a full three years with the Muppets before seeing them on the big screen. We know that Fozzie and Kermit are best friends, Rowlf is wise, and that Scooter is the theater’s manager, but seeing their origin makes you feel close to them. You can now say that you knew them back when, and that you witnessed the moment Miss Piggy fell in in love with Kermit because you did. It is these pre-existing attachments to the characters that give their origin story meaning.
Another aspect of the film that still holds up well and cannot be decontextualized is the music. Though “Rainbow Connection” did not earn the Academy Award it was nominated for, it is still a very sweet song. Miss Piggy’s “Never Before, Never Again” is just as blindingly obsessive and dramatic as you would expect from the swine diva. And the fantasy sequence that flashes in Piggy’s mind when she first sees Kermit and imagines their life together only enhances the saccharine nature of her imaginary relationship with Kermit. However my personal favorite was always Rowlf and Kermit’s duet of “I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along.” Gender politics aside, seeing Rowlf act as the Piano Man to Kermit’s broken spirits always lifted mine.
The last element of THE MUPPET MOVIE that is entwined with both the love for the Muppets and with its success as a film is the humor. Fozzie gets the corny punchlines to Kermit’s straight man. Gonzo goes with the surreal non sequitur. The jokes actually are funny on their own, but the delivery and context within the Muppet world makes them richer.
Despite its age, THE MUPPET MOVIE is still holds up as a classic film, though it has this caveat. Loving the Muppets and wanting to revisit the good old days with them is necessary to get the full experience from the film. Luckily, anyone with discerning taste is already in love with the Muppets.