The 411 Movies Top 5 11.25.11: Week 297 - Our Favorite Muppet Moments
Posted by Trevor Snyder on 11.25.2011
The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, the Muppet films... even Muppet Babies. Jim Henson's Muppets have created an enduring legacy and a number of iconic scenes. Now, the 411 staff pick their favorite Muppet moments of all time.
With Jim Henson's beloved Muppets making their much deserved to the big screen this weekend, we thought it was only fitting to join in on the Muppet mayhem and present:
OUR TOP 5 FAVORITE MUPPET MOMENTS
5. The "Pig with the Froggy Tattoo" trailer
As build-up for their new film, the Muppets put out a series of amusing parody trailers. Just when it seemed like the gag had worn down, the Internet went crazy over the trailer for David Fincher's upcoming Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the Muppets quickly responded with their own version. What I love about this is that, when you think about, the Muppets are doing a parody of a film that is about as opposite as you can get on the cinematic spectrum, one about Nazi serial killers and brutal rape scenes. Granted, none of that stuff is directly referenced, nor would the younger audience members necessarily realize that when watching the Muppets' version of the trailer. But it still just goes to once again show how the Muppets are playing just as much for the older audience members as they are for the kids.
4. The Muppets try out for Star Wars
Two great nerd loves unite! In recent years, as their popularity and massive fame somewhat dwindled, The Muppets stayed as relevant as they could by turning to the Internet and the world of viral videos. In this short but fun video, we see screen-tests for various Muppets trying out for the role of Yoda. Something about seeing Kermit wearing the Yoda ears just kills me.
3. "Near & Far" with Grover
I come from the last generation of Sesame Street viewers for who Elmo really wasn't that big of a deal. In my eyes, it was all about Grover, and it doesn't get any better than this. "Near & Far" is an incredibly simple idea, but in the tradition of great absurd comedy it is pushed to ridiculous lengths and allowed to go on just a tad longer than it really should, which in turn makes it hilarious. And, of course, like the best Sesame Street bits, it actually is teaching kids a particular concept while also making them laugh.
2. The opening credits of The Great Muppet Caper
One of the best things about the Muppets has always been their willingness and tendency to break the fourth wall and draw attention to their status as fictional characters. Nowhere is this better illustrated than during the hot-air balloon trip of Kermit, Gonzo and Fozzie that makes up the opening of The Great Muppet Caper. Not only are the three aware that they are in the opening of a movie, but they even comment on the credits as they go by.
1. The Muppet Babies debut in The Muppets Take Manhattan
Alright, for one thing, this is my favorite of the Muppet films. But besides that, I also grew up in the '80s, and as such was one of those kids for who the Muppet Babies were extremely important. For a brief time, they were even my preferred version of the Muppets. That's no longer the case, but I still have a nostalgic attachment to them, and still love their live-action debut in this scene. The Muppet Babies as seen here were so cute and memorable, it's really no surprise they were given their own spin-off cartoon series.
5. Crocodile Rock
Have to put one Muppet Show moment on the list and if anyone's a good fit with them, it's Elton John. Decked out in his wild 1970's outfits (Sam the Eagle: "Why does he dress like a stolen car?"), John does a great rendition of his key song in a swamp with crocodiles singing along. Wild, but it all works out so well, you're amazed John didn't try to steal it for his concerts, showing how the Muppets gel with the right performers.
4. Muppets Go RAW
I know most wrestling fans were wary but as it turns out, the Muppets fit in perfectly on WWE's main show. From Kermit inadvertedly insulting Vickie Guerrero ("we don't want any trouble with you or your mother") to Piggy meeting Hornswoggle, it was a fun mix of two properties. My favorite bit is the genius idea of Sheamus and Beaker being related which had even the biggest wrestling marks laughing.
3. Animal Goes King Kong
The Muppet Movie is filled with classic moments, from the various celebrity cameos to the musical numbers to Kermit's talk with himself. But the standout to me is the big climax as Doc and his gang track the Muppets down to a deserted Old West town. Decked out in cowboy gear, Kermit gets a big speech on how he has friends and Doc doesn't, wanting the man to give up the quest. After a long pause, Doc tells his boys to go ahead and kill Kermit. Just then, the town starts shaking and a nearby roof crashes open to reveal Animal, having downed an exlir to turn into a fifty-foot giant, letting out a massive roar that chases Doc's group off. A great payoff to the chase and bonus points for the crew actually building a massive Animal head instead of using trick photography.
2. Muppet Treasure Island
Turning the Muppets loose on the Robert Louis Stevenson classic is a great move with nice comedy bits scattered throughout. The highlight is the "Professional Pirate" number, which works due to the fact that Tim Curry is a Muppet in so many ways. Bouncing about with glee, he fits in perfectly with the group, elevating this movie to a better level than other Muppet films.
1. Bohemian Rhapsody
The video that shot the Muppets back to prominence. Utterly hysterical in how they mix the classic Queen song with new lines (like Animal's "mama?") and the wild bouncing shots, all leading to a great punch line that reminds you how awesome they are, no matter the time.
5. Green With Envy
I like to think of myself as an observant person. I pride myself on being able to figure out twists in movies before they happen. Suffice it to say, I was rather embarrassed by not figuring out Green With Envy was just a clever ruse. Either way, the Green With Envy trailer was undeniably successful in generating buzz for the upcoming Muppet movie. Within a few days of its release, the trailer was all over Facebook, Twitter, and various other social media platforms.
4. The Rainbow Connection
I suppose I am a heartless being, but I honestly don't care for this song all that much. With that being said, there is no denying the success of The Muppet Movie's opening number. The song was nominated for an Academy Award and even found success on the Billboard charts. Hoards of popular musicians have even covered the song themselves. Furthermore, the image of Kermit in the swamp playing a banjo remains iconic over thirty years later.
3. The Banana Boat Song
There is no shortage of great musicians appearing on The Muppet Show. Elton John singing "Crocodile Rock," and Alice Cooper doing "School's Out" come to mind. For me, Harry Belafonte's "The Banana Boat Song" trumps them all. What makes this performance stand out is its perfect mix of comedy and music. While Elton John's "Crocodile Rock" is more or less straightly played with minimal gags, "The Banana Boat Song" hilariously features Fozzie's failed attempt to organize Belafonte's performance. Fozzie missing each of Belafonte's "DAY's" still gets my laughing to this day.
2. Danny Boy
I am thankful this Top 5 is "Our Top 5 Favorite Muppet Moments" and not "Top 5 Best Muppet Moments." If it were the latter, such a list without the inclusion of "Mahna-Mahna" would be downright blasphemous. Since it is not, I can legitimately place "Danny Boy,"and not "Mahna-Mahna" on my list. For me, the song "Danny Boy" will forever be associated with funerals. For others it may not be, but nevertheless, it is one sad song. What better way to pay homage to this downtrodden tune than have the three characters no one can understand sing it. Maybe it's just my twisted sense of humor, but Swedish Chef, Beaker, and Animal's rendition of this classic weeper is morbidly hysterical.
1. Kermit and Miss Piggy get married
As a New Yorker, The Muppets Take Manhattan is easily my favorite Muppet film. The Muppets Take Manhattan always has me wax nostalgic about New York City. From the old cabs to classic coffee shops, the film proudly places my beloved childhood icons in my beloved city. The film ending wedding scene is brilliantly done and not only as the climax for the film, but a summation of the Kermit and Piggy relationship. Moreover, I just loved having all the Henson creations in the same room for such an occasion. Even before I searched Youtube for the clip, I fondly remember Big Bird in the back right corner of the chapel. The wedding scene is forever engrained in my memory.
5. Rowlf debuts on The Jimmy Dean Show (1963)
When I originally thought the Top 5 topic was going to be the top five greatest Muppets, Rowlf was going to be my dark horse candidate at number three, behind Kermit the Frog and Big Bird. A main reason why is because Rowlf was the first Muppet, not Kermit, to gain national exposure and popularity. After starring in a Purina dog food commercial, Rowlf became the sidekick for country singer and future sausage mogul Jimmy Dean on his variety show for three seasons. Dean said Rowlf received 2,000 fan letters a week. Because of Rowlf, Muppet creator Jim Henson got offers to take his unique puppetry skills and character development to other programs. This eventually led to the Muppets being seen as strong enough to carry their own movies and television series. Without Rowlf being welcomed into homes across the United States on a weekly basis all the greatness that followed might not have ever happened.
4. "Mah Na Mah Na" is the debut sketch on The Muppet Show (1976)
"Mah Na Mah Na" is probably the most famous Muppet bit to not star any of the notable Muppets. The sketch was so popular that it has been on various shows over the years, including The Ed Sullivan Show and Sesame Street. As trailers show, the song will even be featured in the new The Muppets movie. The most iconic performance of it was as the debut sketch on the first regular episode of The Muppet Show. This version proved so popular that The Muppet Show soundtrack featuring it went to number one in the United Kingdom and the original by Piero Umiliani from 1968 went to number eight on the UK charts. I challenge anyone to watch it and not get a smile on their face. It's a perfect example of the strange, whimsical and joyous tone that is the Muppets.
3. The Muppet wedding from The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
The hot and cold love affair of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy has been a long enduring storyline and a favorite among Muppet fans. At the end of The Muppets Take Manhattan it's suggested that Piggy has rigged what was to be finale of their Broadway show to be an actual wedding between her and Kermit. Kermit knowing actually marrying Piggy was a possibility went through with it, because deep down he really loves her. In Muppet media after this, the two don't appear to be married unfortunately. However, what really makes this a great Muppet moment is the fact that the pews are filled with a who's who of Muppetdom. Never before or since have so many Muppets from so many different shows and incarnations been together on screen at the same time. Everyone from Uncle Traveling Matt to Sherlock Hemlock to a random Koozebanian is in there. If this was to be the final of the Muppets forever, there's not a better way they could have gone out.
2. The death of Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street (1983)
Usually the death of a major character isn't considered to be a top moment. However, it's how Sesame Street treated the death of the lovable shop keep that makes it not only of the greatest Muppet moments, but one of the best television episodes ever of any program. The Daytime Emmys have even named the episode one of the top 10 most influential of all time. In fact, Nov. 24 was the 28th anniversary of the airing of "Farewell, Mr. Hooper" and PBS used to air the episode for years on Thanksgiving Day. When actor Will Lee died, Sesame Street could have done many things with the Mr. Hooper character. They could have recast him, said he moved or just ignored his absence all together. Instead, they had the character die as the actor had and made it an opportunity to address the important and serious topic of death to children. Hardly anyone will go through their childhood without the death of a loved one. I know from first hand experience this can be very difficult to explain to a kid in a way they can fully grasp and understand. In this episode Big Bird learns the full cycle of life as he comes to grips with Mr. Hooper never coming back while also meeting the Williams' new baby.
1. The opening of The Muppet Movie (1979)
This is the high watermark of Muppet domination. Having your own personal theme song really says you're ingrained in popular culture. The Muppets earned this with "The Rainbow Connection" from underrated singer and songwriter Paul Williams and composer Kenneth Ascher. The song was nominated for an Academy Award. The tune perfectly sums up the Muppet philosophy put forth by creator Jim Henson. It was always his dream to create entertainment that cut through all of the grimness and strife in the world to produce ‘the rainbow connection,' making lovers and dreamers of everybody watching. The opening of the Muppets first film finds the audience zooming in on Kermit as he lightly picks a banjo and sings the song on a lily pad without knowing the great adventure that lies ahead for him.
5. Gonzo uses a pineapple as a hand grenade against The Blob- Muppet Babies
I can't remember what lead the Muppet Babies to running away from and eventually fighting the Blob, which appeared via clips from the 1958 Steve McQueen movie. I think the Blob represented "bad food" or something. Anyway, the Muppet Babies run into the basement of a diner and, while in the basement, decide to "fight back" against the Blob by throwing "good food" at it. At one point Gonzo finds a pile of fruit on the ground and uses a pineapple as a hand grenade. He actually rips the leaf thing off the top like he's pulling a grenade pin. Hysterical.
(You'll see the moment in question at 4:05 or so).
4. Miss Piggy marries Kermit- The Muppets Take Manhattan
The thing that stands out about this scene is the overall Muppet spectacle of it. Pretty much every Muppet Jim Henson and his team created is in this scene, and it's just amazing to see them all there for such a momentous occasion. Kermit is marrying Miss Piggy. It was always going to happen, sure, but who knew it would play off in such grand fashion?
3. Kermit goes into marketing- Muppets Take Manhattan
Kermit loses his memory and, instead of working at the diner and getting his Broadway show up and running, ends up at an advertising agency where he meets three fellow frogs Bill, Gill, and Jill. The three frogs are trying to come up with a catchy slogan for Ocean Breeze Soap. They bounce their ideas off of Kermit, and Kermit tells them their slogans are terrible (and they are terrible. Funny, sure, but terrible). Off the top of his head Kermit comes up with "Ocean Breeze Soap will get you clean," which is a great, simple slogan. I love how incredibly boring Bill, Gill, and Jill are, and the scene's goofy wordplay ("Now be frank, Phil." I love that kind of thing). And, to top it all off, everyone starts doing that "hmmm" thing that helps set up the scene later on where Kermit, Bill, Gill, and Jill go to the diner and they all keep going "hmmm."
2. Miss Piggy breaks out of jail- The Great Muppet Caper
I love how Miss Piggy's escape from jail goes along with Kermit and the gang's preparations to thwart Charles Grodin and his gang of beautiful female cat burglars from stealing the baseball diamond from the gallery. It's fun watching Piggy stew in the clink while Kermit, Fozzy, Gonzo, and all the rest go through their ridiculous list of supplies (fake vomit, whoopee cushion, bag of chickens, etc), and Grodin and his gang gather together their cat burglar supplies. And the bit where Piggy, after escaping (she pulls apart the bars via super pig strength), throws Peter Ustinov out of his truck and leaves him on the side of the road still cracks me up to this day. And, to top it all off, Oscar the Grouch shows up to tell everyone that he's just doing a cameo. Just an amazing sequence.
1. Luke Skywalker on The Muppet Show
The entire episode featuring Mark Hamil as Luke is a blast and a must see. The "Pigs in Space" bit is probably the funniest. You've got Luke, C3PO, R2D2, Miss Piggy with Princess Leia buns in her hair, and Gonzo as Darth Vader. You can't get much more awesome than that.
Agree with our choices? Disagree? Be sure to share your thoughts and your own Top 5's below. And don't forget to include suggestions for future Top 5 columns...we're always looking for the next great list.
Till then, be sure to check out Trevor Likes Movies, my personal movie review page at Facebook, as well as all the other great reviews and columns on 411.