I think we can all agree that THE MUPPET MOVIE is one of the greatest achievements humanity has accomplished as a species. Look out your window. Sure, there's like, cars and phones and people who are only here because of medicine and science and things. And that's all fine, I GUESS.
But do you see anything in your field of vision that's better than Steve Martin as Pissy Waiter? Rolf and Kermit singing "I Hope That Something Better Comes Along?" Piggy kicking Mel Brooks into a chair equipped with an electronic yarmulke, which somehow makes him think he's a frog?
DO YOU SEE ANYTHING BETTER THAN THE CONCEPT OF AN ELECTRIC YARMULKE?
Certainly, that would have spiced up seders when I was a kid.
THE MUPPET MOVIE is one of the first movies I have very clear memories of seeing, and comprehending, beginning to end. I know that I saw movies in the theaters before, but I can categorically tell you I saw movies in the theater differently after.
Before THE MUPPET MOVIE, movies were kind of this indistinct blur of people I didn't know doing things I didn't particularly care about. A perfect example of this is 1977's CANDLESHOE, a perfectly terrible live-action Disney movie (were there any other kind in the 70s?) which, if memory serves, is about Jodie Foster's Trust Fund picking up a check.
"Who are these people?" I'd like to think 4-Year-Old Me thought during it's interminable run-time. "Why is this better than being home, watching TV? What about ice cream? Is there any? Who do I need to talk to, here?"
Also, considering I can barely scrape together the attention span at 40 to make it through an episode of "Chopped," I'm sure I didn't spend enough time in my seat, or the theater for anything, perfectly terrible or otherwise, to make an impression on me.
So why was THE MUPPET MOVIE different? Well, I'd been raised on a steady diet of "Sesame Street" and "The Muppet Show," so I was chomping at the bit to consume anything that world of felt and foam was going to throw at me. I went into the movie knowing every single one of these characters inside and out. Kermit's exasperated good-heartedness, Piggy's desire for fame, fortune, and Frog, Gonzo's gonzo-ness, and Fozzie's...
Recently, some friends and I were having the "If you were a Muppet, which Muppet would you be" conversation. I think I just about got the "F" syllable out of my mouth before everyone went, "THERE'S a shock, moving on."
The superficial resemblance is pretty spot-on. We're both INCREDIBLY LOUD ALL THE TIME, we're both covered in brown fur, and we both wear little tiny hats at the top of our pointed heads. Okay, maybe I'm stretching the truth. My forehead is not covered in brown fur.
But it went deeper than that. Fozzie wanted exactly two things from life. He wanted to be loved by his peers, and he wanted to be funny. On "The Muppet Show," he appeared to be neither. I mean, everyone put up with him (Except Statler and Waldorf, natch), but nobody seemed to ever articulate why. And certainly, nobody thought he was funny.
I could relate. I didn't really have any friends at school, and none of the kids there thought I was funny. Fun to make fun of. Fun to kick around. But not funny. And maybe I wasn't. But, boy, I wanted to be. Boy, how I just wanted to make people laugh. I would read joke-books, pore over the same Bazooka Joe comics, memorize lines from cartoons, and, god help me, try to make up my own jokes.
My family actually had a name for that last phenomenon. I would say something patently nonsensical, and everyone would stare, and my mom would ask, "Is that one of your Made-Up-Jokes?" And I would sort of shrug, and everyone would chuckle, and go back to talking about Watergate or Tab or Donna Summer, or whatever they talked about in the 70s when I was taking a rare break from talking constantly.
In Fozzie, I felt a kindred spirit. And more importantly, I thought Fozzie was funny. I didn't like the way everyone picked on him. Go figure.
I think when I saw THE MUPPET MOVIE, I was most excited to see him. And I was not disappointed! Sure, it was Kermit's movie, but there was Fozzie in every scene! And not just telling bad jokes! And not just being used as a whipping boy! He was Kermit's right-hand man! A confidant, a supporter, a force of optimism. The perfect sidekick.
That's why everyone put up with him. That's why Kermit kept him around, and gave him a few minutes to go "wakka wakka" during every show. Because they were friends. In spite of his Made-Up-Jokes.
I am sure I am not the first to point this out, but ultimately, THE MUPPET MOVIE is about friendship. And not in a saccharine, typical kids movie, "Hey gang, the power of friendship is going to help us stop Old Man Candleshoe from knocking down our clubhouse, and by the way we're all drab and boring" sort of way (Seriously, I remember NOTHING about CANDLESHOE).
There's a sadness that permeates all of these sentient carpet samples. Sure, they all talked a good game (well, maybe not Beaker), they all, in one way or another, were scratch-and-dent models.
It wasn't just Fozzie. They were all kind of messes. They lived and worked in swamps, abandoned churches, sleazy bars, small-town carnivals...They were like fuzzy little Tennessee Williams characters.
(YOU KNOW you want to see Miss Piggy play all of the Tennessee Williams heroines, by the way. She would be an AMAZING Blanche. Get on it, Disney.)
These are characters that HAD to find each other. Only by finding each other, could they band together, and rise above the cruddy card life handed all of them. And the fact that they were all portrayed as (somewhat) functioning adults, with driver's licenses, plumbing businesses, and agents, meant that sometimes it takes a while for these things to happen.
I'm sure none of this occurred to me when I was watching it (Tying my shoes was a challenge for me occasionally). But I did know that they were all happier when they were together. Like they were meant to do this all along. Like they had been friends forever.
Nowhere is this more evident in the song, "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday," and a little phrase that has stayed lodged in my head for 34 years. "Old friends who've just met."
The whole song is amazing. Look how everyone is playing together. Listen to Piggy's backing vocal. Rolf's tasteful harmonica. And look at Fozzie. He looks so content to make music with his friends. His old friends he just met.
And to six-year-old me, that was better than an electronic yarmulke.
Not by much. But it was up there.