The Church of Kermit

The Muppet Movie - 1979
Written by Jack Burns & Jerry Juhl
Music by Paul Williams
Directed by James Frawley
Produced by Jim Henson

I am deeply in love with The Muppet Movie; possibly even more now that I'm an adult than I did as a child.

The whole thing is a great big love letter to Imagination -- to the Muse, the Creative Spirit, to the flame in one's soul, Divine Inspiration, Dreams -- or as it's most commonly referenced in the film's metaphor of choice, the Rainbow.

The story is nothing new.  In fact it's something of an homage to musical comedies of the early silver screen.  The writers targeted the physical action to the kids, but the verbal dialogue is filled with gags for adults -- you know, like good family entertainment used to do.  Kermit starts out in his swamp, a mere dreamer, and over the course of his journey to Hollywood, accumulates a collection of similarly misfit dreamers, thus becoming a believer.

 A puppet in a swamp... think about it.

Just listen to those lyrics.  How passionately they love their muse.  I expect that Jason Segel, who wrote 2011's The Muppets sat crying tears of joy to this song (and its finale reprise) as a child, as did I and many other creative children who learned to value that voice from within.  While the film makes kind of a referential joke about the Muppets being accepted into Hollywood simply for making it there, it emphasizes the journey.  Kermit, Fozzie, Rowlf, Gonzo, etc. all feel within them that they have something to offer, and that there must be someone out there who wants and needs to hear that.  Not only do they overcome adversity (in Kermit's case, life-threatening opposition from an all-too-aptly metaphoric businessman who demands that he sell-out frogkind for an easy buck), but they find each other.  Their group provides not only support, but fellow travelers who pursue the call of the muse and recognize it in each other.  They don't merely seek support for their own specific dreams, but find the vision together of a better world created by dreamers.  Imagination is not just a thing; it's a way.

I believe it's no coincidence that it's in a church.

Again, listen to these lyrics.  To create, we must first imagine.  To imagine, we must allow ourselves, we must practice the craft of imagination.  "Use it if you need it, Don't forget to feed it, Can you picture that?"  Our imaginations are great tools, but also living things that need to be nurtured.  The lesson is hidden beneath the guise of a cartoonish version of psychedelia, but it conveys a fundamental and sadly, somewhat societally subversive message.  Isn't the biggest hurdle to making a new world in our collective ability to see it?

I actually own an original copy of this poster.
There's definitely a generational perspective at work in The Muppet Movie.  Post-hippie era performers raised on a mid-century film & television culture influenced by early film and vaudeville created this entertainment.  There's a respect for the past and a hope for the future.  In other words, it could be seen as anathematic to the jaded internet generation that seemingly does neither.  In respect to its forebears, The Muppet Movie is loaded with cameo appearances from both its mentors and its peer class.  Rather than listing them, here's one of the movie posters by poster god Drew Struzan...

The Muppet Movie was dedicated to the memory of Edgar Bergen, whose appearance was filmed shortly before his passing.

So, okay, yeah, family entertainment about "being true to yourself" and "counting on your friends" are not exactly rare, but ones that do it without being cloyingly saccharine and ringing of hollow compromise are not.  The Muppet Movie MEANS that.  That is its story, not just its catalyst for selling a new toy franchise.  The creative spirit is in the message as much as it is in the DNA.  The creators did things that hadn't been done before, showed us sights we'd never seen before.  When you realize that the movie was essential a contemporary of Star Wars, it's small surprise that these two creative forces would find areas of overlap and cooperation, most especially in Yoda, a key spiritual guru to generations since.

Now, as much as I've raved, there is one major negative to the movie, and indeed to the Muppets in general...

Miss Piggy is a straight-up bitch.

Yeah I said it.  She's a violent rage-beast with a screaming case of narcissistic personality disorder.  No, not mere narcissism of the "oh, you're so vain, isn't that cute?" variety, but a full-blown pathological case.  Throughout the movie, she ditches her "friends" to take a solo shot at fame and glory, only to come back when she needs their help again to achieve her self-centered goals.  She demonstrates no particular talent other than (alleged) beauty, seeking fame simply for fame's sake but offering nothing.  She threatens and assaults anyone who crosses her -- regardless of whether the crossing is real or perceived.  She is a terrible porcine being.  But she's blonde, so I can see her being a successful host on the Fox News channel.

Drew Struzan rules your lesser poster art!
I've always hated Miss Piggy, and it's been a lifelong bafflement to me that some women identify with her so strongly.  Not lately, perhaps, but she was once a popular identifier amongst the Long Island Iced Tea receptionist set.  I guess her modern equivalent would be Snooki.  In the 2011 comeback film, Piggy is handled as slightly less pathological, and slightly more competent -- a much needed change.  Nevertheless, I would strongly counsel Kermit against marrying this lifelong abuser. 

The Muppets, much as I love them, badly need better female characters.

Moving right along, I personally believe that The Muppet Movie (Miss Piggy notwithstanding) is an essential element to responsible parenting.  It encourages creativity, promotes diversity (hm, perhaps outside of gender), illustrates the power of true friendship and demonstrates the benefits of a commitment to perfecting one's craft.  So many family entertainments affect a happiness that comes from ignorant denial of life's hardships.  The Muppet Movie acknowledges that there will be adversity and people who don't understand your muse, and believes in the power of following it anyway until it leads us home, and home is other people sharing the same dream.

Der flim iss okey dokey!

No comments:

Post a Comment