5. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Hey, A Movie!: Overview

The death of Jim Henson in 1990 was a gut-punch for just about everyone: fans of Henson’s as well as the people who worked alongside him. It’s not really surprising, then, that the indelible, Henson-performed Kermit the Frog isn’t close to being a main character in the Muppets’ first Disney film, The Muppet Christmas Carol. The 1992 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ iconic novel is, in its own way, quite faithful to the written word, with Michael Caine stepping in as the penny-pinching miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who learns a valuable lesson or two courtesy of some ghosts on Christmas Eve.

The best way to distill the problem of this movie is simple: Michael Caine is legitimately incredible as Scrooge. It’s one of the best Scrooge performances ever (even if his dancing isn’t so hot). And…that’s the main takeaway from a movie ostensibly featuring the Muppets. The best part of it is a human. The inherent sadness of the story permeates the whole film; there’s some charm to be had in casting the Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens, and Rizzo the Rat as his sidekick, and Caine really is quite great. That much, at least, would have to do.

Someday, We’ll Find It: Signature Moment

One of the few moments where this movie gets to be fun is a scene that could arguably be cut entirely: after leaving the office on Christmas Eve, Kermit (as Bob Cratchit) plays around with some Muppets sliding through ice and snow. It’s a standout moment because the Muppet performers got to challenge themselves with impossible-seeming stunts, even if it’s slight.

The Standard Rich and Famous Contract: Best Quote

“Nah, it’s all right. This is culture!” Every so often in the film, Rizzo points out that…well, A Christmas Carol is kind of creepy for kids. Gonzo shakes it off here; Dave Goelz, here and throughout, is the standout performer among the Muppet cast, because of how pleased he seems to be to get a starring part.

Have You Tried Hare Krishna?: Best Running Gag

Similarly, the closest you get to a running gag in this film is in Gonzo and Rizzo’s Greek-chorus-style commentary. Sometimes, Gonzo’s narration is almost lifted out of Dickens’ text. Sometimes, they’re trying to spy on Scrooge to get a closer look at the action. It’s the most consistent levity in the otherwise straightforwardly dramatic retelling.

There’s An Informed Opinion: Conclusion

If you’re looking for a good Christmas Carol adaptation, The Muppet Christmas Carol has you covered. If you’re looking for a good Muppet movie, well…maybe not so much.

4. Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

Hey, A Movie!: Overview

It’s sad to think that, at least for now, this might be the last Muppet movie. Muppets Most Wanted wisely shifted its focus away from human characters to…the Muppets. The 2014 sequel begins immediately after its predecessor, with the Muppets triumphant after having won back their old theater. As they realize that Disney has greenlit a sequel (until, as Gonzo says, “Tom Hanks agrees to do Toy Story 4,” a very prescient comment indeed), the Muppets embark upon a world tour with a shady new agent played by Ricky Gervais.

Soon, Kermit has been replaced by the world’s most devious criminal mastermind, Constantine, who is the spitting image of our hero with the exception of a well-placed mole. Kermit is carted off to a grim Siberian prison overseen by a warden (Tina Fey) with a soft spot for the frog, as Constantine tries to steal the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. Muppets Most Wanted is not a perfect film — the storyline with Constantine requires the other Muppets to not realize Kermit’s gone, which is a bit of a stretch — but it’s a vastly funnier, weirder film than its predecessor. Plus, Bret McKenzie’s songs are loopier, and there’s only one film on this list that will give you the image of Ray Liotta as a grizzled prisoner singing to “Working in the Coal Mine”.

Someday, We’ll Find It: Signature Moment

The core relationship between Kermit and Miss Piggy is upended here, as Constantine realizes that a sure sign to get Miss Piggy away from being suspicious is doing everything Kermit never would. In the song “I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)”, Constantine croons his way through all the things he’ll do for Piggy, which delight her initially. The song is a goofy delight, and feels like the new Muppets finally getting to cut loose.

The Standard Rich and Famous Contract: Best Quote

“Walter left the Muppets? But we just did a whole film about him joining the Muppets!” That’s courtesy of Rowlf, inadvertently (or maybe not) pointing out the oddness of a new character so willingly separating from the Muppets after joining him. The meta humor in this film is strong, as exemplified by this one-liner.

Have You Tried Hare Krishna?: Best Running Gag

Constantine’s botched attempts to sound and act like Kermit makes for the film’s best running gag. While it, again, raises the question of why the Muppets don’t realize this guy isn’t Kermit, his poor tries to be as good as Kermit are very funny, as when he introduces “a heartwarming lesson on sharing or waiting your turn or the number three”.

There’s An Informed Opinion: Conclusion

Muppets Most Wanted feels like the first Muppet movie in a long time to understand what makes these movies so special. It’s maybe not the best finale to the group, but a much more enjoyable film than its predecessor.

3. The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

Hey, A Movie!: Overview

Unlike the 1979 film The Muppet Movie, the follow-up film The Great Muppet Caper is a European-set adventure wherein the Muppets play characters, but do so knowingly enough to introduce the whole setup during the opening credits. This 1981 film is as happy to break the fourth wall as its predecessor was, toeing the line between being an outright parody of a romantic thriller and trying to be halfway romantic itself.

That said, The Great Muppet Caper is still very funny, poking fun at itself and the tropes of modern Hitchcockian thrillers. The two main human performers, Diana Rigg and Charles Grodin, acquit themselves more than adequately. (After delivering a lot of plot description, Rigg says to a baffled Miss Piggy, “It’s plot exposition, it has to go somewhere.”) The overall effect of the film is akin to when The Muppet Show would have an extended story-based sketch; it’s daring and impressive, but sometimes, shorter bursts of humor are better.

Someday, We’ll Find It: Signature Moment

There’s a delightfully loopy love triangle here, between Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Grodin’s odious jewel-thief bad guy. It comes to an apex during a waterlogged fantasy Piggy has in the style of 50s-era swimming star Esther Williams. As both an example of how the Muppeteers had pushed themselves, and how funny the Muppets could be, this is just about perfect.

The Standard Rich and Famous Contract: Best Quote

“Listen, nothing’s going to happen. These are just the opening credits.” When Kermit, Fozzie, and the Great Gonzo kick off the film in a hot-air balloon, it seems like a callback to the 1979 film. But then we get Kermit breaking the fourth wall to acknowledge that we’re all about to watch a movie, and it’ll be great. At least, once the credits are done.

Have You Tried Hare Krishna?: Best Running Gag

The best gag in this movie is the inexplicable but daffy suggestion that Kermit and Fozzie aren’t just brothers, but they’re twin brothers. There’s only one way to tell the difference, and that’s when Fozzie wears a hat. It’s the kind of joke that’s straight out of Airplane!: ridiculous, straight-faced and goofy.

There’s An Informed Opinion: Conclusion

The Great Muppet Caper, like its predecessor, balances between being a parody of familiar movie tropes and indulging in those same tropes. It’s slightly less successful, but still a lot of fun.

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