The Muppet Movie

The Muppet Movie ★★★½

First, the heretical part: Just on the level of direction, The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted kind of blow this out of the water. James Frawley gets the job done, but he never puts the extra spin on a joke that could really make it land. Henson, Oz, etc. obviously knew their characters backwards and forwards, but the somewhat astonishing parade of cameos — James Coburn! Steve Martin! Richard Pryor! — yields astonishingly little, which is the sign of a director who thinks his job is done once he's got the famous person to show up on set.

Where it excels, of course, is in being about the Muppets themselves, rather than making them supporting characters in their own movie. I miss the live-wire banter of the TV show(s), those moments when you feel like you're watching an actual performance rather than the recitation of dialogue — check this classic Sesame Street bit for an example — which the movie only rarely makes room for. (Hollywood is calling, after all.) But it retains the show's vaudevillian looseness, and it's a joy to observe the nuances of how Henson and co. manipulate their felt creations on the big screen (in 35mm, even!). You realize how much physically harder, how much less supple, the present-day Muppets have become.