The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

Rating:

UK. 1981.

Crew

Director – Jim Henson, Screenplay – David Lazer, Tom Patchett, Jack Rose & Jay Tarses, Producers – David Lazer & Frank Oz, Photography – Oswald Morris, Music – Joe Rogers, Visual Effects – Roy Field, Special Effects – Brian Smithies, Makeup – Stuart Freeborn, Production Design – Harry Lange. Production Company – ITC

Cast

Diana Rigg (Lady Holiday), Charles Grodin (Nicky Holiday), Jack Warden (Editor), Peter Falk (Bum), Robert Morley (Gentleman), John Cleese (Neville), Peter Ustinov (Truck Driver)

Muppet Performers: Jim Henson (Kermit), Frank Oz (Miss Piggy/Fozzie Bear/Sam the Eagle), Dave Goelz (Gonzo/Dr Bunsen Honeydew/Zoot/Beauregard)


Plot

Reporters Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear and Gonzo are fired from The Daily Chronicle for doing a story on Kermit and Fozzie being identical twins while ignoring a jewel robbery happening behind them. They decide to go to England to interview the owner of the jewels, fashion designer Lady Holiday. Kermit mistakenly thinks Miss Piggy, just hired as Lady Holiday’s receptionist, is Lady Holiday, and Miss Piggy, smitten with Kermit, plays along with the deception. When Lady Holiday’s diamond necklace is stolen, this deception causes Miss Piggy to be suspected of the robbery and arrested. Kermit and the others set out to prove Miss Piggy’s innocence and expose the real culprit, Lady Holiday’s dastardly brother Nicky.


The Muppet Show (1976-81) was one of the great pop culture phenomenons of the 1970s. The show’s success was spun out into a series of movies, beginning with the delightful The Muppet Movie (1979). The Great Muppet Caper was the immediate follow-up. The rest of the movies (see below) are forgettable, especially the ones made by Jim Henson’s son Brian from the 1990s onwards. The best of the films were the first two, The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper.

Like its predecessor, The Great Muppet Caper riotously strides between tongue-in-cheek absurdism and cornball movie pastiche. There is a great and knowing sophistication to it. Though on one level it is a talking animals film, The Great Muppet Caper hardly ever descends to the cutesy mawkishness one associates with the anthropomorphized animals of Disney et al. While operating on the level of wild comedy farce for the child audience, there are a number of sly gags thrown in the direction of adults – with witty and effortlessly polished parodies of Fred Astaire dance routines and Miss Piggy getting to conduct an Esther Williams number. Jim Henson and his writing team have fun breaking down the figurative fourth cinematic wall – Miss Piggy throws insults at Charles Grodin: “You can’t sing, even your voice is dubbed”; as the opening credits roll, the characters sit in a balloon commenting on the oddities of the names – “Gee a lot of people worked on this movie”, “What’s a caper?”; and Diana Rigg complains about the necessary plot development soliloquies she has to give.

A good deal of humour comes from the incongruous placing of the bizarre menagerie of puppets up against the real world as they go cycling through the park en masse, driving a bus through Piccadilly Circus, Miss Piggy riding a motorbike with and Kermit even getting up in the morning to have a shave. The film overflows with the sheer exuberant degree of fun being had by all. Diana Rigg overacts badly but there is a very funny cameo from John Cleese as an upper-class twit whose house is invaded by Kermit and Miss Piggy.

The subsequent Muppet movie were:– The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Muppets from Space (1999), It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002), Kermit’s Swamp Years (2002), The Muppet’s Wizard of Oz (2005), The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014).




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