The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)


USA. 1984.


Director – Frank Oz, Screenplay – Frank Oz, Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses, Story – Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses, Producer – David Lazer, Photography – Robert Paynter, Music – Jeffrey Moss & Ralph Burns, Production Design – Paul Eads & Stephen Hendrickson. Production Design – Henson Associates/Delphi-TriStar


Julianna Donald (Jennie), Lonnie Price (Ronnie Crawford), Frank Zorich (Pete), Dabney Coleman (Price), Art Carney (Bernard Crawford), James Coco (Mr Skeffington), John Landis (Leonard Winesop), Joan Rivers (Cosmetic Assistant), Brooke Shields (Herself), Liza Minelli (Herself), Ed Koch (Himself)

Muppet Performers: Jim Henson (Kermit/Ernie/Rowlf/Dr Teeth), Frank Oz (Miss Piggy/Fozzie Bear/Animal/Bert/Cookie Monster/Sam the Eagle), Dave Goelz (Gonzo/Bill the Frog/Chester Rat/Zoot), Steve Whitmire (Rizzo/Lips/Gil Frog), Bruce Edward Hall (Masterson Rat/Beth Bear)


After great success with their initial performance of the musical ‘Manhattan Melodies’, the Muppets go to New York to try to sell it to a Broadway producer. There they run into a series of conmen and closed doors and their finances soon dwindle to nothing. Dispirited, the others return home while Kermit takes a job in a cafe. He then gets a call-back from the son of a big name producer wishing to stage the production to impress his father but can only give them two weeks to ready the show. However, as rehearsals get underway, Kermit is hit by a taxi and loses his memory.

The Muppets Take Manhattan was the third of the Muppet films, following The Muppet Movie (1979) and The Great Muppet Caper (1981). Frank Oz, the voice of Miss Piggy, had previously co-directed the sublime non-Muppet fantasy film The Dark Crystal (1982) with Jim Henson and took over the solo reins for this entry. Frank Oz would later go onto his own directing career with other genre films like Little Shop of Horrors (1986), The Indian in the Cupboard (1995), The Stepford Wives (2004) and various mainstream comedies such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), What About Bob? (1991) and Death at a Funeral (2007).

This entry lacks the boisterous energy and the sly parodistic sense of humour of the preceding two films. The other Muppet movies were essentially children’s films but had a series of jokes aimed at adults, carping at Hollywood genres and pulling down the fourth cinematic wall. The Muppets Take Manhattan is pitched on much more of a children’s level, as all the subsequent Muppet films would be. The beginning seems to promise a parody of Busby Berkeley, the Ziegfield Follies et al, but this never particularly emerges. There is certainly some clever technical trickery at moments – Miss Piggy running through Central Park on roller-skates and a winning set-piece with rat cooks in a diner skating across hotplates on pads of butter – but the emphasis is much more juvenile. The usual name faces put in cameo appearances – there is a particularly embarrassing and silly appearance from Joan Rivers. Irritable also is the use of the film as an extended marketing venture – the brief Muppet Babies dream sequence exists solely for the introduction of the new toy line and later tv series The Muppet Babies (1984-91).

This would be the last of the classic Muppet films. Jim Henson died in 1990 and Frank Oz went onto his own solo directorial career. Subsequently, the Henson empire was inherited by Jim Henson’s son Brian who made a series of entirely mediocre Muppet movies – 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) and The Muppet’s Wizard of Oz (2005), as well as the dreary Muppets Tonight (1996) tv revival. The Muppets made a more successful big screen revival under Disney with The Muppets (2011) followed by Muppets Most Wanted (2014) and the tv series revival The Muppets (2015-6).

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