Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tarzan Finds a Son (1939)


We all know that when a television series introduces a baby into the story it spells the end of the franchise. But with Tarzan, the series just plowed along. How did the franchise survive the dreaded baby film?


The happy Lancing couple is on their way to fun trip to Africa with their baby boy. Of course they proceed to crash land in the middle of Tarzan’s (Johnny Weissmuller) plateau. Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) and Tarzan rescue the only survivor, the baby, and raise him as their own. He is called Boy (John Sheffield) and he is a handful.

About five years later a safari shows up lead by Sir Thomas Lancing (Henry Stephenson) who is convinced his relatives survived the crash. With him are the greedy duo of Austin (Ian Hunter) and his wife Mrs. Lancing (Frieda Inescort). These two stand to inherit a ton of money if they can prove all the Lancings are dead. Well once Boy is reveled to be a Lancing all hell breaks loose. Can Jane be convinced that Boy would be better off in London? Will Tarzan ever trust any white people ever again? And what the heck are the angry natives up to this time?

Good Points:

  • The plot around Boy actually moves the story along
  • Great scenes with the jungle family
  • A lot less reused footage

Bad Points:

  • Boy is a little too cute at times
  • Animals and non-white people are continuously abused
  • Beware the fake-out death


A huge improvement over the previous film, but not quite as good as the first two. Tarzan makes its transition from adventure entertainment to family entertainment, and it does it with style.

Scores (out of 5)

Visuals: 4

Sound: 3

Acting: 3

Script: 3

Music: n/a

Direction: 3

Entertainment: 3

Total: 3

In Depth Review

After the dreadful Tarzan Escapes I was seriously frightened by the concept of introducing a child into the mix. I’d seen what happened when The Thin Man series got the baby on board and it reduced the fun of that franchise considerably. But Nick and Nora were born in a world of adult sophistication and lots of booze. Tarzan and Jane fit the adventure tropes and its not a big jump from that into a family adventure with a target toward young boys. And that’s where Boy fares into the whole thing.

The movie doesn't hang around with the baby for too long. There's some funny moments in there, but Finds a Son wants to get to the more interesting stuff involving Boy around age seven or so. Young Sheffield is obviously having a blast running around with Weissmuller and O’Sullivan. He gets to play in the water, swing on vines, hang out with elephants and chimps. You can tell its all fun and games, and it carries over into the audience reaction. You’re having a blast because he is. Sure the movie milks his cuteness a bit too often, but its par the course for this type of film.

The whole inheritance plot is a bit stale, since nearly the same thing happened with Jane as the focal point in Tarzan and his Mate, but it builds a logical story based off the plane crash. It also gives us plenty of fuel for the safari shenanigans to ensue, including crazed natives, and attacks by animals.

But most of the animal adventures are saved for Boy and Tarzan to experience. The best sequences are when Boy gets trapped in a giant web that Shelob would be proud of. I also liked the scene where Boy nearly falls off of a waterfall after some roughhousing with Tarzan. There is a little bit of reused footage here and there. Some of the swinging on vines scenes are taken from Tarzan the Ape Man and still look oddly out of place. The rear project rhino from Tarzan and His Mate makes another appearance. These critters must be the bane of Tarzan's existence. I did like how the whole family has adopted variant versions of Tarzan's patented call. How did they find a kid that could do that?

The best acting in Finds a Son still falls on O’Sullivan. Her moving speech to Tarzan trying to explain to him why Boy should go to London is handled well. As is the scene where she decides to betray Tarzan’s trust. When they meet again after this, and she’s been horribly wounded by a spear, the interaction is very effective. If I believed for a moment that Jane could die here, I would have been moved. But we all know that a spear to a back is only a flesh wound for main characters.

Turns out O’Sullivan was looking for a way out of the series at this point and the spear was intended to kill here. Boy was going to take over as Tarzan’s foil from that film on. But the studio was able to convince O’Sullivan to stay on. Can’t say I blame them, her chemistry with Weissmuller and Sheffield was excellent. Too bad she hated working with Cheetah the chimp.

All in all, Tarzan Finds a Son is a fun movie, but not as much fun as the first two. It’s a lot more family friendly and viewed in that vein it’s a good time. Worth checking out if you’re in the mood for some jungle action.

Read about the other lessons I learned from Tarzan Finds a Son at my review of the first collection of the films over at DVD Verdict.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Roger Moore is most often thought of as the ‘70s James Bond but he actually was in three Bond films in the 1980s, it just seems that most folks try to forget those. This is a bit of a shame because the 1980s were ushered in with one of Roger Moore’s best James Bond films, For Your Eyes Only.

A top secret encryption device has been lost! British secret agent, James Bond (Roger Moore) must hunt it down. His first contact is with Melina Havelock (Carol Bouquet) whose parents were killed in connection with the lost device. The trail leads to Greek isles and the notorious smuggler Milos Columbo (Topol). With some new information from a powerful Greek merchant, Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover), James closes in on Columbo. However things are not as obvious as they appear, especially when the Russians want the device and are willing to kill to get it. James finds himself in a tangled web in For Your Eyes Only.

Good Points:
  • Roger Moore’s best performance as James Bond.
  • Goes back to the thriller roots of the series with a bit more action.
  • Carole Bouquet is smoldering hot in this movie.
Bad Points:
  • The humor is pure Moore style silliness.
  • There are some major script contrivances
  • The Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson) subplot is pointless
This is the best of Roger’s efforts. There are a couple of missteps here and there, but for a first attempt at directing John Glen does a great job. This is how I like my James Bond adventures, plenty of action, a script focused on thrills instead of fantasy, exotic women and just a touch of humor (Ok a little less humor would not have hurt).

Score (out of 5)
Visuals– 5
Sound– 5
Acting – 4
Script – 4
Music – 4
Direction – 4
Entertainment – 5
Final Grade: 5

Film Review

I’ve heard people refer to this movie as the forgotten Bond film. Whenever someone mentions plot points, characters or even the title itself, most people don’t remember much about it. It’s a shame too, because For Your Eyes Only is one of the better Bond films in the cannon. It’s probably my favorite Roger Moore film, and it ushered in the 1980’s and director John Glen’s tenure as James Bond’s director.

The movie is an obvious retaliation against Moonraker. James Bond goes back to basics, attempting to find and recover a decoding device. He has very few gadgets, and his super car (the Lotus) doesn’t do much more then explode. Bond relies on his wits, his ingenuity and his charisma to get him in and out of jams. Some call this low-key, and may find the film boring. It is miles away from The Spy Who Loved Me and You Only Live Twice. Fans of From Russia With Love, and the 2006 version of Casino Royale are going to enjoy this take on Bond.

The reduction in special effects and gadgets gave the crew a chance to focus on other elements like location shooting. The studio work we do get is more grounded in reality, instead of going for the huge set stylings of Ken Adam. This means there isn’t a huge villains lair. Instead we get a more realistic look, including a smuggler’s dock and the monastery interiors for the finale.

The locations are a real highlight of For Your Eyes Only. This movie was filmed in Greece and Italy. The Mediterranean is photographed in all its glory, especially in the scenes in Corfu. Scenes set in Spain were also filmed in Greece, but they double very well. Cortina provides us with most of the snowy action during the film. The Olympic grounds there are utilized in several key action scenes. Much of the underwater filming took place in the Bahamas, masquerading as the Mediterranean. Perhaps the most impressive location was located in Meteora, Greece. Saint Cyril’s monastery, located on top of towering spires of rock, create an impressive backdrop to the film’s climax and complete the exotic flavor of the movie.

When it comes to hard hitting action, For Your Eyes Only raises the bar over previous Roger Moore installments. Its packed with gunfights, fist fights, chases (with all kinds of vehicles), hair breadth escapes and dangerous sieges. Unlike The Spy Who Loved Me, the action is not overly concentrated at the end. 

Keeping up with all the pyrotechnics is the soundtrack. While Moonraker had to work with creating new sci-fi sound effects, this film is dealing in volume (both amount and loudness). Showcased are the underwater battles where Bond and Melina face off against several dangerous submersibles and explosives. The water muffles the sound, and yet when the metal on metal contact occurs it is appropriately chilling. I also enjoyed the chaos of the raid on the smuggler’s dock. Lots of bullets and bombs going off and it works perfectly to pull the viewer in.

Bill Conti provides the musical score. Conti is most famous for his work on Rocky, The Right Stuff, and The Karate Kid. His work here is closer to Marvin Hamlisch’s on The Spy Who Loved Me. He takes traditional Bond music and fuses it with current music trends. What does this mean in 1981? A strange light FM sound to the soundtrack. The action scenes have this groovy late disco era sound. Conti uses a touch of ethnic instruments to bring out the Spanish, Greek and Italian locales. He handles the suspense scenes very well. But the disco sound immediately dates the film and some people find it distracting and annoying. I love the funkiness of the soundtrack during the escape in Melina’s little yellow car, as well as the ski chase music. Conti never fails to use the Bond theme to punch things up.

Sheena Easton performs one of the most memorable Bond title songs of the ‘80s. It is typical of the traditional Bond style love song and Conti works it into the score for the romantic moments. If you can get into it, the music is a funky relic, but I can see why many fans think its one of the weaker scores.

With For Your Eyes Only, Roger Moore finally got a chance to play James Bond as spy and not as a superhero. Roger was always a capable actor, and he could play the part with an edge. We got to see some of it in The Man With the Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me. Here he combines his charm and suave with a bit more intensity. This is most obvious when he’s confronting Columbo and Kristatos. His interaction with Melina and Bibi definitely comes across as more mature. With Melina, he’s obviously attracted to her, but keeps his distance, not completely at ease with her till the finale of the film. His approach to Bibi is even more amusing. She obviously much younger than him, but Bond resists her constant affection. In a way, Roger plays Bond as a mature spy in a serious world where his life is on the line.

Carole Bouquet as Melina, is one of the best Bond girl of the ‘80s. She plays a woman driven by vengeance, and her single-minded approach carries thorough most of the film. Her part is a bit underwritten, but when she’s on screen she is captivating. Her interplay with Roger is pretty good. I just wish her part could have been a bit juicer.

Comprising our possible villains are veterans Topol as Milos Columbo and Julian Glover as Aristotle Kristatos. Topol is plays the smuggler as an earthy man with a likable charisma that can quickly switch to menace. His possible involvement in the communist plot keeps us from trusting him completely. On the flip side Julian Glover is all calm, cool and controlled. He is obviously a very intelligent man, one who appreciates the finer things in life. He isn’t as uncouth as Columbo, but you can see the steel inside him as well. Both actors do a great job keeping you guessing which on is telling the truth. When the villain is finally revealed both men settle into the roles superbly.

The supporting cast is good. The most notable include Lynn-Holly Johnson plays Bibi Dahl an overly cute, overly enthusiastic, and over sexed ice skater. The character is played for laughs and its all very silly. I also liked Cassandra Harris as Countess Lisl is smooth and sophisticated in her small part. Her interplay with Bond is well done and Roger actually shares some great chemistry with her. Louis Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn play their respective roles with the same skill they always have. In honor of Bernard Lee’s death before filming began, the part of M was not recast for the film. Most of his lines were separated the characters of Bill Tanner and Sir Frederick Grey.

While the script of For Your Eyes Only is the best of the ‘80s Bond scripts it does suffer from being over long. Some trimming of characters and subplots would have made this a more intense film. The focus on action is welcome, but it comes at the cost of some characterizations; Melina taking the biggest hit. I do like how it gives us two possibilities for the villain, and keeps the audience and Bond guessing for a good chunk of the running time. The more realistic edge to the villains plot is also refreshing after the over the top madness of Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me.

There are a couple of missteps here and there. A few nonsensical plot contrivances occur. In most Bond movies these are flimsily explained away, but they don’t even try in this movie. Characters just perform actions for no reason that affect the plot later on. Also the bookend sequences of the film are pretty silly, fitting easily into the previous Moore films, but feeling really out of place here. Seriously, a parrot asking Margaret Thatcher for a kiss?

With For Your Eyes Only director John Glen begins his tenure as the Bond movie director for the 1980s. He’d worked on the Bond films since the 60’s so he knew his way around the cast and crew. He also understood the meaning of pacing and tension. James Bond is in very real danger in this film something that hadn’t happened since 1969 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. While he doesn’t move the plot along at a breakneck speed, he keeps most of the scenes trimmed down and efficient. Most of the exposition is concise. He only slows down when building tension, especially during the underwater and climbing sequences. If things seem to be getting a little too stodgy, he throws in an action scene.

That is one of the main faults of the film. Its so action packed that it starts to feel like less of a James Bond movie and more of an action show piece with Roger Moore in it. Some of the scenes are great, with my favorites being the shark reef scene, the assault on St. Cyril’s, and the funny and exciting car chase in Spain. Others are entertaining, but go on a bit long; the ski chase, the raid on the warehouse. Then there’s the over the top; killer hockey players? It does reduce some of the tension when Bond dodges attack after attack. If Glen kept the prime set pieces and cut away the clutter, then add some time fleshing out Melina, this movie would be up there with Casino Royale. By the time Licence to Kill rolled around Glen had streamlined his technique and that movie works much better. Still it’s a great way to start his directing career.

For Your Eyes Only doesn’t deserve to be the forgotten Bond. It’s in the top tier of the series. It proves that Roger Moore could handle a more serious take on the character and represents a new era of James Bond, one with an eye on realism (for the most part). Unfortunately for Roger, he did not make this his swan song. It would have been a great way for him to exit the part.

Looking for more? Check out how Raiders of the Lost Ark changed the action movie genre in the '80s and how For Your Eyes Only was the first casualty at my old blog Jones vs. Bond.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Perfect Blue (1998)


When Japanese anime in the 1990s is discussed you usually hear titles like Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop. But one title that seems to slip by is Perfect Blue, the first full length feature by director Satoshi Kon. This film made quite a splash in its initial release, and Kon’s star continued on the rise until his untimely death in 2010. I really admire his work and decided to give his movies the in depth reviews they deserve. So here is the first, the dark twisted mirror called Perfect Blue.


Mima Kirigoe (Ruby Marlowe) has been part of the semi-successful girl pop group Cham for a few years. But with some convincing from her agent she’s decided to leave the group and try her hand at acting. At first things go well, she gets a small part in television series called Double Bind. But things start to go badly when she finds that one of her fans is not pleased with her decision to leave Cham. At first the threats are easy to ignore, but when Mima films a realistic rape scene for the series, her fan loses it.

The stress of her new life, the danger that threatens everyone around her and the fact that Cham is now more successful with her gone begins to weigh on Mima. So it’s not a surprise when her reflection starts to talk to her. Just how far has Mima cracked and who is this huge fan that will stop at nothing to make sure the “real” Mima returns to her singing?

Good Points:

  • Masterful use of editing and storytelling keeps the viewer off balance
  • Works well as a mind-bending thriller or an examination of fame
  • Anyone looking for a little skin or blood in their anime will be pleased

Bad Points:

  • The lower budget affects the overall look of the film
  • Did this have to be animated?
  • Only confirms that anime is nothing but perversion and violence


This is a wonderfully made thriller that manages to keep you wondering just what is really happening almost up to the last minute. Kon is careful to never confuse the viewer, but we end up feeling for Mima, because we are experiencing the same confusion she is. While its not my favorite film by Kon, it’s a great first feature and well worth seeking out, as long as you don’t mind a very R rated experience.

Scores (out of 5)

Visuals: 4

Sound: 4

Voice Acting: 4

Script: 4

Music: 4

Direction: 5

Entertainment: 5

Total: 4

In Depth Review

To be honest, this movie won’t appeal to everyone. I love dark, dreamlike thrillers, so this is right up my alley. It’s not as bizarre as something from David Lynch or Takahashi Miike, but I feel it could stand toe to toe with something from Christopher Nolan, and even surpass it. But I have recommended it to a few folks who ended up thinking I was pretty twisted for liking it or worse thought all anime is like this.

I think that one of the reasons this movie has been forgotten is because it never broke the mainstream like many hoped it would. Back in ‘98 anime still had an image of being “ultra-violent porn” (Mike and the bots actually use that term for several MST3K riffs in the late ‘’90s), thanks to series like La Blue Girl and movies like Wicked City. Sadly most people only noticed the violence and nudity in Perfect Blue and missed the amazing editing and weaving of the story. Does the nudity seem unnecessary? You could argue it either way. Same goes with the violence, but I’ll get to that later.

The heart of the story is a woman dealing with a crisis of self-perception (much like David Lynch’s Inland Empire). We learn early on that Mima came to Tokyo to become a singer. When we see flashbacks to her life with Cham she seems really happy. But when we see Mima trying to move forward as an actress, she looks uncertain and uncomfortable. Things move too quickly for her, mostly because of the prodding of her manager. When she reads the script describing the brutal rape scene, we only see her eyes, but it’s enough to tell us that she doesn’t want to do the scene. Even as her friend and assistant Rumi (Wendee Lee) attempts to stop the whole thing, Mima says she’ll do it. At each junction she picks the path that she feels others expect of her – the one that will lead to her being an actress. But it is counter to her nature.

Its no wonder her reality fractures. This becomes one of the themes of Perfect Blue, permeating nearly every scene. The movie opens with jarring cuts, leaping forward and backward through Mima’s story. It establishes many things, her world now, her world before, the other players in the drama (including the disturbing fan, Mr. Me-Mania played by the always energetic Bob Marx) and provides the set up for the rest of the movie. But this editing is just as fractured as the reality Mima inhabits about a quarter of the way into the film.

We also get a lot of mirror images and reflective surfaces appearing throughout the film. Sometimes they only show us Mima, and other times they show us the being known as Virtual Mima. This creature is dressed in Mima’s pop idol outfit and is endless cheery even as she threatens Mima. The scenes with Virtual Mima are perhaps the best excuse why this movie was animated. With the budget the film had, animation was able to capture these dream-like scenes with surprising skill.

The other theme of Perfect Blue is the audience. Mima is constantly being watched. She may be on stage, in front of the camera, or just walking down the street. But Kon goes out of his way to show us that even a minor celebrity like Mima can feel the pressure of constantly being in the spotlight. Now keep in mind, this was before the internet really took off, before TMZ and all the reality shows took over. We do get to see a website dedicated to Mima (looking like something from Geocities – wow did I flash back hard). But the fan that runs it seems to have extraordinary knowledge of Mima’s actions. She finds it funny at first, but as the film continues and the website becomes more and more disparaging of her acting career, Mima begins to wonder if the stalker may be running the site or worse – if its her.

That is the final horror of this film, Mima loses her grip on herself and her reality. Once we pass the halfway point, elements from the Double Bind television series she’s working on begin to mirror what is happening to her. In addition, she begins to see Mr. Me-mania nearly everywhere she goes. Then there’s the moment where she loses track of her movements – and there’s a murder. By this point Kon has kept the balancing act nearly perfect. After this sequcence, he goes into mind game mode and has some fun.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but this is not a perfect thriller grounded in reality. Perfect Blue is a bit of a game at the end, and you just have to accept the ending and enjoy it for what it is. Some elements will never make much sense when you go back and dissect them, and that is the only weak point of the script for me. The movie is a brisk 80 minutes, and maybe a few more minutes for connective tissue could have helped. But that would have ruined the fractured fury of the conclusion, and I think the movie works fine as it is.

Beyond the editing and shot set up, the animation is a bit on the weak side, probably because the budget wasn’t very high. Many of the crowd scenes lack detail and certain moments look like they were hastily completed. But all the key scenes are really well designed and executed. Kon is also one of the few directors who does not go for the standard AIC anime look. His cast has a more realistic look, adding to the horror a bit more. Back in the ’90s we were still getting some variation in character design style, and it’s always great to see some one shaking it up a bit.

Music and sound are both handled well. Like David Lynch, Kon uses sound to create disconnect for the viewers and the characters. He’s a bit more conventional about in this film, but it still very effective, when certain background sounds begin to overpower the world around Mima. The music is functional, but has a great bit of vocalization that wavers in pitch. It’s used in scenes with Virtual Mima and is creepy as all hell. It gets overused a bit by the end, but is one of the things I always remember whenever I think of Perfect Blue.

The English voice acting is actually pretty good. Most of the cast are veteran anime voice actors worked on Pioneer projects like El Hazard and Tenchi Muyo. They bring the characters to life and Marlowe and Lee are particularly good in their roles.

Sadly this is another film that seems to have fallen out of print. The company Manga had the rights in North America and released two DVD Versions of the film. I have the older version (non-anamorphic widescreen sadly). Looks like an import Blu-ray exists.

For a first feature film effort, Perfect Blue is a stunner. It also shows us all the techniques that Kon would hone in his later projects. His follow up feature, Millennium Actress, builds on the concepts of perceptions of reality, questions of identity and the power (good and bad) of imagination. All these are present in Perfect Blue and it presents a great starting point for anyone looking to delve into his work – as long as you don’t mind your thrillers bloody and twisted.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Assignment Venezuela (1956) – MST3K Review


A very ‘50s man arrives in Venezuela to begin working for Creole Petroleum. He writes to his family, providing voice over of course, telling them of his adventures in this strange and exotic land. Along the way he searches for housing, attempts to learn Spanish, and tries to relate to the culture that seems very alien to him. Don’t tell anyone the super secret surprise twist ending of this very odd little short film.

Movie Review:

Made by Creole Petroleum to help their employees prepare for life in Venezuela, this movie does its best to inform and assure – it may be different, but we’ll be watching over you.

In many ways the ‘50s vibe is all over this thing, from the clothing and hair, down to the almost patronizing voice over and view of all things “exotic”. Some of the main characters “revelations” are pretty funny. I especially like how shocked he is that they put murals and paintings on the sides of apartment buildings. Its always fun to see how a corporation attempts to anticipate their employees reaction to things and this film reveals a lot about Creole as well as the time it was made.

But there a lot of interesting information in the movie about how the company oil operations worked as well as their set up for North American employees. I appreciated how they put our narrator through school to learn Spanish and created a whole community for the employees to live in, while also creating a more integrated experience with the locals.

In the end all the earnest convincing comes across a little silly. With voice over so ripe for riffing, this is a gold mine for Mike and the bots to enjoy.

Episode Review:

This short was produced for a special CD-ROM project that Best Brains had cooking during the Comedy Central years. But sadly this project was never completed. It was shown during a convention, but for a long time it was never released in any official way. Finally, Rhino added this as a bonus short to their DVD of Killer Shrews and all us MST3K fans are happy they did. This is one of my favorite short films they’ve tackled.

Clocking in at a little over twenty minutes, this is one of the longest short features the crew ever attempted. It gives them plenty of time to come up with running jokes as well as the typical comments they make during your garden variety short.

Most of the riffs come at the expense of our narrator and lead character. When he first appears in the doorway to the plane Tom says, “Our man in Caracas, Pee-wee Herman.” His clueless demeanor is the perfect fodder for our boys and they have a blast adding thoughts and quips to his running commentary.

Unlike similar shorts the crew has tackled, like Progress Island, they actually go pretty easy on the country and the people. Mostly they save their meanest stuff for Creole’s handling of their employees and our protagonist. And keep in mind that this is the Comedy Central years, when riffing was a bit more good-natured.

For me the running jokes they come up with are great. During one scene our narrator comments how a lake appeared narrow, but turned out to be wide. Mike and boys treat this as a major mistake adding lines about how filled with shame he is over the mistake. Then for the rest of the short, the narrator (with help from Mike and bots) accidently comments about how wide something is, and it ends up spiraling into tears and begging for forgiveness. This has turned into something of an inside joke in our house, whenever anyone comments about how narrow something is.

Another set of hilarious scenes feature our hero searching for a place to live with his family. He visits a fellow worker, and sees their home. But finds out that he may have to live in a Quonset hut. This opens up a whole bunch of jokes about how bad the conditions are in the hut, including the rats in the toilet and the quality of the water in the facet. It all climaxes in “a nude midget circus” that has to be seen to be believed.

Needless to say this one of my favorites and one that I highly recommend seeking out for fans of MST3K. Even if it requires you to try and sit through Killer Shrews to see it. I give it five narrow, I mean wide really wide lakes out of five.

This episode is available on Killer Shrews DVD on Collection Volume 7.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Muppet Movie (1979)


It’s hard to imagine anyone who lived through the ‘70s and ‘80s and didn’t get some kind of exposure to the Muppets in the hands of the legendary Jim Henson. With the concept preparing for a reboot this year, I decided it was time to take a look back at the first feature film based around the most famous puppets in the world.


Just how did those muppets come together to make The Muppet Show? Well this film tells the story. Turns out that Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson) was inspired to journey to Hollywood to become a star, because a silly talent agent thought he had potential. Along the way he meets all of his muppet friends including Fozzie Bear (Frank Oz), Miss Piggy, Gonzo and Rolf the dog. Unfortunately Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) thinks that Kermit would make a perfect spokes-frog for his frog leg restaurants and will stop at nothing to catch him. But don’t think that just muppets are in The Muppet Movie keep your eyes peeled for all kinds of folks including: Bob Hope, Edgar Bergen, Mel Brooks, Carol Kane, Madeline Kahn, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor and Orson Welles… yes, that Orson Welles.

Good Points:

  • A fun story that works all your favorite muppets into the action
  • Some amazing puppeteering on display
  • Some of the catchiest songs of the ‘70s

Bad Points:

  • Paper thin story and characters
  • Many of the cameos are super short
  • The music, costumes, and hair are painfully ‘70s


When I was a kid, I didn’t enjoy this film as much as the follow-up, The Great Muppet Caper. But these days, I enjoy the more laid back vibe of this film. There’s a lot of heart in this movie and you can tell everyone had a blast making it. It is also the truest to Henson’s vision of the world of the muppets. Makes for a pleasant nights entertainment, as long as you don’t mind Moving Right Along stuck in your head for days afterward.

Scores (out of 5)

Visuals: 4

Sound: 3

Acting: 4

Script: 3

Music: 4

Direction: 4

Entertainment: 4

Total: 4

In Depth Review

You know the concept of an entire television series that revolves around silly puppets that sing, tell corny jokes and goof around sounds like a recipe for disaster. And yet The Muppet Show was a fixture on television for five seasons spanning from 1978 to 1981 (not to mention reruns). It was a truly unique and may have been one of the last gasps of variety show entertainment on television. Most of all it was a show everyone in the family could enjoy, with a wide array of humor.

The popularity of the show (and the fact that they managed to get some amazing guest stars) eventually lead to the creation of The Muppet Movie. The main plot hook was seeing how the muppets all met and got together to form The Muppet Show. But mostly it was just a chance for Jim Henson and his crew to work with a bigger budget, lots of guest stars and try some truly amazing things with the puppeteering.

I have to say that even the most jaded viewer who dislikes anything made of felt is going to be amazed by some of the technical skills on display in the film. The movie opens with an extended crane shot of Kermit the frog sitting on a log surrounded by a swamp. The illusion is perfect; you immediately accept that Kermit is just a frog strumming a banjo and singing. Well, maybe I won’t go that far, but when you finally realize that someone has to be operating Kermit, your jaw drops. How did they do that? The answer, Henson was in a specially designed container under the water and operating Kermit while watching the performance on a monitor. It took five days to shoot. Talk about dedication. But that’s just one of the many clever acts of puppet power you’ll see. You get Kermit riding a bike. You’ve got Gonzo floating away on a balloon. There are muppets driving buses, hanging from ceiling fans and engaging in romantic daydreams complete with running in fields through a gauzy screen.

That’s one of the great things about this movie, the spirit of fun that pervades through every frame. Henson and his crew just go for broke, if they dream it up, they do everything they can to bring it to the screen. And the results are inventive and fun. While later films like The Great Muppet Caper would get even more impressive in their puppeteering achievements, The Muppet Movie set the bar very high.

The other thing that will stick in the memory after watching this movie are the songs written by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher. Williams was one of the masters of writing catchy songs that you just can’t remove from your brain. The Muppet Movie is full of them. Rainbow Connection gets all the acclaim and it’s a great opener for the film. But for me, nothing says The Muppet Movie like the road trip duet by Fozzie and Kermit: Movin’ Right Along. But all the songs are really entertaining and run the gammit from folky lullaby to funky ‘70s rock. Now, I’m not a big fan of folky music, or ‘70s music for that matter. But these suckers grew on me.

While we’re talking ‘70s, I do have to say that the humans in this movie date it tremendously. The hair, the clothing and the slang is all 1970s. Those with a low tolerance for bell-bottoms and the color brown are going to find the movie tough to get through. Luckily the muppets themselves are timeless. But each encounter with a human snaps you right back to the Carter era.

What is funny is that most of the human cast only appears in brief cameos, popping up for a few lines before vanishing without a trace. The whole movie is like this. “Was that Richard Pryor?” “Did I just see James Coburn?” “Seriously? Bob Hope?” Yep they’re all here. A few folks get juicer roles. Charles Durning and Austin Pendleton get plenty of screen time as the antagonists. Steve Martin plays a seriously annoyed waiter on Miss Piggy and Kermit’s first date. Mel Brooks overstays his welcome as a mad scientist (the only scene that really falls flat for me). But most of the human actors are blink and you miss them appearances. So if you see one of your favorites on the IMDB listing, just keep in mind they may have 30 seconds of screen time. But who are we kidding, you’re hear to see the muppets!

Unlike most of the later films, the plot here is pretty thin. What you get is mostly an excuse for some amazing set pieces, songs and jokes. This is bound to annoy some people, and in my youth it was one of the reasons I disliked this film. The concept of telling the story of the muppets meeting and getting on television gets some lip service, but it never drives the narrative. The plot gets so thin that the muppets themselves make fun of it and even use the script for the film to bring people up to speed and figure out what they’re going to do next. Compared to something like The Muppet Christmas Carol which stuck to the Dickens story pretty tightly, this is as flimsy as they come.

But as I mentioned The Muppet Movie is the closest in spirit to The Muppet Show. It took me revisiting the television series to understand why the movie was the way it was. Henson’s energy and enthusiasm drove the show and drives this movie. Its what makes the whole thing feel like a big bowl of fun. Put into context I was able to appreciate it a lot more. It’s great summer viewing for the whole family or even if you want to feel like a kid again.