A Man trapped underwater in a diving bell. His body was squeezed into a painful position as limited oxygen was pumped into his lungs through a rubber tube. He is held down there for three hours a day over a period of five days. To add to the discomfort, one arm is held vertically above his head and fixed. He could have died.

This is the opening scene of The Muppet Movie and if you can’t remember it that’s because none of it happens on screen. Instead, the viewer descends from the sky and slowly focuses on a frog perched on a log in a swamp. The frog strums a banjo and earnestly sings The Rainbow Connection, a north star of a song so beautiful and true it remains a standard 40 years later. It’s a scene so magical you don’t even think about it the man in the diving bellhis trapped arm brings this frog’s dreams to life.

The Muppet Movie Trailer

That man, you might have guessed, was Jim Henson, a wide-eyed creative who, by the age of 43, had invented educational children’s television with Sesame Street and helmed five seasons of top-tier primetime television with The Muppet Show is the Star Puppets happened.

The Muppet film was his first leap from the relative safety of television to the big screen. While this film offers enough cinematic feats to excite even the most die-hard cinephile, its real power lies in its emotional weight. Up until the first Muppet movie, the Muppets were slapstick weirdos, dropping one-liners amidst explosions and onstage mishaps. Here, Kermit’s wide-eyed romance is key.

Luckily for Henson, the story doesn’t stay in the swamp for long: a talent scout rows toward Kermit and fills his head with show business dreams. But while fame and fortune are beautiful thoughts, it’s the promise of making millions happy that Kermit is singing – so he packs his banjo and sets off on a cross-country road trip to Hollywood.

When Kermit goes to Kerouac, he gathers a ragtag band of misfits with similar dreams of wanderlust and fame. There’s hapless standup comedian Fozzie Bear; a ’60s burnout music group with names like Floyd Pepper and Dr. teeth a Randy Newman-esque piano man (who happens to be a dog); and a certain Diva Pig who Kermit is clearly falling madly in love with. Not to mention guest appearances from the likes of Steve Martin, Richard Pryor and Orson Welles.

Miss Piggy, Steve Martin and Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Movie.
Miss Piggy, Steve Martin and Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Movie. Photo: PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy

But Kermit also attracts the attention of the evil Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), a southern businessman who thinks Kermit has the perfect talent to promote his line of delicious frog legs. Kermit is disgusted, but Hopper will stop at nothing to secure his talents. It’s not easy being green.

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This is a Muppet movie, but it’s also a movie made in the late 1970’s by a group of young hippie creatives. that means plenty of wacky humor, sneaky Hare Krishna jokes, and liberal fourth wall breaking – at one point, Kermit is saved from certain doom by characters simply reading the script. And of course it’s also a musical. When Gonzo, the blue, feathered creature of an ambiguous species, sings the line “there is not a word yet/for old friends who just met,” you may get upset.

This is the first film I can really remember and it was a lifelong love affair. There’s something about Kermit’s belief in his own destiny, his willingness to heed the siren’s call that beckons him to a bigger, scarier life, that’s very compelling for a child. Even as an adult, I would follow Kermit anywhere. He believes and makes everyone around him believe as well. And when Kermit briefly loses faith, the others keep believing until he does again. This film is about fate, frogs, friendship – but above all about faith.

Of course, the Muppets make it to Hollywood, despite the numerous glitches that make a good road movie. Like I said, this is a Muppet movie. Things usually end well in Muppet movies. At this point, the film ends with a grand, musical happy ending that focuses on the whole core of the film: Kermit flanked by his new friends, all singing to the camera, “Life’s like a movie, write your own.” End. Keep believing, keep pretending.”

The last song in The Muppet Movie.

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