In a lot of ways, the Muppets were the Looney Tunes of their generation, seemingly directed at small children but operating at a gleefully subversive level of sophistication that goes right over the kids’ heads and straight for the hearts of their parents. Their first feature length film plays like an extended big-screen version of their late-seventies television show. This is a good thing.
The film begins with Kermit the Frog in his home swamp, meeting up with a Hollywood agent (Dom Deluise) who’s gotten lost. “Have you tried Hare Krishna?” Kermit suggests helpfully, establishing both the tone of the humor and the film’s running gag. To say thanks for Kermit’s help, the agent tells him of an audition just for frogs wanting riches and fame.
Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) has other plans for our green, felt-covered protagonist. He’s the Col. Sanders of fried frog legs and wants Kermit to endorse his chain of fast food joints. Being the pure, artistic soul that he is, and not wanting to sell out his entire species, Kermit wants none of it. Hopper’s refusal to take no for an answer is about as close as this film comes to a plot. Mostly, it’s an excuse to move us from puns to slapstick to sight gags and back again, punctuated by cameos from virtually everyone working in show business at the time plus a few who were retired but still breathing and at least partially ambulatory.
Along the way, the story “documents” Kermit’s first meetings with various famous Muppet characters, from Fozzie Bear, the Great Gonzo and Miss Piggy to Doctor Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, who don’t look anything like Presbyterians.
The film has no pretensions to being anything other than 95 minutes of giddy but not brainless entertainment. It asks nothing more than to know that you had fun. In this day of often hollow and empty computer effects, this unassuming little comedy gets a surprising amount of emotion and range out of a few ounces of foam rubber and felt.
You’ll laugh. You probably won’t cry. You will believe that a frog can ride a bicycle.