The third movie in the Muppet franchise, Muppets Take Manhattan was released in 1984. In my humble opinion, it is the best non-holiday related Muppet movie. The Muppets shine with a perfect balance of new material, sight gags, music, and heart. This time, Frank Oz serves not only as a Muppet performer, but also as director. Oz was able to use his knowledge as a Muppet insider and a puppeteer to bring a unique component behind the camera.
This time, Kermit and his pals have recently graduated college. They have just performed Manhattan Melodies, a musical that Kermit has written. It was so successful that the whole gang has decided to move to New York and try to make it on Broadway. Unfortunately, they find that it is much harder to sell a musical than they originally thought. The Muppets run out of money and must part ways, leaving Kermit to stay in New York and vow that he will make it to Broadway.
He finds work at Pete’s Luncheonette and befriends Pete’s daughter, Jenny (Juliana Donald), who assists him in Muppet-like schemes to try to weasel onto the Broadway scene. Meanwhile, Miss Piggy has secretly stayed behind to keep tabs on Kermit and believes he is romancing Jenny. Finally, first time producer Ronnie Crawford, Jr. (Lonny Price) offers Kermit his big break. On his way back to the luncheonette, Kermit is hit by a car and suffers from amnesia. He joins a frog driven advertising agency, as his Muppet buddies return to New York and prepare for the show while searching for him. When Kermit just happens to walk into the luncheonette on opening night, he is cured just in time for the big opening number — aided by a karate chop from Miss Piggy.
This movie marked a lot of firsts for the Muppet franchise. This is the first Muppet movie that does not break the fourth wall. There are no clever asides shared between Kermit or Miss Piggy and the audience. It is also the first time Rizzo the Rat is given a significant role. He had appeared in a small role as a bellhop in The Great Muppet Caper, but he and his rat family are in a large percentage of the scenes in this one.
Muppets Take Manhattan includes two very large events in the history of the Muppets. In yet another Miss Piggy fantasy sequence, we see the Muppets as babies for the first time. Miss Piggy, Kermit, Fozzie, Rowlf, Gonzo, and Scooter appear as babies during the song “I’m Gonna Always Love You.” The animated series, Muppet Babies debuted just two months after Muppets Take Manhattan hit theaters. The puppets and nursery are designed to match their cartoon counterparts, however Baby Animal and Baby Skeeter (Scooter’s twin sister developed for the series) are noticeably and disappointingly absent. Be sure to look out for the Big Bird doll that Rowlf operates on during the song.
In the finale of the film, Miss Piggy and Kermit finally get married! With guests from Sesame Street and The Muppet Show filling the pews, it was truly the wedding of the decade! It made the union between Princess Diana and Prince Charles seem like small potatoes by comparison. This wedding scene packed more controversy than the great Bert and Ernie scandalous rumors of the 2000s. Gonzo was going to play the minister in the Broadway musical within the movie, but Kermit is shocked to find a different actor (perhaps a real minister?) in this scene. This has sparked a 30 year old debate whether or not Miss Piggy and Kermit are really married. Regardless, watching this entire movie is worth this final musical number and scene. It is touching and fun. One of the most romantic scenes in cinema includes a frog and a pig!
It would not be a Muppet movie without cameos. Art Carney, James Coco, Dabney Coleman, Gregory Hines, Linda Lavin, Elliott Gould, Liza Minnelli, Brooke Shields, John Landis, Vincent Sardi, and even New York City Mayor Ed Koch are peppered throughout the movie. Muppet-centric cameos include David Lazar, Marty Robinson, Heather Henson, Steve Whitmire, and several Sesame Street characters such as Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Cookie Monster just to name a few. Joan Rivers is at her best in a cameo working at a makeup counter with Miss Piggy. Frances Bergen, Edgar Bergen’s widow, makes a brief cameo as a secretary. If you ever need a factoid to share at a party, Martin Scorsese’s parents make an appearance as extras.
As much as I love The Great Muppet Caper, Muppets Take Manhattan would have made a better direct follow up to the first film. Stylistically, they match up perfectly. The songs, the cameos, and the concept of Muppets hitting it big in showbiz are similar, but the formula works. Instead of seeming like a copy, it still seems fresh. Muppets Take Manhattan earned 5 out of 5 rubber chickens in my book!