The rise and fall—and rise?—of the Muppet empire

We relive the highs and lows of the Muppet movie franchise.
By A.A. Dowd |
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To celebrate the momentous occasion of the November 23 release of The Muppets, Kermit and the gang’s first cinematic outing in 12 years, we make like Statler and Waldorf to critique the previous big-screen creations from the late Jim Henson and his gang. Meanwhile, will The Muppets mark a return to glory for Kermit and company? Check out our review here.


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The Muppet Movie (1979)

With dreams of superstardom twinkling in his eye, Kermit the Frog leaves his swampland home and heads for Hollywood; along the way, he picks up a few new friends.

Most meta Muppet-movie moment
Fozzie Bear hands Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem a copy of the screenplay, so as not to bore the audience by explaining aloud what’s happened in the movie so far.

Funniest celebrity cameo
Orson Welles, stealing the movie with just one dry—but hilarious—line.

Best musical number
There’s no beating the simple beauty of Kermit on banjo, strumming “The Rainbow Connection.”

Muppety-goodness rating
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The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
The Muppets hit their high point when Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo (as investigative reporters) travel to London to catch a jewel thief.

Most meta Muppet-movie moment
“It’s plot exposition,” says Diana Rigg’s Lady Holiday, after giving Miss Piggy her life story. “It has to go somewhere.”

Funniest celebrity cameo
A wonderfully droll John Cleese.

Best musical number
“Miss Piggy’s Fantasy,” an inspired Busby Berkeley spoof with an aquatic Piggy as Esther Williams.

Muppety-goodness rating
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The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
In the last of the Muppet movies made with Jim Henson, the gang plays a college theater troupe that heads to NYC to become Broadway stars.

Most meta Muppet-movie moment
This is the lone Muppet film with no self-referential asides.

Best celebrity cameo
Gregory Hines, who gets involved in a lover’s spat between Kermit and Miss Piggy

Best musical number
“I’m Gonna Always Love You,” which boasts the first appearance of the Muppet Babies, who later starred in their own Saturday morning cartoon series.

Muppety-goodness rating
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The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Michael Caine stars as Ebenezer Scrooge in this faithful adaptation of the Dickens classic dedicated to Henson and Muppeteer Richard Hunt, who both died before the film was released.

Most meta Muppet-movie moment
“Should we be worried about the kids in the audience?” Rizzo asks after a suspenseful scene, to which Gonzo replies, “Nah, it’s all right. This is culture!”

Funniest celebrity cameo
None—it’s basically Caine plus Muppets.

Best musical number
“Scrooge,” the jauntily foreboding opening song

Muppety-goodness rating
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Muppets Treasure Island (1996)
In this dismal low point to their career, the Muppets are no more than supporting figures in an overlong retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure story.

Most meta Muppet-movie moment
“I’d like to get my hands on whoever wrote this script,” says a one-off character during a particularly painful musical sequence. We can relate.

Funniest celebrity cameo
Billy Connelly, by default—he’s the only celebrity who makes a guest appearance

Best musical number
The rousing sea shanty “Sailing for Adventure”

Muppety-goodness rating
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Muppets from Space (1999)
Tired of being classified as a “whatever,” Gonzo is elated to discover that he might not be alone in the universe.

Most meta Muppet-movie moment
After freaking out over a big scoop, budding news personality Miss Piggy turns to the camera and says, “Oh come on, you think Ted Koppel never gets excited?”

Funniest celebrity cameo
Playing their characters from Dawson’s Creek, Katie Holmes and Joshua Jackson drop in briefly.

Best musical number
Only the opening montage, set to “Brick House” by the Commodores, makes an impression.

Muppety-goodness rating
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