I've been spending too much time listening to Philadelphia sports radio these days. Misery loves company, naturally, so I wanted to hear some genuine Philly accents articulately reflect the slight mood swings I've been experiencing following my Phillies this season. As sports shows are wont to do, the topic shifted to what kids today will or will not watch. "Nobody wants to watch the Muppets anymore," claimed one over-paid sports wonk.
Have we really gotten too cynical for the Muppets?
2019 marks the 40th anniversary of "The Muppet Movie." I was 14 years old (and still am, by the way, where it counts), and I remember being absolutely entranced by what unspooled before me at the King Twin theater in downtown Lancaster, PA. I remember wishing the movie could go on forever. Yes, the countless celebrity cameos were there, many of whom had already guested on "The Muppet Show," including Edgar Bergen, to whom the motion picture was dedicated. The humor was frequently corny ... an actual fork in the road, for example. The music was infectious. But it's the message of the film that needs to be revisited by our jaded citizenry today.
"The Muppet Movie" was ostensibly the story of how the Muppets got together, not as random pieces of yarn and felt woven with artistic skill and vocal wizardry by Jim Henson and his workshop, but as actual "beings," misfits who shared a dream. In the days before Twitter and Facebook, they met each other the old-fashioned way ... in dive bars, abandoned churches, used car lots, and piano bars. Kermit became their guru, and each Muppet happily tosses his fish net aside to join the frog on his dream to be "rich and famous," which is the contract to which Orson Welles refers in his role as Sir Lew Grade. But it isn't fame and fortune to which these performers aspire. It's to "make people happy." It's to make the world a better place.
Yes, the technical achievement of this 1979 film still sparkles. Far before the age of CGI and wizardry available to the more recent Muppet films, Kermit flawlessly is seen riding a bicycle early in the film, in arguably the movie's iconic image. "The Rainbow Connection" still brings tears to our eyes as he plays his banjo on his lily pad. And the tears return when Gonzo intones "I'm Going to Get Back There Someday" around a campfire in a later sequence. The celebrity cameos come fast and furiously, but I imagine this aspect of the magic will be lost on the children and grandchildren of the moviegoers who will share this experience on the big screen.
But the timelessness of the message ... of pursuing your dreams, and of sharing them with your friends ... is timeless, and needs to span generations. In 1979, our country embraced this homage to individuality, the importance of chasing rainbows, and the celebration of friendship.
I hope we get back there someday.