Sequel Surprises: The Muppets Take Manhattan
Sequel Surprises is a bi-weekly column by staff member Mathew Bradley Tschirgi. Within, he'll shed a light on some overlooked sequels in major franchises that are well worth your time. This week he looks at The Muppets Take Manhattan.
Before Disney owned the Muppets and seemed intent on running the beloved characters straight into the ground with the milquetoast movie Muppets Most Wanted and the bland The Muppets TV series, the Jim Henson Company produced a gaggle of Muppet motion pictures. One of the most interesting movies in the series is The Muppets Take Manhattan. This flick flips the script by having all the Muppets leave Kermit. Kermit and Miss Piggy argue non-stop, and at one point Kermit loses his memory, assuming a different identity. In some ways a more mature Muppets film, this sequel moves right along to the beat of its own drum.
At their Danhurst College graduation ceremony, the Muppets put on an original show called Manhattan Melodies. In realistic fashion, every Broadway producer in NYC turns down their pitch. Kermit loses it, and the Muppets leave Manhattan save for a wily Miss Piggy. Kermit works at a diner staffed by rats as cooks, and starts a relationship with Jenny, the diner’s owner’s daughter. Eventually, Kermit manages to get a producer to finance the show, but he loses his memory after being hit by a car. Assuming the identity of the elite advertising frog Phil, the Muppets are in a real pickle until all is made well in the end with a staged wedding becoming a real wedding between Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.
While The Muppets Take Manhattan has its cameos, it’s less overstuffed than The Muppet Movie. These feel more organic to the story and don’t call attention to themselves. Joan Rivers is especially good as Eileen, a makeup salesman who has a batty scene with Miss Piggy. There’s a real sense of gloom to the movie as well. You almost get the sense Jim Henson didn’t want to produce a Muppet feature anymore; this is Frank Oz’s solo directorial debut. Kermit fights with most of the Muppets, including Miss Piggy, looking irrational, and comes off as super stressed out. These Muppets are a little more grown up than before and have real human problems. Sure, the movie has jokes, but it also has a side of pathos.
The Muppets Take Manhattan’s biggest contribution to popular culture comes from an elaborate fantasy sequence for the number “I’m Gonna Always Love You.” Leaping off Miss Piggy’s suggestion, “Kermy, just imagine! Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if we knew each other when we were little? Imagine, little Kermy…”, we get a rendition of toddler muppets. That’s right, this three minute segment is the seed for the 1980s cartoon Muppet Babies, which itself is getting a new CG series on Disney Junior in 2018. Overall, the original songs are not as great the numbers in the prior two Muppet movies, but “Together Again” has a catchy melody going for it.
The Muppets Take Manhattan is better than you remember. More enjoyable for adults than for children, this picture conveys post-college struggles with showtunes, an angry pig, and some chatty rats with aplomb. Give it a watch and see if you don’t agree.