Edit Content

Main Menu

Fonts of Knowledge


Recommended Sites


Pig… um… climbing up the outside of the house, dear.


The Great Muppet Caper


Jim Henson wasn’t exactly straining to reinvent the wheel for this sequel, his big-screen directorial debut. The Great Muppet Caper seems to be a popular choice for the best Muppet movie among fans (obviously, it’s Muppet Christmas Carol for everyone else). And… it’s fine, resting easy in its anglophile setting and peppering the production with the usual selection of cameos, some more effective than others. Notably, it sees the series doubling down on the potential for love between a man and a pig, a bestial subject that hasn’t yet, to my knowledge, received direct Academy recognition. It has, however, honoured filmmakers who have tackled such affection elsewhere (notably Woody Allen and Daniel Scheinert). Henson was only ever nominated for an Oscar.

Gonzo: I wonder how far you could plummet before you blacked out.
Kermit: Well, don’t try it, Gonzo. We need you for this movie.

Perhaps I’m lukewarm on the proceedings for that reason. No, not the animal-human attraction specifically, but rather the emphasis on Miss Piggy, regarding whom I’ve always found a little goes a long way. Here, she’s the subject of a various plots and full-blown Busby Berkley musical numbers (including a swimming-pool sequence). As a visual stylist, Henson was a strictly meat-and-potatoes guy; he had art direction on his side with The Dark Crystal (and, to a lesser extent Labyrinth), but it’s very obvious that facilitating the muppetry came first. Consequently, The Great Muppet Caper is a decidedly lesser beast than the year’s other salient transatlantic crossing (An American Werewolf in London).

Kermit: See, in this film, me and Fozzie play crack investigative reporters for The Daily Chronicle. And Gonzo, he’s our photographer. And it’s gonna be terrific.

So while there’s plenty of meta here, there’s limited availability of my favourite characters (Statler and Waldorf, Sam the Eagle) to give it a boost. Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo are newspapermuppets who head to England to investigate the theft of fashion designer Lady Holiday’s jewels. This occurs post titles, during which the trio can be found in a hot-air balloon (Fozzie expresses concern over the risks, but Kermit allays his fears: “Listen, nothing’s going to happen. This is just the opening credits”). Fozzie and Kermit are twins, a running gag up to intentional-bad-gag standards, although the entirely horrifying photo of their father represents a genuine payoff, of sorts. Diana Rigg is Lady Holiday, well into her imperial phase by this point, despite only having hit her early-40s.

Lady Holiday: That’s my new receptionist dancing out there.
Nicky: Which one?
Lady Holiday: The pig.
Nicky: She’s sensational.
Lady Holiday: 45 words a minute. About average.

Charles Grodin gets the real prize human part, though, as Lady Holiday’s brother Nicky. He is both American (to Rigg’s English) and, in her words, an “irresponsible parasite” (to underline this, it also says as much on his bedroom door). Nicky is instantly besotted with Miss Piggy, getting in on a dance number with her. Inevitably then, there are torn allegiances between Nicky and Kermie for Piggy. This resolves itself when Nicky’s culpability is revealed, and worse, that he mimed with her (“You’re a phony! Yes, you are. And you know what? You can’t even sing! Your voice was dubbed”).

Nicky: Miss Piggy. Miss…
Miss Piggy: Hmmm?
Nicky: Miss Piggy. You’re a very different-looking woman. I’m so tired of the same type. Those tall, thin creatures with the long legs, the aquiline noses, the teeth like pearls, soft skin.
Miss Piggy: Yeah, well, I can see why that might make you sick to your stomach.

Grodin is basically doing Grodin, unfazed by the task of performing against Muppets, which may be why he does it so well (“Why am I doing this? Because I’m a villain. It’s pure and simple”).  In contrast, there isn’t much tangible benefit to be had from Rigg’s rather rigid turn 

Kermit: We’ll do better next time.
Mike Tarkanian: Next time? Next time? What makes you think there’s gonna be a next time?
Kermit: Well, if there isn’t it’s gonna be a real short movie.

Good as Grodin is, however, pick of the human cast is Jack Warden as Daily Chronicle editor Mike Tarkanian, wonderfully exasperated with his trio of reporters (he actually fires them, but since their airfare home is paid, they’re presumably reinstated). Robert Morley is sitting on a bench overlooking a pond when the Muppets first land (Kermit: We’re actually in Great Britain!; Fozzie: Oh, no, we’ll never get to England now”). Peter Falk is a tramp delivering a rambling anecdote about losing his dry-cleaning business (“I hate to be rude, but we’re trying to do a movie here”). Peter Ustinov is thrown out of his truck by Miss Piggy, landing in some bins (Driver: What are you doing here?; Oscar the Grouch: A very brief cameo; Driver: Me too).

Neville: You recall that pig I mentioned?
Dorcas: The one that was climbing up the side of the house?
Neville: That’s the chap. That’s the chap.
Dorcas: Yes, I seem to recall that.
Neville: Well, he was in there just now, along with a… a lizard.

Most remembered, though, is John Cleese. This was the year Cleese embarked on his most enduring nice little earner: the movie cameo. He also appeared as Robin Hood in Gilliam’s Time Bandits, and the predominance of his big-screen career over the subsequent 40 years has comprised such lucrative, low-stakes bit parts. Fortunate, as the movies have often been dreadful (From Yellowbeard to Bullseye! to The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee). 

Here, he’s given some makeshift-at-best old-age makeup as Neville, husband of Dorcas (Joan Sanderson, Mrs Richards in Fawlty TowersCommunication Problems). He’s resident of 17 Highbrow Street (the address Miss Piggy, masquerading as Lady Holiday, gives as hers). It’s very much by-numbers Cleese schtick, including obliviousness to the missus and terms of endearment/offence (“My little armada”) and surrealism (Dorca: Haven’t been outside for 12 years; Neville: Well, the weather’s been most disappointing). That rather encapsulates The Great Muppet Caper; it’s fine, but far from inspired (indeed, Cleese’s earlier appearance on The Muppet Show, including a routine as a Viking opposite Sweet Ums, is much more memorable).

Kermit: You’re overacting. You’re hamming it up.
Miss Piggy: I am not. I am trying to save this movie.
Kermit: Oh, yeah? Well, save your performance instead.
Miss Piggy: I am playing 800 different emotions.
Kermit: Well, try to play one of them right.

Even the meta is only occasionally more than serviceable. Lady Holiday provides some (“It’s plot exposition. It has to go somewhere”), as does Piggy (climbing the side of the house: “Next time they want stunts, they get a double”). Most of the familiar Muppets make an appearance at the Happiness Hotel (Option C, “Sneak out in the middle of the night”, is the most popular payment plan). The Swedish Chef is cooking up steering wheels (again), Sam’s on hand to observe “You are all weirdos. Ugh”. Statler and Waldorf are limited to a fashion show (Statler: Hey, Waldorf, wake up. Here come the bikinis; Waldorf: Oh, boy. We’d better synchronize our pacemakers) and the flight home. More is always more with those two.

Waldorf: Would you believe it, Statler? They’re heroes. Now they’re gonna be obnoxious.
Statler: So what else is new?
Waldorf: Well, I say all’s well that ends well.
Statler: It doesn’t matter to me as long as it ends.

The Great Muppet Caper didn’t bomb, by any means (it grossed twice its budget in the US, so probably made a profit with international included), but it wasn’t nearly the hit The Muppet Movie was. That might be why the subsequent feature, Muppets take Manhattan, received a significantly reduced budget. It would be another eight years before they appeared again. 

Our Score

Click to Confirm Your Score
[Total: 0 Average: 0]

Most Popular

What is currently passing for knowledge around here.

  • I thought this was the cousins’ dinner.
    I thought this was the cousins’ dinner.
  • Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.
    Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.
  • The Vaccine
    The Q & A
    The Vaccine
  • You’ve got a lot to learn, jungle man.
    You’ve got a lot to learn, jungle man.
  • Send in the Clones: Donald Marshall and the Underworld
    Esoterica Now
    Send in the Clones: Donald Marshall and the Underworld
  • movies 1980 to 1999
    movies 1980 to 1999