I actually requested Jim Henson’s The Great Muppet Caper be sent to me from Netflix. Not live streaming; I had the DVD sent. I was that desperate to see a movie I loved as a child, and after watching it last night, I’ve come to realize it’s much funnier now than it ever could have been when I was in single digits.
I know what you’re thinking: Jim Henson’s Muppets were cheerful, friendly, and funny, right? That may be true, to an extent, but the man had some dark humor. The first scene of The Great Muppet Caper (technically, it’s the credits) features Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo, floating in a hot air balloon. Fozzie is freaked out because he’s afraid they’re going to die. Gonzo makes it worse, as he considers what it would be like to plummet to his death from the hot air balloon. The lines …
Gonzo: I’d like to try this without a balloon.
Kermit: Try what? Plummeting?
Kermit: I suppose you could try it once.
I was laughing my butt off, but that’s because I adore dark humor. As a kid, this probably passed me by, as I zoned out on the colorful hot air balloon and thought, “A talking frog! That’s funny!”
Back to Gonzo, who is arguably my favorite Muppet: he’s a morbid SOB! First, there’s the aforementioned hot air balloon incident. Then, when they’re trying to hail a taxi in London, he jumps in front of it. (Luckily, it doesn’t kill him, and he says, “It’s better when they stop.”) He gets his nose stuck in a closing elevator, and he loves it (sadist). He hits on all the chicks (womanizer). Plus, there’s his strange, kinky obsession with chickens …
The celebrity cameos in The Great Muppet Caper are literally just for the adults in the audience, because as a child, I never would have understood any of it. Peter Falk (you know him as “Columbo”) appears on a park bench and goes into this whole spiel about financial failure and marital distress. John Cleese (the BEST cameo) plays a bored old rich man. He and his wife carry on a conversation as Ms. Piggy is breaking into their house. When I was a kid, I probably just thought it was funny that Ms. Piggy was scaling a building on “Highbrow Street.” As an adult, I caught tidbits of conversation I swear I’d never heard before from Cleese and his bride, who explains she hasn’t left the house in twelve years; the butler quit; and all their plants are dead.
Two so-called “children’s movies” that have come out in the past ten years are two of my ultimate favorite films: Up and WALL-E. While watching these films, Jake and I have turned to each other, amidst mad giggles, to say, “Well, that wasn’t child humor!” We thought this whole entertaining the parents thing was new, but Henson proves we are mistaken. Filmmakers have been using adult humor in kids’ movies for … EVER; I just didn’t know, because when I was watching kid movies, I was a kid. It’s fun to go back and see what I’ve missed. In the past year, I’ve done just that with Return to Oz, The Dark Crystal, and David Bowie’s Labyrinth. They’re still excellent movies. Sure, they’re dated, but who cares? You have to watch them again, as an adult. You’ll be surprised what you find.
I will leave you with some final words of wisdom from The Great Muppet Caper.
Girl: Look, Dad. There’s a bear.
Father: No, Christine, that’s a frog. Bears wear hats.