The Great Muppet Caper and Other Kids’ Movies Obviously Made for Adults

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?
Gonzo: Yeah.
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 …

Animal is no better. He chases girls around screaming, “Woman! Woman!” He even straddles the femme villain at the end. (Bad Animal!)

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.

3 thoughts on “The Great Muppet Caper and Other Kids’ Movies Obviously Made for Adults

  1. You have answered the age old question about how to tell a bear from a frog. I am very relieved.

    You always inspire me to stretch; this time it’s my funny bone. By the way, have you seen “Rio?”

  2. …so I wind up here seven years after this post was written while texting with my sister (who is 45 years old, with a 13-year-old son and a 20-month-old son), about the 20-month-old who is CONSTANTLY climbing into the space between the end of the sofa and the cabinet and getting stuck, and then howling for mama to come unstick him. I told her it reminded me of the scene in Great Muppet Caper where Gonzo gets his nose stuck in the elevator and then says, “Hey, Fozzie, get your nose in here — it’s fun!” And then, because she didn’t remember it although we must have watched it sixty times as kids, I Googled for that scene. And, as I say, wound up here.

    One quibble: it’s the PETS that are dead at No. 17 Highbrow St. I love that scene so much that I can still recite it despite not having seen the movie for, oh, 20 years. (“Neville? What would you buy if you *were* bored?” “Erm…a jar of calves’ foot jelly?”)

    Loved the post. Thanks.

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