Perennial childhood classic The Muppet Movie turned 40 this summer. Kermit the Frog goes on a cross-country mission to get out of the swamp and into Hollywood while simultaneously running from the evil Doc Hopper, who just wants those tasty frog legs. And so began the first of many (seven!) Muppet movies.
I used the phrase a “childhood classic”, but that is too simple as The Muppet Movie and, just as significant, The Muppet Movie (Grammy winning and Academy Award nominated) score have continued to be huge personal influences on me as an adult (as I am sure it has to many of you).
I listened to the soundtrack to discuss some of the themes that are more tangible to adults.
First, I want to express great appreciation for, primarily, Jim Henson (R.I.P) and, also, Frank Oz. Collectively, they are the soul of The Muppets. Jim Henson voiced and performed as Kermit, Rolf, Dr. Teeth, Waldorf, and The Swedish Chef. Frank Oz voiced and performed as Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Animal, Sam Eagle, and Marvin Suggs. Thank you for making us laugh and pulling at our heart strings for generations.
“Rainbow Connection” seems like a good place to start.
“RAINBOW CONNECTION” by Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson)
What’s so amazing,
That keeps us star gazing?
What do we think we might see?
Someday we’ll find it,
That Rainbow Connection,
The lovers the dreamers and me.
Do you like to cry? Yea, I don’t really either, but I just did a little. This song automatically makes me feel vulnerable again. Actually I feel more vulnerable listening to it as an adult.
This song has a really simple message: believe in yourself and follow your dreams. They may not turn out exactly as you had hoped, but you might find something even better (a family).
“MOVIN’ RIGHT ALONG” by Kermit the Frog and Fozzie the Bear (Jim Henson and Frank Oz)
Movin’ right along,
We’ve found a life on the highway,
And your way is my way
So trust my navigation.
A song for a frog and a bear driving a Studebaker to Hollywood. This song has become my go-to song every time I have a big life transition. I have it on a few moving playlists.
It is a wholesome reminder to rely on humor and not take anything too seriously. Also, it always helps to have a friend along for the ride.
“NEVER BEFORE, NEVER AGAIN” by Miss Piggy (Frank Oz)
This is probably my least favorite song on the entire soundtrack, but Miss Piggy’s fantasy sequence is probably one of the funniest parts of the movie– especially when you imagine Frank Oz singing it.
I have no adult comments about this song, but I know people who can probably relate to Miss Piggy’s histrionic reaction to seeing Kermit.
“I HOPE THAT SOMETHING BETTER COMES ALONG” by Kermit the Frog and Rolf the Dog (Jim Henson)
You can’t live with ’em, you can’t live without ’em,
There’s somethin’ irresistible-ish about ’em,
We grin and bear it ’cause the nights are long,
I hope that somethin’ better comes along.
A heartbroken frog walks into a bar and meets a jaded dog. It’s not a joke, but the song that comes from it is full of jokes in spite of pain. Kermit commiserates with Rolf about waiting out a hurtin’ heart (with the help of booze), a feeling all too relatable as an adult.
“CAN YOU PICTURE THAT?” by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, and Dave Goelz)
Crazy as a rocket, nothin in my pocket, I keep it at the rainbow’s end.
This is 100% my favorite song in The Muppet Movie soundtrack. It sounds great and is– surprisingly– a little deeper than other songs on the album. This is also another where I crack up thinking about Jim Henson actually singing this as Dr. Teeth.
We have a Dr. John-esque humanoid and his mostly humanoid backing band (with Animal on drums) living in an abandoned church turned psychedelic music hall. If we’re being real, these guys have done and are probably on a lot of drugs. Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem live the family life, and well, it’s appealing.
Beyond the sheer goofiness of this song, I find the lyrics and message very enjoyable. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem use post-modernism to praise embracing your weirdness and being unique. Additionally, this song shrugs off capitalism in favor of doing what you love or what makes you happy.
“I’M GOING TO GO BACK THERE SOMEDAY” by Gonzo (Dave Goelz)
There’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met,
Part heaven, part space, or have I found my place?
You can just visit, but I plan to stay,
I’m going to go back there someday.
There is a widely accepted belief that those who are the funniest are often those who carry around a large amount of grief (Robin Williams, Chris Farley, etc.).
Blue, honkin’ schnozzed, weirdo Gonzo steps away from being weird to deliver, in my opinion, the saddest song of The Muppet Movie. The A.V. Club summed this song up more eloquently than I am able to, but I have a slightly different interpretation of this song.
We don’t really know what many of the Muppets are, but they all have a strong or vague resemblance to something we are familiar with- Dr. Teeth and Scooter are humanoids. But what is Gonzo? Personally, I have always thought of Gonzo as someone who is not from Planet Earth and a representation of those who feel and are marginalized or are experiencing a hard time but cover it with their intelligence and/or humor.
When Gonzo sings this song, I think he is singing about an actual or metaphorical place where he belongs. Or maybe both. Maybe he was abandoned on Earth as a little Gonzling. Maybe he has always been on Earth and just never felt quite right. Regardless, the feeling of not belonging is one that is all too relatable over time. Like Kermit and the other Muppets, Gonzo pines for a family, which he makes out of his new friends. It’s going to be okay, Gonzo.
“FINALE (THE MAGIC STORE)” by The Muppets (Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, and Kathryn Mullen)
You’re close to your dream,
Then somebody out there loves you,
Stands up and hollers for more (More!),
You found a home at the Magic Store
A common theme of The Muppet Movie is to follow your dreams and “be you”. However, there are no promises, in both the movie and in real life, we will reach our dreams, and at a certain point, trying to achieve your dreams can become toxic (“Passion is Not a Good Thing”). As an adult, many of us have felt that our lives might look differently than we thought it would (do you ever think “Where did I think I would be at the age I am now when I was 13?”; it’s like mental Russian Roulette).
“FINALE (The Magic Store)” says “It’s okay if your dreams look a little different than you thought they might.” Sometimes on the way to a dream, you find that maybe what you wanted or needed all along was quite different than what you thought was best. The universe is funny like that.