If trailers are to be trusted, then the basic plot structure of Muppets Most Wanted (out tomorrow, March 21st) falls somewhere along these lines: good-natured, often naïve everyman whose doppelganger happens to be a criminal mastermind has the old switcheroo pulled on him and must persevere (with the help of an unlikely friend or two) in order to foil his adversary’s diabolical scheme, right the injustices done to him, and save his friends (and perhaps even the world) just in the nick of time. As storylines go, it’s about as thin as Fozzie Bear’s skin (or fur) when Statler and Waldorf’s heckles really start zinging, and bears an unfortunate resemblance to the plot of Ernest Goes to Jail. KnowhutImean?
Luckily, the Muppets’ formula for cinematic success has never relied upon remarkably original or complex plotlines. Basically, the trick is to let the frog, pig, bear, and whatever do their thing, throw in some celebrity cameos, go as meta as puppetly possible, and tie it all together with songs capable of eliciting tears as well as guffaws — which is where we decided to chime in. In anticipation of the one or more new songs from Muppets Most Wanted that we’ll inevitably be humming in the weeks to come, we compiled a list of our favorite tunes from the Muppets’ theatrical films.
In other words, once again it’s time to play the music…
10. “Scrooge” from The Muppet Christmas Carol
In many ways, “Scrooge” went against what 1992 audiences expected from a song in a Muppet film. The tone was dark, the lyrics centered around a non-Henson character (a human one at that), and, other than an expository appearance from Gonzo as Charles Dickens and Rizzo the Rat as his sidekick, there’s not a single major player to be seen. But all of these departures served the story. The reason we get secondary Muppet characters such as George the Janitor and the Blue Frackle as opposed to Kermit or Piggy is because their characters haven’t been introduced yet. It wouldn’t make sense to have the Cratchits sing about the world’s most famous miser when we get to see them interact with him directly not long afterward. Also, keeping with the Dickensian aesthetic, the music broods with Victorian-era instruments; French horn, piccolo trumpet, and harpsichord push a shadowed Michael Caine through 19th century London, as the city’s poor look on. Sure, there are the usual moments of comedy — wealthy pigs, talking vegetables, mice who beg for cheese — but “Scrooge” proved that The Muppets could be serious when they wanted to, even when adapting someone else’s work.
What Rizzo Would Say:
“It’s a good beginning. It’s creepy and kind of spooky.”
09. “Pictures in My Head” from The Muppets
Kermit the Frog and the Muppets
Just like Christopher Nolan had to introduce us to his Gotham, The Muppets director James Bobin and writers Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller needed a song that could explain their vision for the next phase of the beloved Muppets movie franchise. Enter music director Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords) and “Pictures in My Head” (composed by Jeannie Lurie, Aris Archontis, Chen Neeman), a song in which a wistful Kermit ponders the possibility of repairing his dearest friendships. In an emotional two minutes, which barely registers above a soft ribbit, we learn that time has passed, the Muppets have parted ways, and the future remains quite uncertain. Of course, we know the old gang will get back together again. (As Kermit once said in a classic meta moment from The Great Muppet Caper: “If not, it’ll be a real short movie.”) But, just as it does for Kermit, “Pictures in My Head” reminds us all that a bear’s unbearable jokes or a whatever’s cannonball act are things that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
What Statler and Waldorf Would Say:
Statler: “Ya know, there’s nothing like a good musical number.”
Waldorf: “And that was nothing like a good musical number.”
Both: “Oh, hoahaha-hahoha.”
08. “I’m Gonna Always Love You” from The Muppets Take Manhattan
The Muppet Babies
Miss Piggy has been known to musically daydream in Muppets movies. Who could forget love at first sight between a pig and frog in The Muppet Movie’s “Never Before, Never Again” or Kermit and Charles Grodin trying to out-Pavarotti each other during “Piggy’s Fantasy” in The Great Muppet Caper? But to daydream up one of the quintessential cartoons of the ‘80s and ‘90s… now that takes some pork chops. And do we really care that Piggy’s “I’m Gonna Always Love You” daydream was tangential at best to The Muppets Take Manhattan and likely just a freebie plug for the animated television series Muppet Babies, which debuted on CBS just two months after Manhattan hit theaters? Um, no. This surprisingly infectious nursery ditty coupled with the chance to see baby puppet versions of Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Scooter, and Rowlf more than make up for having the audacity to interrupt the flick with a three-minute commercial.
What Scooter Would Say:
“Hey, where’s Skeeter? Wait, who the heck is Skeeter?”
07. “Can You Picture That?” from The Muppet Movie
Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem
Paul Williams wrote plenty of songs for actual bands in the ’70s. So it only makes sense that his tune for Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem would rock just as hard. Actually, scratch that. “Can You Picture That?” rocks harder than anything performed by Three Dog Night (which, admittedly, is a pretty easy task). Williams and co-writer Kenny Ascher’s secret weapon? Zoot’s saxophone. While the laconic blue Muppet is often silent and delegated to the background, here, his dirty solo provides the melody line everyone most remembers from the song. Although he’s the only member of the Mayhem who doesn’t get to sing — even Animal gets a chorus (“Caa you picka thaa?”) — he still makes his mark. For his proudest moment, fast forward to 1:40, where his spin reaches Clarence Clemons levels of badassery. Elsewhere, Dr. Teeth, Floyd Pepper, and Janice each rattle off a verse as they give Kermit and Fozzie’s Studebaker a stoner’s paint job (outside a church, no less). The trippy bubbles, stars, and rainbows match the nonsensical words: “Now the Eiffel Tower’s/ Holdin’ up a flower/ I gave it to a Texas cat,” muses Teeth in his best Dr. John impression. Amen, brother.
What Zoot Would Say:
(blows a low A note and looks into his sax, confused.)
06. “Happiness Hotel” from The Great Muppet Caper
One web gripe I’ve heard about the upcoming Muppets Most Wanted is that it largely takes place in Europe. Maybe that’s a reasonable gripe (no, not at all) if you ignore the fact that The Muppet Show was filmed in London, as was The Great Muppet Caper, cinematic home to “Happiness Hotel”, arguably the greatest ensemble musical number the Muppets ever pulled off. When identical twin reporters Kermit and Fozzie (yes, you read that right) and their photographer, Gonzo, travel to London to catch a dastardly jewel thief (played by Charles Grodin), they need cheap (read: free) lodgings. That place turns out to be the Happiness Hotel, memorably described by Fozzie: “Baaaaa… If that’s the Happiness Hotel, I’d hate to see what the sad one looks like.”
But while the Happiness Hotel may lack modern, or really any, amenities, there’s no better joint to get your Euro’s worth of Muppets. Our heroes’ musical check-in features a medley of music and gags, performances by both Rowlf on piano and the Electric Mayhem, and a variety of vocal contributions, even from ancillary characters like Pops, Rizzo, and Scooter. Ultimately, “Happiness Hotel” taught us that Europe isn’t all that different from the States. The band is still rocking, the chef is still Swedish, and the bellhops still look like rats.
What Pepe the King Prawn Would Say:
“Every Tom, Dick, and Carlos was in that number, okaaay. I think I saw my cousin Manola!”
05. “Movin’ Right Along” from The Muppet Movie
Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear
Like any good road movie, The Muppet Movie uses car montages to expedite its storytelling. And none of its arcs are greater than the birth of one of the greatest friendships in show business — the alliance of Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear. They meet earlier on while escaping from the angry patrons of the El Sleezo Cafe, but their relationship truly comes to life in the bear’s natural habitat: a Studebaker. Tack piano and Kermit’s jubilant banjo fuel the good times as the duo makes their way across the country, from snowstorms to literal forks in the road, and (somehow) Saskatchewan. They even cross paths with another Henson franchise when they spot Sesame Street‘s Big Bird walking down the side of the road. When Fozzie offers him a ride to Hollywood, he politely declines, as he’s headed toward New York City to “try to break into public television.” It’s a good thing, too. There’s no way there would have been room for a frog, a bear, a pig, a dog, a chicken, and a whatever with an eight-foot canary in the car.
What Fozzie and Kermit Would Say:
Fozzie Bear: “Here, Kermit. Take these boxing gloves.”
Kermit the Frog: “Why do we need boxing gloves?”
Fozzie Bear: “Because. We’re about to hit the road. Aah-aah-uh!”
Kermit the Frog: “Good grief.”
04. “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets
Jason Segel, Walter, Muppet Gary, and Jim Parsons
2011’s The Muppets, while ultimately acclaimed, had its share of controversies: the legs on the poster, Frank Oz’s initial disapproval, Fozzie using the word “fart.” Some fans even took issue with the fact that, for the first time on the big screen, the Muppets addressed that they were indeed Muppets, something entirely different from us humans.
Bret McKenzie put the kibosh on such skepticism with “Man or Muppet”, a power ballad that proves, despite being separate beings (species?), Muppets and humans all deal with the same issues. In this case, it’s responsibility. Jason Segel’s Gary (a man) decides to leave the Muppet reunion show to be with his oft-neglected girlfriend, Mary (an Amy Adams), while his brother Walter (a Muppet) does the opposite, saying goodbye to his family to be with his own kind. The song’s ace in the hole is a visual gag. Walter plays piano with a human version of himself played by Jim Parsons, and Gary tickles the ivories with his Muppet alter ego played by, well, a Muppet.
By the end of the song, Gary’s a Muppet of a man and Walter’s a manly Muppet, which hints that everyone will still be together by the time the film’s credits roll, regardless of whether they’re made of flesh or felt. And of course, that’s what happens. The couple reconciles, the show’s a sentimental, if not financial, hit, and everyone celebrates on Hollywood Boulevard. Best of all, McKenzie took home an Oscar for Best Original Song (a first for a Muppet feature-length), no doubt sharing it with his own inner Muppet.
What Sweetums Would Say:
“Muppet not man! Man Muppet!”
03. “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” from The Muppet Movie
The Great Gonzo
When The Muppet Show aired, The Great Gonzo had sad eyes. He was also somewhat of a sad character, more of a performance artist resigned to be misunderstood than a daredevil who reveled excitedly in his own weirdness. The designers widened his peepers by the second season, which helped his performer, Dave Goelz, adopt the current persona of the Muppet Theater’s resident weirdo.
The Muppet Movie came out right after the show’s third season ended, and while Gonzo definitely has his enthusiastic latter-day demeanor, we see some of that sadness creep back into his eyes during “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday”. Sung around a campfire, he almost whimpers the tune during the most downtrodden point of the film. The gang’s car has broken down and they’re stranded in the desert, certain they’ll never make it to Hollywood in time for their audition for Lew Lord the next day, if they ever make it at all. But that’s not why Gonzo’s sad. Sitting under the stars of an open night sky, he’s reminded of an earlier moment in the movie, when he soared over the countryside via a bundle of balloons.
Until the song, we think that Gonzo loved his aerial journey for the thrill, and that’s certainly part of it. After all, he is a daredevil (and occasional plumber). But there’s something deeper going on. For whatever reason, he felt at home in the sky. He felt a connection to it — no small feat for someone who’s often been out of place, even somewhere as crazy as The Muppet Show. 1999’s mediocre Muppets from Space gave the song a more literal bent by confirming that Gonzo’s actually an alien, but I prefer to think of his plight in the more existential terms suggested by “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday”. “Close to my soul/ But so far away,” he croaks. A daredevil, plumber, performance artist, and philosopher? Now that’s weird.
What Rowlf Would Say:
“It’s not often you see a guy that blue have the blues that bad.”
02. “He’ll Make Me Happy” from The Muppets Take Manhattan
Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog
Though an unlikely gang of friends first and foremost, each of the Muppets has individual ambitions and motivations. Fozzie, for instance, has been gunning for an HBO stand-up special for several decades now. Gonzo, when not launching himself out of a cannon or cuddling with Camilla, longs to know just what a “whatever” actually is. And Miss Piggy, well, apart from staking sole claim to the world’s prima diva title, really just wants to bag her a frog husband (and hear the pitter-patter of little pigpoles?). And she does (or does she?) in the final moments of 1984’s The Muppets Take Manhattan.
After Piggy’s patented “hiii-yaw” chop helps Kermit recover from temporary amnesia on opening night of the Muppets’ Broadway debut — a show about a couple of country kids falling in love and getting married in the big city (with no shootings, mind you) — Kermit notices a slight change in casting during the show’s climactic wedding scene: “Piggy, I thought Gonzo was supposed to play the minister.” To this day, Muppets fans, not to mention a certain frog, want to know if Kermit’s reluctant “I do” was legally binding. Either way, I’m sure he’ll make her happy.
Oddly enough, this wasn’t the first time Piggy tried to trick Kermit down the aisle.
What Sam the Eagle Would Say:
“A frog marrying a pig… Is nothing sacred?