Created by the late, great Jim Henson, The Muppets have become some of the most beloved characters in the Western world. Yet unlike many corporate mascots, they have always had a sly, subversive side, a winking nod to the camera and a sense anarchy that have made far more than just kids’ stuff.
Lead by the upstanding, if meek, Kermit the Frog, the core group includes his dominating diva girlfriend Miss Piggy, wannabe stand-up Fozzie Bear, seedy Rizzo the Rat, deadpan Rowlf the Dog and Gonzo the Great, a creature of indeterminate origin. But the franchise has spun out to include countless other fuzzy critters and hangers-on, including a house band, sneering elderly critics, manic chefs, destructive scientists and our personal favourite, Kermit’s painfully cute nephew Robin the Frog.
Their latest adventure Muppets Most Wanted comes to DVD and Blu-Ray next week (August 11), following on from their re-introduction to the world in 2011’s The Muppets. This time Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey join them on a rip-roaring trip around Europe, when Kermit is replaced by his evil doppelganger Constantine.
While various proto-Muppets had appeared on a range of TV shows all the way back to the Fifties, it was the 1976 launch of The Muppet Show that really burst them onto the scene. Running until 1981, the show sharply shattered the variety show format, bringing The Muppets’ patented brand of madness into viewers’ homes every week. In 1979 they made the leap to the big screen with The Muppet Movie.
The success of that film led to two more sequels in the Eighties, and the gang got back together for a pair of literary adaptations in the Nineties. Following 1999’s Muppets In Space (an origin story for Gonzo), The Muppets disappeared from the big screen until 2011, when die-hard fan Jason Segel and the team behind Flight Of The Conchords brought them back in the simply-titled The Muppets.
It’s not like The Muppets had gone anywhere though – they’ve rarely wandered far from our screens. They’ve had several other TV shows, most notably the animated Muppet Babies and 1996’s talk show skewering Muppets Tonight, as well as a host of TV specials and appearances on other Jim Henson productions such as Sesame Street. They’ve also released over 10 albums, and appeared in countless videogames and comic books over the years.
But in case you are not that familiar with Kermit and co, here’s a quick rundown of where to start. It's time to play the music, it's time to light the lights….
Muppets Most Wanted - UK Trailer | Official Disney HD
The Muppet Show
(1979 - 1981)
While Jim Henson had included various versions of the Muppets on different projects he worked on for years – an early Kermit appeared all the way back in 1955 – it wasn’t until 1976 that the gang really got together and the magic was born. A crazy, anarchic variety show with energy like nothing else on television at the time. Songs, skits and special guests are all rolled together in a show that’s still riotously entertaining nearly 40 years later.
The Muppet Movie
The Muppets moved from the small to the big screen in 1979, with this tale of Kermit travelling across the U.S. to Hollywood. The film established many of the tropes that would continue in their subsequent movies – the cross-country road-trip, the film-within-a-film - and included a host of celebrity cameos. Look out for appearances from Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Orson Welles and Mel Brooks, amongst many others.
The Muppets Take Manhattan
The third cinematic Muppet outing is one of the best-loved movies amongst fans. Featuring the gang trying to put on a show in the Big Apple, it plays to The Muppets’ strengths with plenty of big musical numbers and behind-the-scenes mayhem. There’s plenty of highlights, including an amnesiac Kermit ending up working for an ad agency, Rizzo and his family of rats working as fry chefs, and a fantasy sequence of the Muppets as youngsters which was spun off into the Muppet Babies animated show.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
The Muppets have had several festive specials, but it’s their adaption of Charles Dickens’ novel that captures the Christmas spirit best. The film is anchored not by a Muppet, but instead by Michael Caine playing Ebenezer Scrooge, with Gonzo as Dickens narrating (and help from Rizzo). Caine plays it remarkably straight, giving the film real heart and emotion, as well as all the normal Muppet hilarity. It’s not just one of the best Muppet movies, it’s also one of the best screen versions of A Christmas Carol period.
After being away from cinemas for over a decade, superfan Jason Segel brought them back with this great, loving tribute (Segel had already included a very Henson-like puppet in Forgetting Sarah Marshal). The film focused on new Muppet Walter, a small town kid who travels to Hollywood to try and get Kermit and the gang back together. The plot is perfectly pitched, working both on nostalgia for long-time Muppets fans, but also introducing them to a new generation. There are great new songs from Flight Of The Conchord’s Bret McKenzie, wonderful new characters (80s Robot!) and a load more celebrity cameos.
Muppets Most Wanted is available from your local hmv store from August 11th 2014