Making the Grades
Considering the enormity of the cast, The Muppets Take Manhattan is a little like the epic Cecil B. Demille movie The Ten Commandments—minus Charlton Heston. Not only are there Muppets in this film, but real Broadway directors (John Landis, Lonny Price), stage actors (James Coco, Gregory Hines, Liza Minnelli, Brooke Shields, Art Carney, Linda Lavin, Elliott Gould and Joan Rivers), Manhattan restaurateur Vincent Sardi Jr., Rutgers Presbyterian Church’s pastor Cyril Jenkins and then New York City Mayor Edward Koch, as well as Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock characters. It seems that everyone who is anyone shows up for puppeteer Jim Henson’s final film. And since many in the cast have to be manually manipulated, it is quite a feat.
Shot on location in New York during the summer of 1983 and released the following year, the film is a star-struck tale of a group of college graduates who decide to take their variety show to the Big Apple. As the company’s leader, Kermit (voice by Jim Henson) feels something is missing from the act but the rest of the performers, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Animal (voices by Frank Oz), Gonzo (voice by Dave Goelz) and the other cast members are sure it is perfect.
Arriving in the city with big aspirations, the troupe quickly discovers that getting on Broadway takes as much luck as talent. When their funds finally dwindle down to pennies they decide to part ways and look for any jobs they can. Kermit, however, vows to stay in New York until he sells the idea to a Broadway producer. In the meantime, he finds employment at Pete’s (Louis Zorich) diner where he works alongside Pete’s daughter Jenny (Juliana Donald) and Rizzo the Rat (voice by Steve Whitmire). Watching this rodent sling hash brings back memories of vermin vermicelli in Ratatouille.
But when the green frog finally gets an offer, he is so tickled pink he fails to see the "Don’t Walk" sign and wanders right into traffic where he is struck by a yellow taxi. Waking up in the hospital with amnesia, he doesn’t remember who he is or anything about the upcoming show.
Like a vendor displaying his wares, this movie does its best to give every Muppet puppet at least a little camera time, including the grumpy old men Statler and Waldorf (voices by Richard Hunt and Jim Henson), the fish throwing Lew Zealand (voice by Steve Whitmire) and the Swedish Cook (voice by Henson). The Muppet Toddlers also make their first appearance in a flashback scene.
Along with the inclusion of some slightly irreverent remarks, this script also has a mild homosexual joke and brief sexual innuendo. While there is plenty of slapstick humor, the most intentional violence occurs when a pickpocket grabs Miss Piggy’s purse and then suffers the wrath of the hotheaded hog.
Yet for older children who can overlook the dated hairstyles and untrendy fashions, this adventure plugs the positive traits of perseverance and friendship, thanks to Kermit and his pals.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Muppets Take Manhattan.
What is unrealistic about Kermit and the other characters’ plan to produce their play on Broadway? What do they learn about perseverance?
How do misunderstandings lead to jealousy and hurt feelings in this story?