AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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The Muppet Movie
Alternate Title: The Muppets
Director: James Frawley (Dir)
Release Date:   22 Jun 1979
Premiere Information:   World premiere in London, England: 31 May 1979; Los Angeles and New York openings: 22 Jun 1979
Production Date:   17 Jul--late Oct 1978 in Los Angeles, CA and Northern CA
Duration (in mins):   94
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Cast: Starring the Muppet Performers: Jim Henson (Kermit the Frog/Rowlf/Dr. Teeth [Electric Mayhem]/Waldorf) as
    Frank Oz (Miss Piggy/Fozzie Bear/Animal [Electic Mayhem]/Sam the Eagle) as
    Jerry Nelson (Floyd Pepper [Electric Mayhem]/Crazy Harry/Robin the Frog/Lew Zealand) as
    Richard Hunt (Scooter/Statler/Janice [Electric Mayhem]/Sweetums/Beaker) as
  [And] Dave Goelz (The Great Gonzo/Zoot [Electric Mayhem]/Dr. Bunsen Honeydew) as
  and Charles Durning (Doc Hopper) as
    Austin Pendleton (Max) as
  Special guest stars: Edgar Bergen (Himself)  
    Milton Berle (Used car salesman)  
    Mel Brooks (Professor Krassman)  
    James Coburn (Owner of the El Sleezo cafe)  
    Dom DeLuise (Bernie, the Hollywood agent)  
    Elliott Gould (Emcee of Bogen County beauty pageant)  
    Bob Hope (Ice cream vendor)  
    Madeline Kahn (Patron at the El Sleezo cafe)  
    Carol Kane (Patron at the El Sleezo cafe)  
    Cloris Leachman (Miss Tracy)  
    Steve Martin (Rude waiter)  
    Richard Pryor (Balloon vendor)  
    Telly Savalas (Patron at the El Sleezo cafe)  
    Orson Welles (Lew Lord)  
  [And] Paul Williams (Piano player at the El Sleezo cafe)  
  Featuring: Scott Walker (Frog killer)  
    Lawrence Gabriel, Jr. (Sailor)  
    Ira F. Grubman (Bartender)  
    H. B. Haggerty (Lumberjack)  
    Bruce Kirby (Gate guard)  
    Tommy Madden (One-eyed midget)  
    James Frawley (Waiter)  
  [And] Arnold Roberts (Cowboy)  
  with Muppet performers: Steve Whitmire    
    Bruce Schwartz    
    Kathryn Mullen    
    Michael Davis    
    Bob Payne    
    Buz Suraci    
    Eren Ozker    
    Tony Basilicato    
    Caroly Wilcox    
    Adam Hunt    
    Olga Felgemacher    
  and Carroll Spinney (Big Bird) as

Summary: A group of eclectic performers, known as the Muppets, assemble in a private screening room at World Wide Studios in Hollywood, California, to watch their feature film debut in The Muppet Movie. The affable leader of the raucous troupe, Kermit the Frog, tells his nephew that the story is an approximate account of how the group got started: The film begins in a Southern swamp as Kermit sits on a log and plays the banjo. Passing by in a boat, a tourist named Bernie frantically asks the frog for directions. Bernie, who happens to be a Hollywood agent, admires Kermit’s talent and humor and shows him a notice in the Hollywood trade paper, Variety, announcing a casting audition for frogs next week. Bernie encourages Kermit to try his luck in California and “make millions of people happy.” Although content in his swamp home, Kermit is inspired to follow his dream and starts the journey to Hollywood on a bicycle. While riding through town, Kermit is distracted by a billboard advertising Doc Hopper’s Frog Leg restaurant chain and crashes his bicycle. That evening, Kermit stops at a saloon, called the El Sleezo café and watches as the crowd heckles comedian Fozzie Bear. Kermit tries to help by joining the struggling entertainer on stage for a dance routine. Meanwhile, Doc Hopper and his assistant Max observe the dancing frog with enthusiasm through the café window. The rowdy patrons, however, are not interested and toss Kermit and Fozzie around the place. Escaping the scene, Fozzie agrees to accompany Kermit to Hollywood, and the two aspiring performers continue the journey in Fozzie’s Studebaker. As they leave town, Hopper, a crafty businessman, intercepts the twosome and offers Kermit a $500 advance to be the spokesman for the frog leg restaurant, but Kermit refuses and drives away with Fozzie. Hopper orders Max to follow the Studebaker. Later, Kermit and Fozzie pass a Doc Hopper billboard featuring Kermit’s face on a basket of “french fried frog legs.” Hopper appears from behind the sign to cajole the frog again, but Kermit does not want to work for a business that leaves frogs in crutches and tells Fozzie to drive on. Irate, Hopper plans to be more aggressive next time. Along the way, Kermit and Fozzie encounter a hippie band named Electric Mayhem practicing in a church, and a plumber known as “the Great Gonzo.” Even though Gonzo would rather be a movie star in India, he and his girl friend, Camilla the chicken, join Fozzie and Kermit for the trip to Hollywood. With the help of Sweetums, a friendly, hairy ogre who works at a used car lot, the group trades Gonzo and Fozzie’s battered vehicles for a big station wagon. Kermit invites Sweetums to travel with them, but the ogre appears to run off, and the group leaves without him. Sweetums, however, was merely retrieving his bag and runs after them, following their trail. Next, the group stops at the Bogen County Fair and watches a beauty contest judged by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy. As the winner, Miss Piggy, is crowned, she becomes infatuated at the sight of Kermit and imagines various romantic scenarios with him. The prima donna pig immediately introduces herself and tells Kermit that she is an actress-model. Although Kermit invites Miss Piggy to join him and his friends for ice cream, she packs her suitcase and is ready to ride with them to Hollywood. After retrieving Gonzo, who was lifted into the air by a bunch of balloons, the group is back on the road. That evening, Miss Piggy and Kermit enjoy a romantic dinner together. Just as Kermit is about to kiss her, Miss Piggy leaves the table to take a telephone call and does not return. Kermit is disappointed and shares his troubles with the restaurant’s piano player, Rowlf the dog. Kermit then receives a telephone call from Hopper, who announces that he is holding Miss Piggy hostage and orders the frog to surrender outside. Hopper’s henchmen take Kermit to a hideout where he is tied to a post, alongside Miss Piggy. Professor Krassman, a German scientist, intends to perform a celebrectomy on Kermit, which will make the frog obedient to Hopper. As the professor locks Kermit into a machine, Miss Piggy becomes enraged, escapes from the post, karate chops Krassman and the henchmen, and rescues her beloved frog. She then receives a phone call from her talent agent, who has arranged a commercial for her, and she promptly says goodbye, leaving the frog broken-hearted, once again. Later, however, the group finds Miss Piggy hitchhiking and she rejoins the trip, despite Kermit’s annoyance with her. When the car breaks down, the friends camp overnight in the desert and Kermit is despondent, since he will miss the frog auditions tomorrow. Wandering off alone, he feels guilty for dragging his new friends to the middle of nowhere. Kermit is relieved, however, when he returns to the campfire and sees Electric Mayhem playing. Thanks to The Muppet Movie screenplay Kermit left them, the musicians were able to locate the group in the desert. While continuing to Hollywood in the band’s tour bus, the group is pulled over by Max, disguised as a motorcycle cop. The assistant, who now opposes the thuggish tactics of his boss, warns Kermit that Hopper has hired an expert frog killer. Tired of being bullied, Kermit arranges to meet Hopper and his henchmen in the nearby ghost town. There, the group encounters Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant, Beaker, who maintain a laboratory in an old storefront where they work on inventions. At noon, Kermit confronts Hopper and his gang in the middle of the street and tries to appeal to the businessman, but Hopper is not interested and orders his men to kill the frog. Suddenly, the earth shakes, and Animal, Electric Mayhem’s crazed drummer who ate a handful of Dr. Honeydew’s Insta-Grow pills, appears as a menacing giant. Hopper and his henchmen immediately flee, as Kermit and his friends cheer and proceed to Hollywood. Arriving at World Wide Studios, the group finds their way to the office of executive Lew Lord. However, Miss Tracy, his secretary, refuses to let them enter. Once the group discovers that she is allergic to animal hair, they bombard her with fur and walk past. Despite the executive’s imposing manner, Lord agrees to sign Kermit and his friends to the standard “rich and famous” contract. Later, on a soundstage, Kermit directs a musical finale starring himself and his fellow Muppets. Although the set collapses, the group carries on performing. When the movie ends, Sweetums bursts into the screening room, relieved that he has finally caught up to the Muppets. 

Production Company: ITC Entertainment  
Production Text: Sir Lew Grade and Martin Starger present
A Jim Henson Production
Brand Name:

Distribution Company: Associated Film Distribution  
Director: James Frawley (Dir)
  Kurt Neumann (Prod mgr)
  Ron Wright (1st asst dir)
  Penny Adams Flowers (2d asst dir)
Producer: Jim Henson (Prod)
  Martin Starger (Exec prod)
  David Lazer (Co-prod)
Writer: Jerry Juhl (Wrt)
  Jack Burns (Wrt)
Photography: Isidore Mankofsky (Dir of photog)
  Richard Edesa (Cam op)
  Joseph Collins (Key grip)
  Lee Heckler (Gaffer)
  Bruce Hill (Cam-video)
  Lindsay Hill (Video op)
  Robert Lowry (Video op)
  Paul Nelson (Playback op)
  Marcia Reed (Still photog)
  Sidney Baldwin (Still photog)
  John Shannon (Still photog)
Art Direction: Joel Schiller (Prod des)
  Les Gobruegge (Art dir)
  Eric Orbom (Asst art dir)
  Tom Southwell (Illustrator)
Film Editor: Chris Greenbury (Film ed)
  Steve Polivka (Asst film ed)
Set Decoration: Julia Harmount (Set des)
  Julius King (Set des)
  Richard Goddard (Set dec)
  Horst Grandt (Prop master)
  Tommy Tomlinson (Asst prop master)
  Roy Kirkpatrick (Const coord)
  Henry Kentop (Const foreman)
  Kenneth Richey (Greensman)
Costumes: Calista Hendrickson (Muppet cost des)
  Gwen Capetanos (Cost des)
  Charles James (Cost supv)
  Sharon Day (Costumer)
Music: Paul Williams (Mus and lyrics by)
  Kenny Ascher (Mus and lyrics by)
  Paul Williams (Mus scored and adpt by)
  Ian Freebairn-Smith ([Mus] arr and cond by)
  John Caper, Jr. (Mus ed)
  Garry Ulmer (Mus rec and mixed by)
Sound: Charles Lewis (Sd mixer)
  Ralph Babcock (Boom op)
  Bill Wistrom (Sd eff ed)
  David Dockendorf (Re-rec mixer)
Special Effects: Robbie Knott (Spec eff)
  Westheimer Company (Opticals)
  Wayne Fitzgerald (Titles)
Make Up: Ben Nye, II (Makeup)
Production Misc: Frank Oz (Creative consultant)
  Richard L. O'Connor (Exec in charge of prod)
  Caroly Wilcox (Muppet des)
  Mari Krestle (Muppet des)
  Dave Goelz (Muppet des)
  Kathryn Mullen (Muppet des)
  Ed Christie (Muppet des)
  Larry Jameson (Muppet des)
  Faz Fazakas (Muppet des)
  Kermit Love (Muppet des)
  Sherry Amott (Muppet des)
  Wendy Midener (Muppet des)
  Janet Lerman-Graff (Muppet des)
  Bonnie Erickson (Muppet des)
  Don Sahlin (Muppet des)
  Amy Van Gilder (Muppet des)
  John Lovelady (Muppet workshop coord)
  Amy Van Gilder (Muppet workshop coord)
  Lynn M. Klugman (Muppet prod coord)
  Michael Faith (Muppet des consultant)
  Robert McCormack (New York muppet workshop supv)
  Leigh Malone (Muppet visual consultant)
  Richard Holloway (Muppet tech coord)
  Martin Baker (Muppet tech coord)
  Gus Schirmer (Casting)
  Lee Rose (Prod assoc)
  Teresa Stokovic (Prod coord)
  Shirley Snyder (Prod coord)
  Ulla Bourne (Scr supv)
  Buck Edwards (Loc mgr)
  James Potter (Post prod supv)
  Robin Forman (Post prod asst)
  Don Casella (Transportation capt)
  William Beaumont (Craft service)
  Rusty Warren (Prod auditor)
  Ellen Adolph (Assoc auditor)
  Pamela Varney (Prod's secy)
  Mireille Machu (Dir's secy)
  Michael Flynn (Prod asst)
  Fred Fisher (Prod asst)
  Saul Kahan (Unit pub)
MPAA Rating: G
Country: Great Britain and United States
Language: English
Series: The Muppets

Music:
Songs:
Source Text:

PCA NO: 25475
Physical Properties: Sd: Recorded in Dolby Stereo
  col:

 
Genre: Children's works
  Musical comedy
 
Subjects (Major): Ambition
  Entertainers
  Friendship
  Frogs
  Motion pictures
  Traveling companions
  Voyages and travel
 
Subjects (Minor): Animals
  Banjos
  Beauty contests
  Businessmen
  Chases
  Deserts
  Fast food restaurants
  Ghost towns
  Hippies
  Hollywood (CA)
  Hostages
  Infatuation
  Motion picture actors and actresses
  Motion picture studios
  Musicians
  Product endorsement
  Saloons
  Swamps
  Talent agents
  Theatrical troupes
  Used car dealerships

Note: End credits include the following acknowledgements: “Special thanks to David Odell,” and, “Big Bird courtesy of Children’s Television Workshop.” End credits conclude with the statement: “This film is dedicated to the memory and magic of Edgar Bergen.” The Muppet Movie marked the final feature film appearance for Bergen, who died 30 Sep 1978.
       When the film was released in 1979, the Emmy award-winning television series The Muppet Show (1976-1981) was the highest-rated syndicated show in the U.S., and had an estimated “235 million television viewers in 102 countries,” according to a 10 Jun 1979 NYT profile article. Producer and Muppet performer Jim Henson, who created the puppet characters and their comedy-variety show, described The Muppet Movie as the reverse approach of the series. On television, the Muppets invited guests to their stage, whereas in the film, the characters ventured into the real world for the first time.
       As stated in production notes in AMPAS library files, the character “Lew Lord,” played by Orson Welles, was named in honor of British entertainment executive Sir Lew Grade, whose company, Association Film Distribution (AFD), served as domestic distributor for the film. Grade was also the financier behind Marble Arch Productions, led by executive producer Martin Starger. The Muppet Movie marked Marble Arch’s initial release, according to a 14 Feb 1979 Var article. Grade was already familiar with the potential of the Muppet brand. As discussed in the NYT profile article, he agreed to fund Henson’s concept for a television show after U.S. networks turned down the opportunity to give the puppet characters their own series. Based in London, England, Grade arranged for the show to be taped at company studios there and distributed the program worldwide through his organization, Incorporated Television Company (ITC) Entertainment, subsequently launching the Muppets’ international popularity.
       As reported in a 4 Oct 1978 Var article, principal photography began 17 Jul 1978 and was scheduled to finish late Oct 1978. According to production notes, filming took place on soundstages at CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) Studio Center in Los Angeles, CA, and on location in Los Angeles and Northern CA. An 8 Nov 1978 DV brief mentioned that the noon confrontation in the western town was filmed at the Columbia Pictures Ranch in Burbank, CA, the same location for the shootout in High Noon (1952, see entry).
       The tricks and challenges of portraying Muppets in the real world were explained in articles from the 19 Nov 1978 LAT and Aug 1979 Millimeter, as well as production notes. Sets were constructed six feet high to conceal the puppeteers underneath, who were equipped with instant video playback monitors to observe their performance as it was being filmed. For the sequence of “Kermit the Frog” playing the banjo in the swamp, a bathysphere, or airtight underwater container, was built to hold performer Henson. During the three days it took to film the scenes, Henson operated Kermit’s mouth and head, while the hands were maneuvered by remote controls. In a concept designed by special effects expert Robbie Knott, cars were customized for the Muppet driving scenes. Guided by video cameras and monitors, Knott steered the vehicle from the trunk, while puppeteers were tucked beneath the dashboard and other areas of the car. In the Millimeter article, director James Frawley noted that the filmmakers tried to minimize the use of visual and optical effects through “creative camerawork,” in keeping with Henson’s concept of Muppets as a cross between the art of hand puppetry and marionettes. Frawley placed Muppets in the foreground of the frame to augment their size, but also tried to compose them as full figures to avoid an image that was too confining. Knott explained that the giant version of “Animal” was not a miniature or a robot, but an actual fifty-five foot puppet operated by two people. The musical finale on the Hollywood soundstage involved over 250 Muppets characters and required the participation of 137 members from the organization, Puppeteers of America. The scene was filmed at CBS Studio Center’s Stage 15.
       The production budget was listed in Millimeter as $8.8 million.
       Leo Greenfield, who oversaw the film’s U.S. distribution as an executive at AFD, clarified in a 23--29 Jul 1980 Village Voice article that the film was marketed for adults as well as children, based on research that the television show attracted a range of age groups. He therefore presented the film as a prestige picture, and opened it at selective theaters, the Ziegfeld in New York City and the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles, CA. A 20 Jun 1979 HR brief announced that benefit premieres were scheduled for 21 Jun 1979 at both venues, the day before the 22 Jun 1979 U.S. release in twelve major cities. The modest launch would gradually reach 1100 theaters by Aug 1979. A 16 May 1979 Var article noted the promotion costs as $6 million.
       The Muppet Movie was one of 1979’s biggest hits, reporting a domestic box-office gross of around $57 million by the end of the year, according to an 11 Jan 1980 DV item. The 25 Feb 1980 issue of Box ranked the film seventh among the year’s top domestic film rentals, at $32 million.
       The film received two Academy Award nominations in the categories of Music (Original Song Score and Its Adaptation-or-Adaptation Score) for song score by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher and adaptation score by Paul Williams, and Music (Original Song) for “The Rainbow Connection,” music and lyrics by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher. The song also appeared as #74 on the American Film Institute’s list of “100 Years…100 Songs.”
       The picture was the first feature film starring the Muppet characters. As of May 2014, seven additional titles have been released: The Great Muppet Caper (1981), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Muppets from Space (1999), The Muppets (2011), and Muppets Most Wanted (2014, see entries).  

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   25 Feb 1980.   
Daily Variety   8 Nov 1978.   
Daily Variety   11 Jan 1980.   
Hollywood Reporter   31 May 1979   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Jun 1979.   
Los Angeles Times   19 Nov 1978   Section N, p. 36.
Los Angeles Times   21 Jun 1979   Section F, p. 17.
Millimeter   Aug 1979.   
New York Times   10 Jun 1979   Magazine, pp. 52-54, 58+.
New York Times   22 Jun 1979   p. 19.
Variety   4 Oct 1978.   
Variety   14 Feb 1979   p. 5, 44.
Variety   16 May 1979   p. 54.
Variety   30 May 1979   p. 16.
Village Voice   23--29 Jul 1980   p. 8.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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