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What Made The 'Muppet Movie' Stand Out From The Pack?


You about ready for some joy? Yeah, let's bring the joy.


JIM HENSON: (As Kermit the Frog, singing) Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what's on the other side?

MARTIN: It happens automatically. You hear it; you feel better. "The Muppet Movie" is now 40 years old, if you can believe that - one of the highlights of childhood for a great many Gen Xers, including me, including our next guest, NPR's Linda Holmes, who thinks we have not given this particular film the attention it deserves. She is in our studios.

Hi, Linda.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel. You know, I think we give it a lot of attention, and it's still not as much as it deserves (laughter).

MARTIN: It's still not as much as it could be (laughter).

HOLMES: It's not enough. I mean, you heard the music. We all started swaying here...

MARTIN: We did.

HOLMES: ...In the studio. It just happens.

MARTIN: I was transported.

HOLMES: I was transported to that bog...

MARTIN: The bog.

HOLMES: ...To that - to the bog with the log and the frog. "The Muppet Movie," which came out in 1979, is a musical. It is a road movie. It introduces you theoretically to the story of how the Muppets all got together and became the Muppets.

MARTIN: Right, it's the origin story.

HOLMES: Well, it's the origin story. It also - I was telling somebody the other day - has a structure a little bit like "Cats," in that each Muppet gets kind of a song to introduce themselves to you.


HOLMES: You get the Miss Piggy song. You get the Fozzie song. So this is how you meet each Muppet. And then at the end, they all find out whether they get their dream, which is also what happens at the end of "Cats." So since we all have recently seen the "Cats" trailer...

MARTIN: Yes, "Cats" is in the ether.

HOLMES: ...We're kind of in this frame of mind.

MARTIN: So we heard it there in the intro. Let's talk about the song...


MARTIN: ...The "Rainbow Connection."

HOLMES: Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher wrote this beautiful song, which, if you know musical theater, is basically the "I Want" song of the show.

MARTIN: Explain what that is.

HOLMES: Oh, an "I Want" song is where the character explains what their dream is, and you get it in a lot of different shows. But here, what Kermit is dreaming about and what he really wants is to answer all these philosophical questions about rainbows and dreaming and all this stuff. It's a very unusual and generous-spirited "I Want" song, almost more of a "We Want" song.

MARTIN: And what is also notable about it, which you write in an essay at npr.org - everyone should check it out - is the lyrics that are profound and deep, but then there's the actual vocalizing...


MARTIN: ...Of the song.

HOLMES: Yeah. The interesting thing about the songs in "The Muppet Movie" is that unlike, for example - in a Disney movie, if you don't have a perfect voice, they get someone who has a perfect voice.

MARTIN: Yeah, they'll clean that right up.

HOLMES: Most of the people who are doing the voices in this - whether it's Jim Henson, who does Kermit the Frog, or whether it's Frank Oz, who does Miss Piggy and Fozzie - they are not all perfect singers all the time. Sometimes they're on-key. Sometimes they're not. They're singing in character voices. For example, there's a part later where Fozzie Bear sings "America the Beautiful."


FRANK OZ: (As Fozzie Bear, singing) Skies for amber waves of grain.

HOLMES: And it's really very off-key in a lot of the time. But he's...

MARTIN: He's feeling it.

HOLMES: ...Just singing. He's feeling it. He's in the car.

MARTIN: He's got a song in his heart.

HOLMES: He's looking at the amber waves of grain. And when the music swells, he actually says, bum, bum, bum, bum...


OZ: (As Fozzie Bear, singing) Bum, bum, bum, bum.

HOLMES: ...Because he's so excited listening to it. It's great. It's great.

MARTIN: Can we go out on the end of the "Rainbow Connection?" Do we have that?


HENSON: (As Kermit the Frog, singing) Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection - the lovers, the dreamers and me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.
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