Aside from the "bookending" Muppet movies --- the first “The Muppet Movie,” in 1979, and the franchise reboot “The Muppets,” in 2011 --- the Muppets’ shtick has been to gently satirize a classic Hollywood genre movie or remake a classic film.
“The Great Muppet Caper” (1981) skewered the crime/jewel thief category. “The Muppets Take Manhattan” (1984) lampooned the Broadway musical. Kermit and Company also remade two beloved films, both of which were originally books: “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) and “Muppet Treasure Island” (1996). The Muppets have also made forays into more modern genres like sci-fi; see “Muppets from Space” (1999). This accounting doesn't consider various TV specials and straight to video releases that have poked fun at or reinvented classics, such as “The Muppets' Wizard of Oz” (2005). Even those bookending films, “The Muppet Movie” and “The Muppets,” while not taking on a specific movie motif, satirized the hero creation myth story and the celebrity comeback/rock band reunion tale, respectively.
Their most recent outing, “Muppets Most Wanted,” which opened Friday, is no exception. The film, which stars the usual assortment of felt frogs, pigs, bears, dogs and other creatures of unknown pedigree, and co-stars the likes of Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, Ricky Gervais and Christoph Waltz, is a solid parody of the international spy movie.
Directed by James Bobin (who also directed the franchise reboot, “The Muppets”), “Muppets Most Wanted” is also firmly in the “caper musical comedy” category. As the Muppets go on a world tour, taking their show to Berlin, Madrid and London, they meet the dastardly Constantine—“the World’s Number One Criminal” and a Kermit look-alike—and his sidekick Dominic "Number Two" Badguy (Gervais). As in previous Muppet movies, the film features star-studded cameos, this time from the likes of Sean "Diddy" Combs, Jemaine Clement, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis and many others.
The Muppets have always provided a kinder and gentler brand of satire, especially compared to the more biting and cynical humor of “The Simpsons.” They began not by lampooning movies, but with vaudeville. Their comedy-variety TV series, “The Muppet Show,” which ran from 1976 to 1981, was chock with sendups. But Muppet humor was always considered wholesome fun and grandparent-friendly in the old-timey “let’s put on a show” tradition.
Yet what if these puppets explored other Hollywood tropes and genres—more risky ones at that? There’s some slim precedent for this frog’s leap into more adult themes: The Muppets took on the Seven Deadly Sins and other more prurient themes in a weird 1975 TV special called “The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence.”
Using the non-sequitur rhythms of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” the half-hour show satirized the proliferation of sex and violence on TV, albeit in a fairly tame way.
Nonetheless, this suggests our beloved Muppets could bust a raunchier move if they make another movie. Here are some other, less-wholesome, edgier Muppet Movies we'd like to see:
“The Marvel-ous Avenging Muppets”
In a sweet deal that unites Marvel Studios and the Muppets (both owned by The Walt Disney Company, by the way), a crack team of flying, super-charged heroes must be assembled: Amphibious Corpus (Kermit), IronPig (Miss Piggy), Patriot Dude (Sam the Eagle), The Bulk (Fozzie), SwedeCleaver (The Swedish Chef) and Gonzo (Gonzo). The threat? The evil forces of S.T.A.N.L.E.E. (Scary Terrorists Against Niceness, Love, and Even Emotion). Headed by George “Sugar G Doom” Clooney, S.T.A.N.L.E.E. wants to launch its nefarious Caucasian Rap Air Pod, or CRAP, device, and subject the planet to the cruelty of white hip-hop music. Many kabooms, courtesy of Crazy Harry, the Muppet with the explosives fetish. With cameos by Eminem, Vanilla Ice, Beastie Boys, Steve Martin and a reanimated/stuffed Dom DeLuise.
“The Muppets' Rings of the Lord”
In the idyllic land of The LillyShire lives Frogo (Kermit), one of a race of peace-loving creatures, the Ribbots, who get high all day and drink fermented pond water. But Frogo’s world changes with the arrival of the mysterious wizard Gilsdork (a bearded Tom Hanks), who drags Frogo off on an (at least) 11-hour epic quest. Together, a multi-racial and multi-fabric Fellowship—including Dogmen (Rowlf the Dog, Seth Rogen,), Stoners (Janice, Zoot, Viggo Mortensen) and Woodland Pig-Elves (Piggy, Jennifer Lawrence, Melissa McCarthy)—must destroy The Evil Thing in the Pond Whence It Came, all the while stymied by evil wizard Sauerkraut and his henchman Schnitzel (Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker), and perused by the whiny creature Gollible (Animal). Johnny Depp plays The Evil One. Cameos by John Cleese, Peter Jackson, and a song from Music Supervisor Bret “Flight of the Conchords” McKenzie, reprising his Elf role of Lindir, and singing the song, “The Road Is Really Long, and Long, and Long, and Long...”
“The Muppets' End of the World”
After a radioactive asteroid, controlled by evil villain Benedict “Dr. Yuck” Cumberbatch, has hurtled toward earth, Kermit and gang must drive an armored vehicle through a post-apocalyptic wasteland of Los Angeles, then across a ruined strip-malled-and-suburbanized America. Reuniting the various Muppets, some of whom have mutated into bizarre versions of their former selves, they are pursued by bands of bloodthirsty, caffeine-seeking zombie/vampire/barista creatures known as Ventis, led by Johnny Depp. The movie ends with an epic showdown with Cumberbatch. Look for an irradiated Big Bird who crushes the remains of New York City. With cameos by James Franco, Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, and a CGI Charlton Heston.
“The Muppets Go Psycho”
A tortured sports photographer Jimmy (Kermit), in a wheelchair and wearing a Fedora, is haunted by his dead lover Grace Novak (Angelina Jolie, in flashback). Before long, Jimmy’s been set up as her killer—by a woman known as Mrs. X (Miss Piggy), who is dead ringer for his dead paramour. In search of the true killer, and his own sanity, Jimmy pursues his vertiginous visions that lead him up staircases, on trains (and into train tunnels, wink wink), through theaters and flocks of birds, into showers and onto lifeboats, and through much of the national park system. The film culminates in a gun-battle at Old Faithful. Cameos by Meryl Streep, Matt Damon, and Sylvester Stallone as “The MacGuffin.”
“The Muppets Greatest Story Ever Told”
The Muppets find themselves in the Holy Land, reenacting the story of Christianity—and singing all the way! Kermit plays our savior, the Green Jesus. We see his birth in Bethlehem, the flight of the Holy Family ("Sesame Street’s" Ernie, Bert, and Maria) into Egypt, Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist (Scooter), and the selection of the Twelve Apostles (including Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Daniel Day Lewis, Denzel Washington, Statler, Waldorf, and Animal as Matthew). There’s a Muppet version of the Last Supper, the subsequent betrayal by Judas (Leonardo DiCaprio), and the Crucifixion (Waka waka funny version). Missy Piggy plays the Virgin Mary, Gonzo is Pontius Pilate, and the now elderly Robert Blake (Simon the Zealot) and Jamie Farr (Thaddaeus) reprise their roles from the 1965 George Stevens original. Wait for the showstopper musical number “The Resurrection,” which features the super group Beatzlin, a reunion of the surviving members of The Beatles and Led Zeppelin.
Oh, and Jim Henson plays the Voice of God.
Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of Fantasy Freaks of Gaming Geeks, and is a regular contributor to the New York Times, Boston Globe, BoingBoing.net, wired.com, GeekDad, and WBUR’s Cognoscenti. He can be reached at www.ethangisldorf.com and Twitter @ethanfreak.