The Muppets opens this week, and we here at Fanboys of the Universe couldn’t be more excited. I mean it. We are seriously, seriously excited. Seriously. So, to help pass the time before the first screening, Johnny M and I decided to compile lists of our absolute favorite Muppet moments, then compare notes. Be sure to let us know what your favorite Muppet moments are in the comments section. For the sake of brevity, we’ve limited these particular lists to properties involving the core group of characters from The Muppet Show. We’ll explore other aspects of the Muppet universe in future lists, I’m sure. (I’m lookin’ at you, Gobo Fraggle.)
Johnny M’s Top 10 Favorite Muppet Moments
10. Gonzo meets his people, Muppets From Space
We find out that Gonzo is an alien, and the scene where he finally meets his people (though a funk number staged on the mothership, natch) is a moment of intense joy and closure. The most outcast of the Muppets finally gets the validation he’s been seeking his whole life, and it’s something the misfit in all of us can relate to.
9. “Mahna Mahna,” The Muppet Show, Episode 101
The very first act of the very first episode of The Muppet Show has become one of its most iconic. It’s everything the Muppets are in one small chunk: bright, colorful, offbeat, self-referential and gleefully, wonderfully unusual.
8. Meet the Muppet Babies, The Muppets Take Manhattan
A seemingly throwaway part of TMTM, it was responsible for launching the Muppets in an entirely new direction. Besides being cute as can be, the Muppet Babies became a spin-off Saturday morning cartoon that encouraged kids to use their imagination, no matter where it took them.
7. “When You Were A Tadpole,” The Muppet Show, Episode 217
The strength of a Muppet Show episode is often dependent on how well the guest star interacts with the Muppets themselves. Not only did Julie Andrews treat the Muppets as real flesh-and-blood fellow actors, she shares a quiet, amazingly sweet moment with Kermit when she lends her magnificent voice to a song full of love and comfort.
6. Myth Yeth, The Muppet Movie
Of all the comedic tools available, one of the Muppets’ favorites has always been the running gag. One of the best comes when Carol Kane answers “Yeth?” every time someone says “myth.” It’s a silly joke, almost absurd, and a perfect example of the Muppet brand of humor. Watch it here.
5. Rudolph Nureyev, The Muppet Show, Episode 213
Rudolph Nureyev’s appearance on The Muppet Show was a major turning point in Muppet history. After one of history’s most celebrated dancers appeared on the show, its popularity exploded, and celebrities lined up to be on the show. And of all the shows, this may be the most layered and the most aimed squarely at adults. From the nearly painted-on tights Nureyev wears during “Swine Lake” to his subtext-filled duet with Miss Piggy, it’s both sophisticated and irreverent.
4. Kermit and Piggy break character in The Great Muppet Caper
The most metatextual moment in one of the most metatexual Muppet projects comes when Kermit and Piggy stop in the middle of a scene in TGMC and get into a heated argument about Piggy’s performance. It gives remarkable insight to the characters’ relationship, and it’s a reminder of how wonderful the team of Jim Henson and Frank Oz was.
3. Rita Moreno gives Animal “Fever,” The Muppet Show, Episode 105
Only 10 people can claim to be a pure EGOT: a winner of an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. One of them is the eternally gorgeous Rita Moreno, who owes her first Emmy to her guest spot on The Muppet Show. In a moment of pure, simple genius, Rita and Animal’s personalities face off during Rita’s performance of “Fever.” It’s the highest point in an episode full of high points.
2. “Turn The World Around”, The Muppet Show, Episode 314
The first time I saw Harry Belafonte sing “Turn The World Around” with four Muppets that resembled African masks, I was actually scared. The masks were so different and seemed so alien to me. Now, it’s one of the finest moments in Muppet history, a warm and radiant song that stands for the unity, brotherhood and holistic humanity that Jim Henson spent his life trying to foster.
1. “Bohemian Rhapsody”
The very definition of a viral video, a five-minute tribute to Freddy Mercury (released on his birthday) and using the actual instrumental tracks from the original recording, the Muppets exploded across the Internet with their cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Featuring over 70 Muppets, it’s racked up over 23 million views, a Webby award, and even hit #32 on the UK singles charts. It’s a clear, strong reminder that even in today’s cynical, disposable culture, the Muppets are a potent and unifying force. It’s masterfully done and effortlessly funny…just like the Muppets should be.
Great stuff, Johnny! Now, here are mine.
Chance’s Top 10 Favorite Muppet Moments
10. Bobo the Bear, Muppets from Space
I really wish I could find clips, because Bobo is the easiest-going, sweetest henchman a villain could ever hope to find. His affable Midwestern charm and speaking pattern contrast perfectly to Jeffrey Tambor’s clipped, over-the-top hysteria. Every one of Bobo’s “Mmhmms” and “Okaaaaays” has me rolling, no matter how many times I watch this. Even though he’s a newer character, Bobo has managed to make an impact in only a few appearances. All I can say is “More Bobo!”
9. Garth Brooks and the Muppets sing “We Shall Be Free” on Muppets Tonight
Muppets Tonight doesn’t get enough love. Though it may have relegated the most famous Muppet cast members to secondary roles, it still managed to deliver some fresh and zany Muppet entertainment. Proving he has both a sense of humor and a deep affection for the Muppets, country singer Garth Brooks throws himself into his guest appearance with wild abandon, eschewing his usual playlist and having a go at a variety of other musical styles. However, it’s when he finally agrees to sing one of his own songs that things really get good, as the Muppets join him in a heartfelt rendition of “We Shall Be Free,” Garth’s anthem about acceptance and tolerance. (Bonus: Garth dons a tight and revealing pair of polyester pants to thrust his way through Tom Jones’s “It’s Not Unusual.”)
8. John Denver and the Muppets sing “The 12 Days of Christmas”
John Denver was one of those guest stars who had an immediate rapport with the Muppets. In the same year as his guest appearance on the show, he collaborated with the Muppets gang again for a Christmas special. Watching John Denver interact with the Muppets is a joy in itself, as he goes from awe to curiosity to barely contained laughter. His joy and wonder is heartwarming, and isn’t that what you want in a holiday song?
7. Miss Piggy Has Her Fill of Phil, The Muppets Take Manhattan
There are a lot of scenes where Miss Piggy karate chops Kermit or whoever else might have earned her ire, for whatever reason. What makes this one of my favorites is that Miss Piggy starts in such a vulnerable place. She’s trying to get Kermit to remember the love they share and the future they have together. Meanwhile, Kermit is still in Mad Men mode and reacts terribly to the news that he’s in a relationship with a pig. For all her love for her frog, Miss Piggy is an intelligent, independent and strong woman who stands up for herself and doesn’t let anyone, man or frog, disrespect her. “Cancel the show!”
6. Mark Hamill on The Muppet Show
As both a Muppets fan and Star Wars fanatic, this melding of pop culture icons made my youthful head asplode back in the day. The Muppet connection with Star Wars was forever solidified when Frank Oz brought Yoda to subtle, wondrous life in The Empire Strikes Back. Look for no such subtlety here, though. This is pure Muppets cheese, and I love it.
5. Miss Piggy vs. Martha Stewart
Similar to the Star Wars moment, I love when the Muppets meld with my other obsessions. I’ve been devoted to Martha for years, but as much as I love her, I also love when someone has the nerve to challenge her in her own kitchen, garden or mud room. Piggy proves to be more than worthy of rattling Martha, coming extremely close to actually diverting her from her single-minded focus on her cookies. Piggy is irreverent, quick-witted, and just a little tacky. It’s a good thing.
4. Janice’s Views on Nudity, The Great Mupper Caper/The Muppets Take Manhattan
Representing Muppet mayhem at its most absurd, everyone’s favorite hippy rocker chick Janice somehow manages to turn every Muppet meltdown into an opportunity to share her views on nudity, whether it’s her naked forays on the beach, in defiance of her mother, or her refusal to go bare for art’s sake, Janice lives in her own inspired clothing-optional world.
3. Kermit the Frog and Lena Horne sing “Being Green” on Sesame Street
This is one of those performances that I didn’t really appreciate as a kid. My musical tastes hadn’t yet matured enough to understand what musical interpretation was all about. “Why isn’t Kermit singing the song? Why is she singing it that way? Why won’t she let him sing it by himself?” Now, however, I get it. There is great pain, understanding, sympathy and, ultimately, pride in Horne’s interpretation of Kermit’s classic. It’s not a woman singing to a puppet. It’s two souls sharing an affirmation. Sad, beautiful and uplifting, all at once.
2. The Campfire Scene, The Muppet Movie
I can’t imagine this scene ever making it into a movie today. I can hear a studio head saying, “You want them to just sit around and sing a mournful song about regret, then follow it with Kermit having an existential crisis?” It would never fly. So, I’m eternally grateful that the characters and story take precedence here, humanizing and bonding them in a journey that will tie them together as a family forever. Kermit’s quiet discourse with himself is one for the ages, and the doubt and realization Henson brings to Kermit’s performance are breathtaking and profound.
1. “More frogs and dogs and bears and chickens and… and whatever!”
There are moments in almost every Muppet venture, when characters realize the power of family and belonging, and that accepting and celebrating each other’s differences can move mountains (or save your leader’s little green legs). My favorite examples can be found in The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan. They’re my favorite, because they involve Kermit. Jim Henson’s Kermit was always the (somewhat) stable center of the chaos around him, providing wisdom and support. However, what his makeshift family really wanted was his acceptance and love. And when Kermit bestows it upon them, there isn’t a dry eye in the house.