I received a video of The Muppet Movie for my birthday, so I've had a chance to take a good look at the film. It's been a long time since I've seen it, and I've forgotten what a charming movie it is.
The film's appeal comes from the charm of the Muppets, but this time around I realized that there's more to the movie than just Kermit The Frog.
There's something more to The Muppet Movie that separates it from later Muppet movies. It makes fun of our suspension of disbelief, breaking the "fourth wall" and making fun of the concept of watching movies. The whole movie is built around this theme, joking with our acceptance of motion pictures as "reality." We identify with the characters, feel excitement during action scenes, and our souls are stirred during moments of character development - even though we KNOW it's all fake, just a bunch of filmed scenes spliced together to manipulate us and make us forget the real world for a couple of hours.
We suspend our disbelief far more than we think when watching the Muppets. After all, they're just cloth puppets operated from behind the scenes - they don't even pretend to look like real animals or people. But we accept them as real characters, not merely special effects. We're watching Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy and all the rest, and we convince ourselves that they're as real as the actors they interact with.
Several times the film points out that it's just a movie: Kermit gives a copy of the screenplay to Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, and a couple of characters are told to shut up so that they won't spoil the story for the audience.
The film's many guest stars are part of this "fourth wall" theme. We recognize lots of people like Dom DeLuise, Milton Berle, Orson Welles and others, and we're amused by the fact that we see "movie stars" popping up all over the place.
The suspension of disbelief is why we're willing to forgive the "flaws" in the plot, such as the evil Doc Hopper being able to find Kermit all the time, even after Dr. Teeth camouflages the Studebaker. It's all a movie, and we know it's spoofing the typical move cliches - the car chase scene, the "romance" between hero and heroine, and even some kung-fu fighting as well. The plot is less important than the characters.
Of course, the Muppets aren't only starring in the film - they're in the audience, too. They've come to watch the movie (and heckle it) - and during the scene where Miss Piggy dumps Kermit, the film breaks down. It's a trick worthy of the French New Wave: we have been abruptly reminded that it's not real - we're only watching a movie!
This is why the final scene of the film is inevitable: There's a song, a rainbow, and the words THE END - but then a monster bursts through the "movie screen" and into the audience. The barrier between the movie and the audience has been completely shattered. They're one and the same. (Even the final song echoes the them: "Life's like a movie - write your own ending!")
This toying with the conventions of motion pictures is a subtle, clever move - a lot more than you would expect from a "kiddie movie." I love movies that play with the audience like this. This is one reason why The Muppet Movie is the best of all of the Muppet movies.