The Muppets Take Manhattan
Longtime Muppet collaborator Frank Oz directed the film in addition to co-writing the screenplay and providing the voices for such characters as Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and Animal. Oz, also known as the voice of Yoda from the Star Wars film franchise, helmed another Henson production, The Dark Crystal (1982) as well as various non-puppet pictures - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), What About Bob? (1991), and The Score (2001). Oz had been working with Henson since the early sixties-in fact, it was Jim who recommended Frank for the Yoda role to George Lucas. Henson, who named his creations because they were a cross between puppets and marionettes, was also the voice for Kermit, Rowlf, and the Swedish Chef in addition to his executive producer duties. He also staged one of the most difficult scenes in the film, the one where the rats fix breakfast in the diner.
In this scene, puppeteers had to convince the audience that five rats can cook the important meal of the day. To do so, interesting challenges had to be resolved, like how to sew a fried egg to a rat puppet. Answer? Scrap the egg and make it a piece of toast instead. When a paint mixture created to resemble pancake batter proved so caustic as to etch into metal surfaces, the effects team decided just to use actual batter instead. After several failed attempts at simulating butter pats for a rat to skate around on to grease the griddle, Jim simply suggested, "Let's try the butter." It worked.
Henson experimented with more complex scenarios for his Muppets on film; for example, having them ride bicycles or dance around a room. For such sequences, a marionette version of the Muppet was created for full body shots, with the original hand puppet used for close-up work. When the two types of shot were spliced together in the editing room, the use of different types of puppets is seamless to audiences. The maintenance of believability was very important to Henson, who explained, "As soon as the audience starts thinking about the cleverness of it all, then they're not thinking about the performances. When the Muppets are on the screen, I want the audience to believe in the moment. The audience can see that most of the characters end at the waist most of the time, and they can know who talks for them-none of that seems to kill the moment. But when they're watching us perform, believing the moment is everything."
The list of stars making appearances in The Muppets Take Manhattan is impressive, and includes Liza Minnelli, Art Carney, Gregory Hines, Linda Lavin, Brooke Shields, Elliott Gould, and Joan Rivers. Even ex-NYC mayor Ed Koch gets in on the fun, as well as the wife of puppeteer legend Edgar Bergen (and mother of actress Candice), Frances Bergen. Henson's young adult children Brian and Heather also have bit roles, on and off-screen. All of the locations for the film were in the New York area, with the campus of Vassar College selected for Kermit's graduation scene (the scene was filmed in the college's dining hall). The Muppets Take Manhattan was nominated for an Oscar® in the Original Score category and spawned a spin-off: the animated Muppet Babies (1984-91) series, inspired by the fantasy sequence in the film. In the playful spirit of the film, watchful viewers will notice the names gracing two of the kennel cages at Rowlf's vet office: Jim and Frank.
Producer: Jim Henson, David Lazer
Director: Frank Oz
Screenplay: Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Frank Oz
Cinematography: Robert Paynter
Film Editing: Evan A. Lottman
Art Direction: Paul Eads, W. Steven Graham
Music: Ralph Burns
Cast: Jim Henson (Kermit the Frog), Frank Oz (Miss Piggy/Fozzie), Dave Goelz (Gonzo), Steve Whitmire (Rizzo the Rat).
by Eleanor Quin