13 Facts About The Muppets Take Manhattan

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

On July 13, 1984, TriStar Pictures distributed the third Muppets movie, The Muppets Take Manhattan. It followed 1979’s The Muppet Movie and 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper. Frank Oz, who had voiced Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear and had co-directed The Muppet Movie and The Dark Crystal with Jim Henson, co-wrote the script and directed it—his first solo directing gig.

Set in, of course, Manhattan, the live-action film follows the gang as they graduate from the fictional Danhurst College and move to New York City to find a producer to put their musical, Manhattan Melodies, on Broadway. At first, things do not go well: a Central Park mugger steals Miss Piggy’s purse, and the gang is forced to separate to make ends meets. Kermit finds a job working in a diner with some talking rats and a human friend named Jenny (Juliana Donald). Finally, after months of struggling, Kermit convinces producer Ronnie Crawford (real-life theater actor Lonny Price) to put the musical on Broadway. But as soon as he seals the deal, Kermit is hit by the car, gets amnesia, and joins a Mad Men-like ad agency.

Though grittier than previous Muppet movies, The Muppets Take Manhattan does have a happy ending. Against a budget of $8 million, it grossed a modest $25.5 million, and composer Jeff Moss earned an Oscar nomination for Best Music, Original Song Score (he was beat out by Prince for Purple Rain).

In honor of the film's 35th anniversary, here are some behind-the-scenes facts about the urban Muppet adventure.

1. Jim Henson wanted to make an entertaining movie for everyone.

Jim Henson (1936 - 1990), the creator of the Muppets at the BAFTA awards at the Grosvenor Hotel, London
John Gooch, Keystone/Getty Images

The Muppets Take Manhattan came out in the summer of 1984, where it faced off against violent “family films” like Gremlins and Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. In fact, films had become so violent that the MPAA introduced the PG-13 rating with Red Dawn’s release on August 10, 1984. But a month before, during an interview with Gene Shalit, Henson explained how he felt about his G-rated movie. “It’s a strange and sort of sad thing that the G-rating has come to be thought of as a real negative,” Henson said. “I’ve always felt that people should be able to do a film that works for the whole family, that doesn’t have any kind of violence or sex, and it’s still very entertaining."

2. Working with Frank Oz wasn't easy for everyone.

Because The Muppets Take Manhattan was Frank Oz’s first solo feature, the pressure was on for the director—and some of the cast felt it. In 2018, Gonzo voice actor Dave Goelz told Smithsonian that working with Oz "was torture. We had the hardest time working with him. Frank felt he had to make every decision, dictate every tiny detail, and he micromanaged our performances. Not sure I should say it, but Jim [Henson] was as frustrated as the rest of us." But as Oz got more experience behind the camera, his relationship to his actors changed. "Now, Frank is a great collaborator," Goelz said. "He’s taken Jim’s delicacy to heart, to let people contribute, solicit input, and realize his job is deciding what to include.”

In a 2018 interview with Tough Pigs, Oz admitted he was under a lot of pressure while directing The Muppets Take Manhattan and that he was too hard on the performers. “I was a first-time director and part-writer on that, and also I performed about four or five of my characters, so I think unfortunately I was harder on those guys,” he said. “You should talk to Dave Goelz about it. We laugh about it now, how much he hated me."

3. Juliana Donald landed the role of Jenny because she was able to speak to Kermit in a natural way.

Apparently, the producers wanted to cast a well-known actress for Jenny—Kermit’s sympathetic diner co-worker and a source of jealousy for Miss Piggy—but couldn’t find the right person. “I was told that the problem they were having was finding someone who looked like they were really talking to the Muppets, not talking at them,” Juliana Donald said. “By the time I went in they had thrown up their hands and agreed to meet anyone and everyone that was remotely close to what they were looking for. I think part of getting hired had to do with timing and part had to do with my audition with Jim Henson and Frank Oz. They said I was believable talking to Kermit."

4. Frank Oz kept the movie grounded with character development.

In past Muppet films, Oz thought the humor was a bit “wilder.” But in The Muppets Take Manhattan, he reined in the comedy and grounded it in realism. “Muppets Take Manhattan was more grounded than the other stuff you’ve seen,” Oz told Tough Pigs. “Some people love that—I felt it was a failure on my part because it didn’t have that kind of Muppet wildness to it.”

In order to “ground” the project, Oz rewrote a lot of Jay Tarses and Tom Patchett’s original script. “There’s now a situation where I told Jim in my opinion I thought it was too jokey, too much just for the laughs, and not enough about the relationships and the characters themselves,” Oz said. “What I did in the rewrite is, I made it more grounded—for good or bad—and I had more focus on the relationships of the characters than just the jokes."

5. Frank Oz wanted the movie to have more “lunacy.”

“It doesn’t have enough lunacy,” Oz said of the movie in Jim Henson: The Biography. “I think the story is your basic old-fashioned story, and it was a well-crafted thing because of that. But it didn’t have flights of fancy like The Muppet Movie.”

6. Frank Oz cast the celebrity cameos based on merit.

Throughout Muppets history, celebrities from Mel Brooks to Julie Andrews appeared in Muppet shows and films. In The Muppets Take Manhattan, everyone from Gregory Hines to John Landis (who was a puppeteer on The Muppet Movie) makes an appearance. When asked how he decided on casting the cameos, Oz stated, “We wanted to have the cameos as part of the plot.” He said people criticized The Muppet Movie for its “name value only” cameos. “Why weren’t they part of the movie? It made sense that they should be characters in the movie, not just Dabney Coleman for Dabney Coleman’s sake, or Joan [Rivers] for Joan’s sake. We really chose the cameos to fill those characters. It’s almost like casting a regular movie to make sure the part that Dabney Coleman plays really suits Dabney Coleman—and Joan Rivers and Gregory Hines. I guess, all I’m saying is, we chose them because they were good for the part.”

7. Dustin Hoffman almost had a cameo.

David Misch, who was a writing consultant on The Muppets Take Manhattan, told Tough Pigs that he and Oz wanted bigger name celebrities, like Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor, and Laurence Olivier. “Hoffman was going to play a Broadway producer and planned to do an imitation of legendary film producer Robert Evans, which he later did in the movie Wag The Dog,” Misch said. “At the last minute Hoffman decided it might be offensive to Evans and dropped out, following which all the other big names dropped out as well.” But, hey, at least they got Brooke Shields.

8. The TV show GLOW paid homage to The Muppets Take Manhattan’s “whisper campaign.”

During the second season of Netflix girl wrestling show GLOW, producer Bash (Chris Lowell) and wrestler Debbie (Emmy nominee Betty Gilpin) try to sell the show GLOW at a TV expo. Bash has the idea to start a “whisper campaign” like they did in The Muppets Take Manhattan, in which Kermit goes to Sardi’s, replaces Liza Minnelli’s portrait with his own, and makes his rat friends hide under diners’ table and talk him up. However, GLOW’s campaign turned out to be more successful than Kermit’s.

9. Joan Rivers was a little tipsy when she filmed her scene. (So was Frank Oz.)

In a brief but memorable scene, Joan Rivers works at Bergdorf Goodman’s perfume counter with Miss Piggy selling Quelle Difference perfume. Rivers tells Piggy she could use some makeup. “Pigs don’t have eyebrows,” Piggy protests, but Joan gives them to her anyway. They get carried away with the makeover, and the store manager fires them both.

Oz told NPR they rented the department store all day, but Rivers had to leave early. Oz felt that the scene wasn’t working. “It’s very hard to have a spontaneous laughter,” he said. “It wasn’t working, because I didn’t know Joan that well and I guess she didn’t know me.” To remedy the issue, he asked a production assistant to bring them four Bloody Marys. “I had a couple of Bloody Marys and Joan had a couple of Bloody Marys, and we shot the scene kind of like that. Joan left, and I was feeling real good.”

10. Martin Scorsese’s parents were extras in The Muppets Take Manhattan.

In an interview, Juliana Donald revealed that Martin Scorsese’s parents had roles as extras. “They were so sweet and overjoyed to be extras,” she said. “It was great because their son was one of the all-time greatest directors, and they could have had regular parts in any of his films, but they only wanted to be extras. I think they liked the fact that they could talk to friends and have no stress on having to learn lines.” Scorsese’s parents had small roles in many of their son's films, too; in Goodfellas, Catherine Scorsese famously played Joe Pesci’s mother, and Martin’s father, Charles, played Ray Liotta’s prison friend Vinnie.

11. The Muppets take Manhattan led to Muppet Babies.

During a carriage ride through Central Park with her Kermie, Piggy tells him she wishes they would’ve met as toddlers. She envisions a fantasy sequence of baby Kermie, her, Gonzo, Rowlf, Fozzie, and Scooter playing in a nursery and singing the song “I’m Gonna Always Love You.” A few months after the film came out, CBS launched the animated series Muppet Babies, on September 15, 1984. It was Henson’s first Saturday morning show. Muppet Babies ended in 1991, but Disney Junior rebooted it in 2018.

12. The man who played the minister at the end of the film was a real minister.

Spoiler alert: At the end of the film, Kermit thinks he’s pretending to marry Miss Piggy as part of the Broadway show, but she tricks him into marrying him for real. In an interview with Tough Pigs, David Misch revealed they hired a real minister, Dr. Cyril Jenkins, for meta purposes. “Jim wanted ambiguity about whether Kermit and Piggy were ‘really’ married, not just in the movie, to drum up interest,” he said.

13. Kermit thinks it’s time for a Manhattan Melodies revival.

In a 2018 interview with TheaterMania, Kermit said he’d be interested in doing a Manhattan Melodies revival. He would like to star in it but offered another choice. “If I had to recast my role in the Manhattan Melodies, I'd go with the supremely talented singer, dancer, and actor Neil Patrick Harris,” Kermit said. “I just hope he doesn't mind playing opposite Miss Piggy; she’s contractually obligated to play herself.”

Pod Search, a Search Engine for Podcasts, Can Help You Find Your Next Binge-Listen

Milkos/iStock via Getty Images
Milkos/iStock via Getty Images

Having too many options definitely seems like the best problem to have when it comes to picking your next top podcast obsession, but that doesn’t make it any less overwhelming. To streamline the hunt, try Pod Search—a website and mobile app that has all the information you need in order to choose a winner.

As Lifehacker reports, the user-friendly site is organized in several different ways, depending on how you’d like to operate your search. You can browse its list of about 30 categories, which range from “Storytelling” to “Crime & Law,” and each has a set of subcategories so you can get even more specific. If you trust the opinions of the general public, you can choose an already-popular podcast from the “Top Podcasts” tab. Or, if you like to be the first to recommend the next big thing to your friends, you can pick a program from the list of new podcasts.

Pod Search also has a handy tool called MyPodSearch which will pretty much do all the work of choosing the perfect podcast for you. All you have to do is check whichever categories interest you and add any additional keywords you’d like (which is optional), and MyPodSearch will deliver a list of podcasts personalized for your tastes. This is great for people who have wide-ranging interests, a proclivity for indecision, or both.

Each podcast has its own landing page with a description, audio samples, places you can listen, website and social media links for the podcast, and a list of other podcasts from the same producers. You can also create an account and bookmark podcasts for the future—so, hypothetically, you could have MyPodSearch create a personalized list for you, bookmark them all, and then have a binge-listening itinerary that’ll last you until next year.

[h/t Lifehacker]

8 Fun Facts About Muppet Babies

The Jim Henson Company
The Jim Henson Company

Before prequels were a thing, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies imagined a world in which the felt-covered characters of Henson’s Muppets franchise—Kermit, Miss Piggy, Animal, and Fozzie Bear among them—met up as children in a nursery. Left to their own devices, the animated cast led a rich fantasy life while in diapers. For more on this 1984-1991 show, including why it’s so hard to find anywhere except YouTube, keep reading.

1. Frank Oz didn’t really want Muppet Babies.

The idea to infantilize the Muppets came from Michael Frith, a longtime collaborator of Jim Henson’s, in the early 1980s. Frith believed that regressing the characters could allow them to impart moral or educational messages to children already familiar with them. But Frank Oz, a Muppets performer (Miss Piggy) and film director, argued that the Muppets needed to maintain their subversive edge. It was Henson who found a compromise, suggesting that younger versions of the characters appear in a dream sequence for 1984’s feature film The Muppets Take Manhattan. The response to the scene was overwhelmingly positive, and Henson soon teamed with Marvel Productions and CBS for an animated series that began airing in September 1984.

2. Skeeter was the result of a gender imbalance on Muppet Babies.

Most of the principal Muppet Babies cast was made up of recognizable characters, including Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Rowlf, Gonzo, Animal, Bunsen, and Scooter. But Frith, Henson, and producers Bob Richardson and Hank Saroyan decided that the babies were skewing a little too male. Aside from Piggy and their caretaker, Nanny, there were no female characters. To balance the scales, they introduced Skeeter, Scooter’s twin sister, a brainy problem-solver.

Skeeter has made only fleeting and sporadic appearances in the Muppet franchise since, leading to speculation she might be caught up in rights issues between CBS and the Jim Henson Company, which was purchased by Disney in 2004. Fortunately, the somewhat murky situation appears to be at least partially resolved: It was recently reported Skeeter will resurface in the new computer-animated iteration of Muppet Babies, which is currently airing its second season on Disney Junior and has been renewed for a third season.

3. One of the major creative forces behind Muppet Babies was Moe Howard’s grandson.

In 1985, Muppet Babies writer Jeffrey Scott received a Humanitas Prize from the Human Family Educational and Cultural Institute for an episode of the series which the Institute declared did the best job of any kid’s show that year to “enrich the viewing public.” The episode centered on the group fearing one of them might be sent away. The prolific Scott actually wrote all 13 episodes of the first season. His father, Norman Maurer, worked at Hanna-Barbera Productions and got Scott’s foot in the door. His grandfather was Moe Howard, founder and head Stooge of The Three Stooges fame.

4. The Muppet Babies live-action segments were a result of budgetary constraints.

A hallmark of Muppet Babies is when the cast finds themselves thrust into scenes from famous films, a Walter Mitty-esque bit of fantasy fulfillment that blends live-action sequences with animation. According to Frith, devoting a portion of each episode to clips wasn’t entirely a creative choice. By inserting clips, producers could save money on animation. It was also easy for Henson to secure the rights to popular films like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark because he was friends with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. While some believe those clips are the reason the show isn’t available to stream—sifting through the legal entanglement of reairing the segments might prove costly—that’s never been confirmed.

5. Muppet Babies never explained what the Muppets were doing in that nursery.

Given time to reflect, it seems odd that the Muppet cast would find themselves in a nursery without being supervised by their own parents. Speaking with the Detroit Free Press in 1987, Michael Frith said that the situation was purposely left vague. “I really appreciate the fact that they don’t [ask],” Frith said of his kid viewers. “Is this a day care center? Is this a foster child home? The more we talked about it, the more we felt it should just exist. The kids accept it.”

6. The voice recording sessions of Muppet Babies included copious farting.

Speaking with CNN in 2011, actor Dave Coulier (Full House) recalled that recording sessions for Muppet Babies sometimes involved flatulence. Coulier, who portrayed Animal and Bunsen, among others, said that “lots of fart humor” punctuated the recording studio. “In one scene, Fozzie [played by Greg Berg] and Animal had to climb a ladder,” he said. “As Animal was pushing Fozzie up the ladder, they were making [grunting] sounds. In mid-scene, Greg Berg farted. I looked at [actor] Frank Welker and we couldn’t contain ourselves. Uncontrollable laughter ensued. I was literally on the floor of the studio laughing.”

7. There was an offshoot of Muppet Babies called Muppet Monsters—and it never aired in full.

Following the success of Muppet Babies, CBS and Jim Henson decided to expand on the Muppets' potential as Saturday morning stars by creating a 90-minute block in 1985 titled Muppets, Babies, and Monsters. (Muppet Babies often aired consecutive half-hour installments for an hour total.) In addition to regular Muppet Babies episodes, the program featured another half-hour of Little Muppet Monsters, which featured puppets of new Muppet monster characters named Tug, Molly, and Boo. The three appeared in a framing device that introduced animated segments of adult Muppets. Only three episodes aired out of 15 produced, reportedly due to both Henson and CBS being unhappy with the finished product and Muppet Babies standing strongly on its own. The remaining episodes have yet to see the light of day.

8. Muppet Babies was turned into a live stage show.

To further incite their juvenile audience and monetize their popularity, the Muppet Babies franchise eventually wound up live and on stage. Muppet Babies Live! debuted in 1986 and featured performers in oversized costumes dancing and acting to a prerecorded track. In one skit, the cast appeared in a Snow White homage. In another, Rowlf became Rowlfgang Amagodus Mozart and played the piano. The arena show toured the country. Hank Saroyan, one of the animated show’s producers, wrote the stage show. The performer for Baby Piggy, Elizabeth Figols, also appeared in a live production of Dirty Dancing. The show ran through 1990.

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