Statler and Waldorf arrive at a big Hollywood studio to be in the preview audience for the latest production by the Muppets. But this is not a stage show or even a television extravaganza, it's a fully-fledged movie starring the usual cast, all to tell of how the Muppet performers were assembled. Once everyone settles down, and Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson) has tried and failed to give an introductory speech, the movie begins. We first see Kermit singing and playing the banjo in the swamp where he grew up, and he seems content until an agent (Dom DeLuise) rows up to him to tell him he should audition for Hollywood stardom. Kermit is unsure, but the idea is undeniably attractive and soon he has begun his journey...
When The Muppet Movie was initially released, the response was curiously lukewarm, as if the transfer of a big television hit to the silver screen was somehow a betrayal of what made the original so successful. The puppets were much loved in their small screen incarnation, appealling to all ages equally, and the guest stars that lined up to appear with them were an impressive collection. And so it is that the film has guest stars also, only this time they seem to be packing in as many as possible in as short a period as ninety-odd minutes will allow, with some, like Bob Hope or Telly Savalas, receiving barely one line to make their presence felt.
This approach looks as if all these guests were intended to make the film worth seeing, when it's really the Muppets and their special interplay that hold the magic. Taking the form of a road movie, the story features Kermit bumping into the recognised Muppets and having them join him on his pursuit of showbiz. It also features more intricate puppet work than that of the series, with such show-off items as Kermit riding his bicycle or dancing - and we can see his legs while he does. His first port of call is a rough bar whose patrons throw out its owner (James Coburn) and just happens to have a comedian onstage in the shape of Fozzie Bear (Frank Oz).
The corny gags are there in abundance, as when Fozzie defuses his hostile reception in the bar by saying the drinks are on the house, whereupon everyone rushes outside and climbs on the roof to find them. Kermit and his new friend then hit the road in Fozzie's car, but there's a complication: yes, this film has a villain, here Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) who wants the talented Kermit to front his advertising campaign for his frog's legs restaurants. And he's persistent, too, turning from offering suggestions to outright threats to persuade. But Kermit is having none of it, and does his best to evade capture, more intent on following his dream.
And following your dream is the message of the film, although here it's absurdly easy for a bunch of good-natured puppets to be successful; life's what you make it, they say. And so we are treated to the first meeting of Kermit and Gonzo (Dave Goelz), complete with a chicken called Camilla - there may be romantic involvement there - and more importantly the green one's heavily significant encounter with Miss Piggy (Oz again) where she has just won a smalltown beauty pageant and their eyes meet through the crowd. Yet more pop up in unlikely settings - Dr Bunsen and Beaker in a ghost town for example.
The most charming aspect of the Muppets is that they do their best never to let down their friends, even if their best is sometimes none too good - their flaws make them more endearing. Paul Williams and lyricist Kenny Ascher provide some perfectly judged songs, with humorous ones matched by some surprisingly touching, sentimental ones ("The Rainbow Connection" particularly stands out as bringing a lump to the throat for that just-something-in-my-eye moment). And everyone's favourite Muppet should be represented here, from drummer Animal (now giant sized!) to the Swedish Chef, however briefly, so that The Muppet Movie is by no means unlikeable; in fact, it's as cosy and amiably appealling in it own way as the television series was. It was followed by a whole string of similarly-pitched sequels and related productions, on both TV and film.