Movie-lovers and people who spend too much time on YouTube may be familiar with the work of Doug Walker, a fellow who has had some success on the internet with his reviews of movies as the Nostalgia Critic, and as Chester A. Bum. In his “Bum Review” of Muppets Most Wanted, the Bum noticed something about the way that certain Muppet movies are received. “So this Muppet movie was really funny,” he said. “It’s like the first one had a lot of heart like the first Muppet movie, and this one had a lot of jokes like the second Muppet movie, which means the third Muppet movie should probably be mediocre. Then they’ll start ripping off literary classics, destroy the franchise by going into space… and then it all starts over again.” The Bum may be a character that is prone to exaggeration and inaccuracy, which is why his videos are not meant to be taken seriously, but he still suggested an idea that could be worth considering – the Muppet movies may rotate in a cycle in terms of the focus and the audience’s reception.
The idea is that the Muppet films rotate in cycles of three. The Muppet Movie’s focus was on getting the Muppet gang together, and The Muppets was focused on about the same thing, even though the gang was getting together for somewhat different reasons in each film. So, it would seem that The Muppet Christmas Carol does not fit here, but that is not necessarily the case. Look at it this way: the first Muppet movie was made to prove that the Muppets could make a good movie, Muppet Christmas Carol was made to prove that the Muppets could make a good movie in spite of Jim’s passing, and The Muppets was made to prove that the Muppets could still make a good movie after all of those years without any Muppet movies.
The second Muppet film, The Great Muppet Caper, essentially said, “We are not done here – we can do it all again, but make it even bigger and more epic this time.” The attitudes of Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets Most Wanted seem to be the same since Treasure Island followed the “classic stories” theme, but was even darker and bolder than the previous film, and Muppets Most Wanted was a sequel to the last film that actually said, “We can do it all again.” The Muppets Take Manhattan and Muppets from Space were each a break from the two films that came before them by being more realistic with significantly less breaking into song with no discernible music source unless is was someone’s fantasy. Plus, both Muppets Take Manhattan and Muppets from Space spent a great deal of time focused on a character losing and finding his identity, and each was prone to scenes, ideas, and/or characters that seem totally random, such as aliens communicating with Gonzo through a sandwich or Miss Piggy imagining the Muppets singing together as babies.
The Muppet Movie is a charming film, and because its most popular song was “The Rainbow Connection,” it is clear that this movie has a lot of heart. Muppet Christmas Carol, which also features music by Paul Williams, is similarly a film with a lot of heart, as is The Muppets. These are the three Muppet movies that are probably most likely to make one cry, and each of their sequels seems to be more focused on getting laughs from the audience than tears. The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island are probably more quoted more than any other Muppet films, by big fans and casual fans alike, due to their clever dialogue, and Muppets Most Wanted is probably bound to be a quotable classic soon. After all, it did introduce the term “thingy-thing” into my vocabulary, and no one can resist imitating Constantine. Manhattan and Space are generally not as well-liked by audiences, and each failed to make nearly as much money as the Muppet films that came before them. However, each of them were used as opportunities to introduce a bigger audience to characters that they might not have been aware of yet, such as Rizzo and Pepé, so they still each had an impact.
It would seem that each of the three main groups of Muppet movies – the Jim Henson classics movies, the 1990s Muppet movies, and the Bobin movies – each have a sweet, charming, heartfelt first film, and a big, epic, adventure film next. However, does this mean that the third Muppet movie in a series must always be mediocre? Not necessarily, but if history repeats itself, then it is quite likely. Some might say that they should quit while they are ahead. However, keep in mind that both The Muppets Take Manhattan and Muppets from Space had some different writers and directors than the films before them, each only keeping one or two of the writers from the previous one and throwing in some new writers. So, if James Bobin and Nick Stoller stick around, perhaps the next Muppet movie will be a great one.