In 1955, Jim Henson aired one of his earliest television programs entitled Sam & Friends, a puppet based-sketch show. Within it, a character appeared from time to time by the name of Kermit. Unbeknownst to any, this character would go on to eventually gain the full label of “Kermit the Frog” and would become the titular character of The Muppets. Kermit the Frog is interesting in that he has remained a relatively consistent character over the course of his multiple appearances in different mediums and genres. Whether it be an action-comedy movie or a children’s learning special, Kermit the Frog seems to always stay the same. For this catalogue review, the focus is on Kermit’s specific role in the given individual work. Although Kermit has appeared in many different works, this catalogue review is going to focus specifically on Kermit’s portrayal in the Muppets films, with a few glances at his television work.
The Muppet Show (1974)
Although Kermit gained his role as the Muppets showrunner in this program, he did actually appear as a guest speaker on early Sesame Street episodes. However, he gained stardom in The Muppet Show, a more “mature” version of Sesame Street, with more complex humor and jokes designed for adolescent children and adults.
In this series, Kermit plays the role of the leader of the Muppets, who each week introduces the show and describes how he basically got the Muppets together to produce the show. Although the show takes the form of a sketch comedy, Kermit’s role as the leader and organizer of the Muppets is established. Over the course of the 5 seasons, Kermit eventually was replaced by Scooter as the muppet who introduced the show, Kermit always played the role of the organizer and authority figure of the Muppets. In terms of Kermits career, this show helped develop Kermit into the established leader of the Muppets.
The Muppet Movie (1979)
Following the success of Henson’s television programs, the Muppets took to the big screen for the first time in The Muppet Movie. The film is fairly funny in its combination of self-referential humor and introducing the Muppets and their personality traits as if they were entirely new characters. More than that, since it avoids the sketch comedy format of the show, there is a cohesive plot that allows for character development and fast-paced humor that can come back later in the film. A personal favorite joke of mine is when Kermit is trying to convince two men to let him and the Muppets move forward, he simply hands them a copy of the “script” which reads that they aid the Muppets, and then they follow the script.
As for Kermit’s specific role in the film, he is by and large the hero. His story basically revolves around his journey to become a star in Hollywood, whilst a fast-food franchise CEO of a frog-legs based restaurant tries to kidnap Kermit and make him his spokesperson. All the while, Kermit stumbles upon all the fan-favorite Muppet characters and recruits them onto his road-trip from the swamp to Hollywood. As opposed to the strict organizer Kermit eventually evolves into, in this film Kermit plays a bit more of a centralizing force. Along with that, Kermit is more of a naive optimist who believes anything is possible, and acts as an inspiration. Interestingly, Kermit’s role acts as an interesting metaphor for Henson’s career as going from a small puppeteer to becoming a Hollywood sensation.
The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
The second Muppets film is… different. It really goes full on with the self-referential “movie within a movie” humor. It goes so far that throughout the film, Kermit points out the opening credits (and how long they are), that they are in a film, and that they can not lose because they are protagonists in a movie. It is a bit overbearing, but at the same point it has a niche quality to it that almost makes it seem like it could have been a cult classic. Along with that, it seems to jump from genre to genre, with one moment the film being about Kermit and Fozzie Bear as reporters and New York, and the next scene portraying the two as ace detectives with occasional references to mafia, spy, and western cinema. It is random, but has a coherent plot that is enjoyable in an unusual way. One positive note is that this film introduces one of my favorite Muppet tropes, of the puppets being forced into uncomfortable spaces to travel. In this case, they are tossed out of dog cages from a plane to get from New York to London.
As for Kermit the Frog, he plays a bit of a more complex role in this film. He is still the lead, spending most of the film trying to find a jewel thief, but he is much more vulnerable. However, all of his weaknesses are almost taken apart by the fact that he can reference the fact that this is a movie and therefore the conflict needs to be resolved. This film also has possibly one of the funniest gags in any Muppets movie. The film portrays Kermit and Fozzie Bear as “identical twins” and whenever a character sees them with their hat on, they can’t even tell the two apart despite the fact that they are of course, different species. Overall though, Kermit plays the role of the hero, but in typical Kermit fashion, puts all the muppets in the spotlight for at least a moment.
Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
Perhaps the most popular in the Muppets film franchise, this film is the first to abandon the meta “production-within-a-movie” trope of the first two films. In doing so, however, it allows the audience to view the characters as more empathizable (I was going to say more human, but they are Muppets after all). The plot is basically that Kermit and the gang are recent college graduates with dreams of having their college musical on broadway. However, when they are struck down by the harshness of Manhattan, they go their separate ways until eventually being reunited to finally hit the big stage.
This film is specifically probably the strongest in terms of Kermit as a character. For a large part of the film, the other Muppets are off on their own, leaving the audience time to see Kermit as something other than the strong headed leader. There are scenes where he is entirely down on his luck, other scenes where without the companionship of Fozzie and other characters, Kermit actually gets to be the main source of comedy. Along with that, the film hosts an actual look into Kermit and Miss Piggy’s unique relationship. Although the other Muppets are missed for parts of this film, their absence allows for actual character development and humanistic qualities for Kermit, something rarely seen in the first two films. Along with that, there are a series of scenes where Kermit loses his memory and joins a marketing team, and it is possibly the most humorous personification of frogs in all of film history. For a moment, Kermit acts like a businessman who only cares about marketing and speaks in an even more annoyingly croaking voice than usual.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
A personal favorite of mine, this film is unique in that it is simply a retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but with the majority of characters being played by various Muppets, with one notable exception. Ebenezer Scrooge, the main character, is portrayed by Michael Caine and is a human character throughout the film. Some interesting character castings include Gonzo as Charles Dickens. Despite the human characters and even some new Muppets joining the cast, the film retains the same wit and charm as all the other Muppets films, while also retelling the age-old tale in a uniquely new, yet traditional format.
In this film, Kermit the Frog actually plays Bob Cratchit, the poor employee of Scrooge with an ill child. Although he is a puppet, this film uniquely shows that Kermit the Frog actually has a wide range as an actor. As opposed to his usual role as a leader of a rag-tag team of puppets, this time Kermit plays a struggling family man, already married to Miss Piggy with children. As opposed to playing the usual leading role, this time Kermit’s role is almost entirely sympathetic. There’s something incredibly heartwarming about Michael Caine, in all his dramatic range, expressing pure empathy for a frog trying to afford surgery for his son whom he had with a pig.
Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
Sadly, I have to say, this is my least favorite of the Muppets films. Perhaps it’s my lack of true nostalgia for the actual Treasure Island film. Perhaps it’s that I feel this film is edging on the line between a regular adventure-movie with Muppets in it and a Muppets movie. This film was made after Jim Henson, the series creator, passed away in 1990. In The Muppets Christmas Carol his input didn’t really feel missed, but in this film, his lack of input is actually noticeable.
This film retells the story of Treasure Island, replacing certain characters with Muppets. My main quarrel, though, is that I felt that the Muppets almost had a backseat to the human characters. It felt to me that the human characters were used to carry the plot while the Muppets are all simply used for humor. To me, what makes the Muppets so wonderful is that they can advance the humor and the plot all within the limited scope of what puppets can do.
Kermit plays Captain Abraham Smollet in this film, captain of the Hispaniola ship. As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but feel Kermit felt like a background character, which is fine. Sometimes it’s good for the hero to take the backseat and shine the spotlight on another. However, it feels to me like there are scenes where the script attempts to inflate Kermit’s importance to the plot, just to keep the audience aware of his importance as a Muppet character. To me, this film just didn’t have the draw of a Muppets movie.
Muppets from Space (1999)
This unique film, many of which thought was the end of the Muppets and their careers, is a different path for the Muppets films. The film’s plot is basically that Gonzo, the specie-less “whatever” of the cast, is wishing he understood his species and was able to find a true family. However, in a series of misunderstandings, a low-level government agent kidnaps Gonzo in an attempt to contact aliens. This film is actually, in my opinion, a weirdly hilarious blend of the space-western and spy movie genre. The worst part about it is that the Muppets don’t actually ever go into space. Rather, it just follows as Gonzo attempts to get into space.
In this film, Kermit takes a backseat as Gonzo and Rizzo attempt to discover the roots of Gonzo’s species. Instead, Kermit plays the weird role of a leader of other random Muppets like Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Bunsen and Beeker as they attempt to rescue Gonzo from an assumed kidnapping. In this role, Kermit doesn’t really shine, but the ridiculousness of the Muppets infiltrating a government facility allows for Kermit’s rule-enforcing status to be humorous. For example, a favorite scene of mine is when Kermit and Fozzie argue over whether or not Fozzie should have washed the invisibility spray off of his hands after using the bathroom. His reasoning is that mom always said “no exceptions” when it comes to washing hands. Along with that, the beginning of the film shows Kermit struggling to pay bills and paint the Muppets house, which is an interesting behind the scenes look at how the Muppets daily lives operate.
The Muppets (2011)
After more than a decade of no feature films, this film came out in 2011 with a massive Hollywood cast, as well as introducing a new muppet in the character of Walter. Walter, who is the Muppet brother of human Gary, is excited to join his brother and fiancé on a trip to Hollywood to see the Muppet studio, as the Muppets were his heroes as children. When he sees the studio is abandoned and trying to be purchased by an oil tycoon, he meets up with Kermit and organizes the gang back together, becoming a member of the Muppets himself.
Of all the Muppet films, this one pleasantly surprised me the most. I was expecting, after such a long hiatus, that the original voice would have been lost. On the other hand though, there is a large number of references to the original movies while making a handful of new, yet timeless, Muppet jokes. It’s almost like a love letter to the Muppets combined with a new, shorter Muppet film. There is a fair bit of fluff that doesn’t really fit in with the Muppets, especially a love-drama between Jason Segel and Amy Adams’ character. Besides that however, this is a Muppets film that holds up to the rest.
This film also presents a new view of Kermit. Instead of the strong headed motivator we usually see, he is instead at the beginning an older frog, seemingly content with hanging around his mansion alone, rarely hearing from the other Muppets. Perhaps the best moments in the film, though, are when he is reuniting with his former Muppets, and the audience slowly but surely sees him become the inspired frog from the rest of the series. It is enjoyable how the film acknowledges that Kermit has been off the camera for a long time, but uses it wisely in a way that allows him to redeem himself as a character.
Muppets Most Wanted (2014)
This self-acknowledging sequel released three years after the 2011 release reminds me a great deal of The Great Muppet Caper. It continuously makes reference to the fact that is a sequel, and the plot is a bit nonsensically overcomplicated for the sake of inflating the story in classic “sequel” fashion. Nonetheless, the humor is still fairly sharp. The plot is basically that the world’s “most dangerous frog” replaces Kermit, while Kermit gets arrested in a Russian jail. In a dramatic wedding scene, Miss Piggy recognizes the true Kermit thanks to his lack of commitment to their relationship.
Although this isn’t necessarily the best Muppets film, it does offer Kermit some really interesting environments. Watching him conduct Russian prisoners in musicals and trying to escape a prison is a refreshingly dangerous situation for the usually steadfast frog. Along with that, the dangerous frog has a thick accent and spends the entire movie trying to hilariously impersonate Kermit, which offers an interesting outside perspective on the character.
Overall, Kermit has had a wild career. I feel that he started off as a personification for Jim Henson, and slowly evolved into the leader of one of the most lovable cast of characters ever invented. Along with that, his cover of “The Rainbow Connection” remains one of the most heartwarming covers of any song to listen to.