A political hot potato right now, but I’m not afraid of controversy, so let’s deal with the problematic text that is The Muppets Take Manhattan. Serious political scholars will know that the Muppets have recently been banned for public life due to the inflammatory nature of their ‘shows’, which are, in reality, celebrations of socialism, obscenity or capitalism depending on who you ask. I noted when I furtively but legally obtained my Muppets movie boxed set last year that The Muppets Take Manhattan was no longer part of the package; what outré imagery and dangerous political thought would be contained within?
That title throws me for a start; in what way could or should The Muppets ‘Take’ Manhattan? The line seems to come from Leonard Cohen’s ‘First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin…’ which seems to suggest that Kermit and his friends are organising some kind of military take-over, but instead we see them hoping to put on a simple vaudeville show. A first meeting with an agent (Dabney Coleman) proves a false dawn, and soon the Muppets are reduced to sleeping in lockers in a train station, again, exactly the kind of anti-social behaviour that Disney should rightly be cracking down on in these uncertain times.
Alas, it turns out that The Muppets Take Manhattan is the usual friendly fare, and the reason for its ‘banning’ is actually to do with copyright issues involving Lew Grade’s old ITC brand. That said, there’s a few moments here that wouldn’t cut the muster in today’s politically correct cinema, namely Animal chasing buxom young women about as a joke. Apparently Dustin Hoffman pulled out at the last minute, and a slew of guest stars did the same; Liza Minnelli is the one big name still involved, in a brief gag about a Sardi’s style diner with pictures of celebrities on the walls.
Neither the stars nor the songs are a big draw this time around, but The Muppets Take Manhattan has an airy, lightweight quality that gets it over the finish line. For those seeking political discourse, however, it would be best to look elsewhere. No-one is banning the Muppets; the difficulty in seeing this particular film is about them being victims of capitalism rather than socialist thinking.