Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 12, 2021)
After the success of The Muppet Movie, a sequel seemed inevitable, and one appeared barely 18 months after the original’s Christmas 1979 release. In the summer of 1981, we got The Great Muppet Caper, another fun and frisky adventure starring our favorite goofy puppets.
Most Muppet fans prefer the first film to the sequels, which include 1984’s The Muppets Take Manhattan, 1992’s , 1996’s Muppet Treasure Island and 1999’s Muppets From Space.
Although I haven’t seen the Muppets’ take on Treasure Island yet, I like Carol. I have to agree with the negative assessment of Muppets From Space, as that movie had some potential but it lacked spark or excitement.
However, I can’t concur with the vaguely negative feelings toward the two Muppet flicks from the 1980s. In many ways, I thought Manhattan was superior to the first film, as it focused more on the characters themselves and less on gimmicks.
The Great Muppet Caper follows in the same vein. While I can’t clearly say I prefer it to the original flick, it succeeds in some ways that the 1979 piece doesn’t.
I was somewhat surprised to feel this way. As I noted in my review of Manhattan, Caper was the last Muppet film I saw theatrically.
I’d loved Movie but I felt moderately disappointed by the sequel. At least that’s the memory I retain, as this was 40 years ago, so I can’t say I’m positive that I wasn’t wild about Caper.
Nonetheless, I now find the 1981 film to be generally fun and entertaining in its own right. As with most of the Muppet flicks, the story feels somewhat superfluous, but I’ll cover it anyway.
Kermit the Frog (voiced by Jim Henson) and Fozzie Bear (Frank Oz) are twins who come to New York with their photographer friend Gonzo (Dave Goelz). They get a job as newspaper reporters because the editor (Jack Warden) was friends with their father.
However, when they fail to pick up a huge story that develops right under their noses, they get in trouble and are almost fired. They attempt to redeem themselves as they pursue the facts of a big jewel heist.
Although the robbery took place in New York, the principals all live in England, so the twins and Gonzo head to the UK to get the scoop. There they plan to chat with Lady Holiday (Diana Rigg), the wealthy fashion designer whose jewelry was stolen. Along the way they meet the usual crew of nutty Muppets such as Animal (Oz), Dr. Teeth (Henson), and a slew of others.
Of course, Kermit also encounters and falls for Miss Piggy (Oz again), and she becomes a plot snag. Piggy wants to model for Lady Holiday, but instead she just gets a gig as a receptionist.
However, Kermit mistakenly thinks that Piggy is Holiday, and since she wants to spend time with him, Piggy encourages the ruse. Matters complicate when Holiday’s ne’er-do-well brother Nicky (Charles Grodin) tries to frame Piggy for the crime, and Kermit - swept up by the blindness of true love - has to sort out the truth.
It should come as no surprise that all will end happily, and all will conclude entertainingly as well. Of the first three Muppet films, I probably prefer Manhattan just because it seemed to be the loosest of the bunch. Nonetheless, all of them are a lot of fun, and Caper certainly has its moments.
Caper becomes possibly the most tongue in cheek of the three, and its sly attitude carries the day throughout the film. The gag about how Fozzie and Kermit are twins is played for all it’s worth, and probably more.
The bit wears thin at times, but it seems worth it if just to see the picture of Warden with their father. That mutant combination of Frog and Bear makes the movie worthwhile on its own.
In addition, Caper likes to break down walls and acknowledge that it’s a movie. From the very start, Kermit tells us how they’re playing reporters in the film, and there’s very little pretense of reality. Again, this can get a little old on occasion, but it allows the proceedings to loosen up and become delightfully frisky at times.
Of course, the plot is paper-thin, and it’s even weaker than the stories behind The Muppet Movie and Manhattan. Nonetheless, this kind of piece doesn’t need a taut narrative to work, and the framework seems to be rich enough to keep the piece moving at an appropriate pace.
Although Caper includes some cameos from actors like John Cleese and Peter Falk, these seem to be much less intrusive than the “star a minute” technique displayed in Movie. For everything else that film did well, the ridiculous number of cameos really harmed it, since almost all of them were absurdly gratuitous and pointless.
Those in Caper feel more fun and intrude less. Look for an especially witty appearance by Peter Ustinov.
Ultimately, The Great Muppet Caper delivers an erratic piece, but it definitely provides a lot of fun. Aficionados will continue to debate the merits of the different Muppet flicks.
While I don’t think Caper becomes the best of the bunch, it holds up well when compared to the others. It provides a light and entertaining experience.
Footnote: a tag scene appears after the end credits.