The Muppet Movie at Arclight Sherman Oaks

The Arclight Theaters in Sherman Oaks and Hollywood pretty regularly run screenings of older movies.  Many of those screenings are done in coordination with the American Film Institute (AFI) as part of their various top-100 lists.  On Monday evening, the theater in Sherman Oaks held a showing of The Muppet Movie.

Having grown up as a fan of the Muppets and with very fond memories of the movie, my wife and I both were very enthusiastic about this opportunity to take our 4-year-old son to see the film on the big screen.  We heard about this screening only a couple days after our son had seen (and liked) the Muppetvision 3D movie at Disney’s California Adventure for the first time, so we felt it was likely that he would be reasonably receptive to the movie.

I suspect that anyone that is actually opening a blog post about this 29-year-old movie has probably already seen it, so I’m not going to spend much time "reviewing" the film.  I think it is likely that even most big fans of the movie probably haven’t seen it for quite some time.  Before Monday’s showing, the last time I saw the movie was probably around the time the DVD came out, which was likely close to a decade ago.  My wife indicated that she didn’t think she had seen it since she saw it as a kid during its original theatrical release. 

With the passage of time, we both still had a lot of nostalgia for the film, but we had kind of forgotten how good a movie it really is on its own merits.  Much of the dialog has a very genuine and rather intelligent wit to it.  As was typical of the Muppets, there is a lot of humor that is directed very squarely at the adults in the audience.  Jim Henson and his team were exceptionally adept at accomplishing this while still keeping the movie completely kid-friendly.  The movie does have its fair share of sight gags as well, although they aren’t as dominant as in the later Muppet projects.  A good comedy is always better with an enthusiastic audience and that was definitely the case at this showing.   Seeing this movie with an audience of fans was really a lot of fun.

One aspect that I hadn’t forgotten (as much thanks to the soundtrack CD as anything) is how good Paul Williams’ songs for the film are.  The most famous is "The Rainbow Connection" (its inclusion in the AFI’s Top-100 Movie Songs list was the reason for the screening) and it really is a wonderful song, but the others are fun too.  I particularly get a huge kick of out Frank Oz’s extremely tortured rendition (as Miss Piggy) of the big romantic ballad "Never Before, Never Again".  The exaggerated vocals combined with the visuals of Kermit and Miss Piggy in way over-the-top parodies of classic romantic movie scenes are really quite hilarious and received an extremely big reaction from the audience.

I hadn’t remembered that the film was as low-budget an effort as it was.  The movie wasn’t a major studio release and, at this showing, there was actually a bit of laughter at the obscure "Associated Film Distributers" logo that opened the movie.  While the movie isn’t as slick as the later efforts (particularly the big-budget Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island that were made for Disney), the puppetry definitely still holds up.  I remember that the scenes of Kermit riding a bicycle got a lot of attention back in 1979 and those scenes actually do still hold up.  Of course, even with the low budget, the film did attract an extremely impressive group of celebrity cameos, including James Coburn, Dom DeLuise, Steve Martin, Telly Savalas, Elliot Gould, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks, Cloris Leachman, Edgar Bergen (who died shortly afterwards — the film is dedicated to him), Bob Hope, Carol Kane, Milton Berle, Richard Pryor, and Orson Welles.  The movie came out during the run of "The Muppet Show", which attracted a similarly impressive list of guest stars despite being a non-network series.  That says a great deal about how appealing the Muppet characters really were.

I was a bit surprised that there were fewer kids in the audience for this show than I thought there would be.  While I did expect that the movie would be an especially big nostalgic draw for those in the same general age range as my wife and me, I also figured that a pretty large percentage of those attending would be parents that were taking their own kids to see it.  We certainly weren’t the only family there with a small child, but we did seem to be in the minority.  Fortunately, our son was very well-behaved the whole time.  Beforehand, we had emphasized very strongly that he had to stay quiet during the movie and he took that very much to heart.  In fact, we had a bit of a problem with him repeatedly reminding us of "no talking at the movie" when we tried to engage in conversation before the movie started.

This was only our son’s 2nd trip to the movies (the first was "Horton Hears a Who" a couple months ago) as my wife and I both felt strongly about waiting until we felt he was mature enough to behave appropriately in a theater.  While he was very well behaved, I do have some uncertainty about is reaction to the movie.  He certainly did seem attentive to the screen the whole time (other than occasionally peeking back at the projection booth) and he never asked to leave.  On the other hand, the movie doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression.  Our son tends to talk pretty non-stop about activities that really excite him, but he has had very little to say about the movie.  I certainly don’t think it was a bad experience for him or anything, but this is a pretty dialog-intensive movie that is probably targeted at somewhat older kids.

One of the major features of the Arclight theater is that all shows are strictly reserved seating instead of the more common general admission seating that you find at most movie theaters.  When I ordered our tickets, I think they had been on-sale for just a couple days, but seat availability was already becoming pretty limited.  I was able to find us three seats together about 2/3 of the way back, although pretty far over to the side.  Based on this, we were expecting a sold-out show, which definitely turned out to be correct. The demand for the movie actually turned out to be so high that they ended up shifting the screening into a larger auditorium than originally intended. 

This change did cause about a 15-minute delay in the start time since the change of auditoriums messed up the reserved seating a bit.  We picked up the tickets at the box-office about 30 minutes before the show and I later realized that the seats printed on it were different than the ones we had originally ordered.   They were in roughly the same spot, just on the left side of the theater instead of the right.  We later ran into a bit of an argument when another couple showed up believing they had the same seats (I’m guessing they had a "print-at-home" ticket).  An usher did try to get us to shift to the other seats, but I was hesitant to end up in different seat numbers than the ones printed on our tickets, just in case someone else showed up with a claim on those seats.  I was also concerned that there were 3 of us, but the other party with a claim on the seats was just 2 people.  Working with the theater employees, the other couple ended up moving to the other set of seats and we stayed put.  It was obvious that there were quite a few similar situations around the theater and I give the employees credit for managing to sort it all out fairly quickly and without major issues.

This is a 29-year-old, relatively low-budget film and that was reflected somewhat in the presentation.  The print, which I suspect may have dated back to the original run, was kind of faded, but otherwise in pretty good condition.  The sound definitely was a lot harsher and lower-fidelity than we are generally used to today as well.  With it being just a single screening, they showed the movie using reels rather than transferring it to platters.  The projectionist did miss one reel change slightly (we saw a bit of the leader), but otherwise they did a good job with the projection.  I even noticed the projectionist adjusting the framing and focus on a few occasions during the course of the movie, something that is all too rare at theaters today.

I tend to think the availability of classic movie screenings like this is one of the best parts of living in the Los Angeles area.  I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this old-favorite on the big screen again and was glad to have had the chance to share it with my family.

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