When we first started throwing out potential movie titles for this series, one of Joe's suggestions was The Great Muppet Caper, which would have made for a great case study, but I decided that I'd rather tackle the Muppets' third cinematic outing, 1984's The Muppets Take Manhattan, since it represented something of an end of an era. It was also, for whatever reason, the only one of the three that I didn't see in theaters. (I guess I thought I had outgrown them or something, because I didn't lobby to see it the way I did with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom the same year.) As for the first two, I have to take my mother's word for it that I was taken to see The Muppet Movie at the tender age of five (going on six) because I have no clear recollection of it, but I have no such problem with The Great Muppet Caper. In fact, one of my earliest memories of going to the movies was the mob scene at a kiddie matinee of that film in the summer of 1981. But even that didn't make as much of an impression on me as seeing the melting faces at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was released just two weeks earlier. As I recall, my mother was beside herself when that scene came up, but I thought it was just dandy (which probably explains why I was chomping at the bit to see Temple of Doom three years later).
Looking back on it now, it's hard to believe how much I was at the mercy of my parents when it came to going to the movies, yet that clearly was the case. In general, the Clarks went as a family unit to all the big "event" films like E.T., Ghostbusters and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which -- along with the Superman, Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future series -- made up the bulk of our movie-going diet. If there were children's films to be seen, though, our father opted out of them, which was how he managed to escape the ravages of Annie, Supergirl, The Goonies, Howard the Duck or anything that was even vaguely animated. (Not that there were many animated films of note in the early '80s. I don't even think we saw The Fox and the Hound.) That policy also extended to the Muppet movies, which may explain why my mother decided to give The Muppets Takes Manhattan a pass. Having run the gauntlet on The Great Muppet Caper, she may have simply declined to do so again.
As a result, I didn't see The Muppets Take Manhattan (hereafter TMTM) until about a decade later when I was in college and experienced a resurgence of interest in the work of Jim Henson. The main catalyst for this was a 1994 PBS documentary called The World of Jim Henson, which -- in tandem with the book Jim Henson: The Works -- The Art, the Magic, the Imagination by Christopher Finch -- opened my eyes up to the man's artistry in a way that was entirely unexpected. Both were filled with detailed accounts of his career before the creation of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show (another mainstay of my youth) and his attempts to branch out into more adult fare like his 1965 short Time Piece (which was nominated for an Academy Award for best live-action short feature) and an experimental TV film from 1969 called The Cube. Then there were later efforts like the ill-fitting "Dregs and Vestiges" sketches from the first season of Saturday Night Live and 1982's The Dark Crystal, which was such an ambitious undertaking that Henson (who had helmed The Great Muppet Caper by himself) co-directed it with Frank Oz. Eager to build on its success with a project all his own, he decided to turn the reins of TMTM entirely over to Oz, who even took a screenplay credit on what was to be Henson's last big-screen outing with his signature characters.
Movies: April 2010 Archives
I hope there is going to be a E.T., 2. I loved the movie E.T., it was exciting. I liked when you were riding on the bike, and thanks for not dying.
P.S. Next time your in the neiborhood, E.T., phone me.
That awkwardly written yet undoubtedly sincere missive comes from a book called Letters to E.T. (Putnam, 1983), a slim volume which I was fortunate enough to locate in a dusty, cluttered second-hand bookshop in Chicago last May. The book, a somewhat hastily assembled collection of fan mail and fan art, is a quaint souvenir of the E.T.-mania of 1982 and 1983. I remember that mania well, as I was swept up in it like most kids my age at the time. You can bet that there were some E.T. toys under the Christmas tree in the Blevins household back in December '82. I had the leather-skinned E.T. doll (now an eBay item) and a little plastic replica of the film's young hero, Elliott, riding on a bicycle with his alien friend, E.T., wrapped up in a blanket in the bike basket.
It's hard to say what place E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial holds in pop culture today. The film currently rates a 7.9 at the Internet Movie Database and does not appear on that site's Top 250 list, though it does occasionally merit dutiful inclusion on those meaningless G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) lists released by Entertainment Weekly or the American Film Institute. It did reign for several years as the all-time box office champion, but such records do not and cannot last. (And then there are always those people who want to bring up inflation and rising ticket costs.) Perhaps because it was not the beginning of a multi-film/multi-media franchise and does not afford nostalgic adults the opportunity for elaborate dress-up games (as does Star Wars), E.T. now occupies an ever-shrinking space in the public's imagination. If anything, the movie might seem to be just another corny relic of the fad-happy 1980s, the cinematic equivalent of moonwalking or the Rubik's Cube -- fun at the time but something we've outgrown as a society.