Think you know the Muppets?
Little did we know that the muppets we'd been watching that whole time weren't the real muppets, but rather the performances of some incredibly accomplished felt-covered thespians. Basically… THEY WERE ACTING THIS WHOLE TIME!!! In fact, it won't be until their new show, The Muppets, that we'll see the real lives of the gang we've grown to love finally hit on our screens. "In the movies they were playing versions of themselves," says the show's creator Bill Prady (who was also the brains behind The Big Bang Theory), "so we're seeing them off screen for the first time."
And if that really is the case then we've been seriously neglecting the muppets' acting chops for far too long. Looking back at their oeuvre it's hard to imagine how they weren't winning Oscars, BAFTAs and Emmys for performances so delicate and nuanced that we didn't even realise they were acting. So what better time, then, to look back at each muppet's finest role and pay tribute to these most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, muppetational stars.
Kermit - The Muppet Movie (1979)
He's undoubtedly the star of the show, but some of his fiercest critics might argue that Kermit is a frog of all trades and master of none. But said critics can't possibly have seen his leading role in The Muppet Movie, which takes Kermit on a rags to riches journey from the squalor of the Florida swamp he calls home, all the way to the bright lights of Hollywood. And it's not just an epic journey for Kermit the character, but for Kermit the actor as well. In the very first scene he earns an Oscar nomination as he strums his banjo and serenades us with the heart-rending classic song Rainbow Connection, proves himself to be the glue that binds the muppets together as he assembles the gang along the way, before finally holding his own opposite acting titan Orson Welles in the film's climactic scene.
Fozzie Bear - The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
Fozzie Bear may be best-known for his Vaudevillian comedy stylings, but - as we learned from Jonah Hill in Moneyball and The Wolf Of Wall Street - there's nothing audiences love more than when a comedic actor takes on a dramatic role. In The Great Muppet Caper, Fozzie plays an American reporter sent to the UK to investigate a jewel theft alongside his two newspaper colleagues, played by Kermit and Gonzo. That could already prove a stretch for any comic giving a serious role a try, but that's not all… Kermit and Fozzie are playing identical twins! Lesser actors may have needed to rely on the use of prosthetics and digital effects, but Fozzie lets his performance speak for itself and utterly convinces as the identical twin of his amphibian chum.
Miss Piggy - The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
Look, we all know that the muppets can be a bit of a boy's club, so it takes a strong bovine woman to stop them from hogging the limelight and make her presence felt. In The Muppets Take Manhattan, Miss Piggy does it all. She's hilarious when sharing a scene with her spirit human, Joan Rivers, hamming it up as she receives an unconventional makeover in a department store. She demonstrates her action (pork)chops when donning rollerblades to chase down the swine who stole her purse in Central Park. And she's a vision in white as she and Kermit finally tie the knot at the movie's conclusion, having literally punched the amnesia out of her paramour just moments before.
Gonzo The Great - The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
It takes a mighty fine actor to play the part of a literary titan. Think of Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote, Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf, Gonzo The Great as Charles Dickens… Somehow Gonzo's the only one amongst the aforementioned trio who failed to snag an Oscar for his performance, and it remains a travesty to this day. Not only does Gonzo inhabit the character of the 19th Century novelist so entirely that when he reads lines directly from A Christmas Carol it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, but he also has to do it all with Rizzo questioning his legitimacy the entire time. What a transformation from an actor best known for being shot out of a cannon and his love of chickens.
Statler and Waldorf - Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
Critics often leave themselves open to the, "Oh yeah, well let's see you do better!" rebuttal, and the cantankerous Statler and Waldorf are perhaps the most negative critics of all. But the genius of the elderly duo is that they are in fact acting themselves while delivering their Simon Cowell-esque takedowns, and you can't help but admire the great lengths they take in doing so. Never is this more evident than in Muppet Treasure Island where they strap themselves to the front of the Hispaniola to play the figurehead of the ship. That's one hell of an impressive stunt just to tell the rest of the cast how bad they are. Tom Cruise, eat your heart out.
Animal - Muppets From Space (1999)
We all know Animal as the wild and unpredictable drummer of Dr. Teeth And The Electric Mayhem, and his musical prowess has never been in doubt, but in Muppets From Space, Animal stunned audiences with a single scene that proved he was a much more versatile performer than we could have ever suspected. That's right, the feral creature can also hold his own as a romantic lead. Normally when Animal chases ladies shouting, "WOMAN!" they run away screaming, but his liaison with a guard played by Kathy Griffin goes very differently indeed. Alas, the pair are not meant to be, but Animal elicits real pathos from their tragic and emotional break-up scene.
Walter - The Muppets (2011)
Thirty years after Kermit bagged an Oscar nomination for Rainbow Connection, newcomer Walter went one better when he partnered with Jason Segel on Man Or Muppet and took home the golden gong. But it's not all about the awards and accolades for Walter, and his unselfish performance in The Muppets speaks to that. He plays a super-fan whose role in the film is essentially to remind us of how great the muppets are and how important it is that they get back together, and boy does he pull it off. Not only that, Walter proves himself worthy of joining the gang in his own right. Now he's a fixture, and we hope he never leaves.
Sam Eagle - Muppets Most Wanted (2014)
He probably wouldn't appreciate it, but there's a delicious irony to the fact that Sam Eagle, the most patriotic of all muppets, gives his finest performance on European soil. In Muppets Most Wanted, Sam arrives in Europe to play a role that's crucial in any crime caper, that of the law enforcer tasked with hunting down the Badguy/bad guy. Unfortunately for Sam, his no-nonsense CIA agent has to team up with Ty Burrell's hapless French Interpol agent, but it's an absolute treat for the audience as they form a comedic double act to rival the likes of Laurel And Hardy, The Two Ronnies, and perhaps even Bunsen and Beaker!
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