With his air of gentle melancholy, Kermit the Frog has consistently proven that it’s not easy being green. Such was certainly the case when Jim Henson’s indelible felt creation took the stage with Jason Segel, his human co-star in Disney’s upcoming re-boot The Muppets (which Segel also co-wrote with Nicholas Stoller), out November 23, at Disney’s fan-catering D23 Expo in Anaheim. After realizing that neither of the two Muppets clips provided for D23 attendees featured his notoriously demanding co-star Miss Piggy, Kermit then had to break the news to the curly-haired swine, who barreled onto the convention center’s stage in a motorcycle’s sidecar. As expected, Miss Piggy was far from pleased with her onscreen absence. “Where’s Rich Ross?!” the porcine star shouted, practically calling for the head of Walt Disney Studios’ chairman.
However, for anyone less prone to fly into a rage over a lack of Miss Piggy footage, the two clips from The Muppets satisfied with their mix of kid-targeted silly characters and adult-pleasing absurd humor—a combination that has been the trademark of the best Muppet-centered entertainment over the years.
One other caveat is that there was an unusual amount of VH1-style ‘80s-pop-culture humor in these two scenes, but considering that the Reagan era served as the Muppets’ heyday, the Me Decade referencing makes a certain kind of sense. Plus, the gags were funny, which helps. When at Kermit’s mansion, humans Mary (Amy Adams) and Gary (Segel, who Kermit described onstage as being “equally talented but less beautiful” than Adams) are served by an ‘80s-robot servant whose silver tray balances cans of Tab and New Coke on it. Molly Ringwald’s name is glimpsed on Kermit’s Rolodex as he tries to amass celebrities for a save-the-Muppet-theatre telethon. Fozzie the Bear laughs at what he perceives to be his “’80s hair” in an old framed photograph wherein he actually looks like the same shaggy, grinning bear he’s always been. And, in the grandest homage to Segel’s formative years, a theatre-cleaning montage is set to a nostalgia-inspiring sing-along to Starship’s “We Built This City.”
And yet the biggest laugh within the Muppets footage screened had nothing to do with the ‘80s. As Gary and Mary attempt in vain to break into Kermit and Miss Piggy’s mansion, they suddenly turn around to see The Green One arrive, bathed in a heavenly glow as an angelic choir sings on the soundtrack. Seconds later, a church choir bus zooms past, its bright headlights and vocal passengers revealed to be the source of Kermit’s iconic entrance. The gag seems to underline Kermit’s place in the pop-culture pantheon. To some of us, he is a kind of god, even if his beloved Miss Piggy was probably calling him some considerably more negative names backstage at the D23 Expo.