13 Facts About The Muppets Take Manhattan

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

On July 13, 1984, TriStar Pictures distributed the third Muppets movie, The Muppets Take Manhattan. It followed 1979’s The Muppet Movie and 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper. Frank Oz, who had voiced Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear and had co-directed The Muppet Movie and The Dark Crystal with Jim Henson, co-wrote the script and directed it—his first solo directing gig.

Set in, of course, Manhattan, the live-action film follows the gang as they graduate from the fictional Danhurst College and move to New York City to find a producer to put their musical, Manhattan Melodies, on Broadway. At first, things do not go well: a Central Park mugger steals Miss Piggy’s purse, and the gang is forced to separate to make ends meets. Kermit finds a job working in a diner with some talking rats and a human friend named Jenny (Juliana Donald). Finally, after months of struggling, Kermit convinces producer Ronnie Crawford (real-life theater actor Lonny Price) to put the musical on Broadway. But as soon as he seals the deal, Kermit is hit by the car, gets amnesia, and joins a Mad Men-like ad agency.

Though grittier than previous Muppet movies, The Muppets Take Manhattan does have a happy ending. Against a budget of $8 million, it grossed a modest $25.5 million, and composer Jeff Moss earned an Oscar nomination for Best Music, Original Song Score (he was beat out by Prince for Purple Rain).

In honor of the film's 35th anniversary, here are some behind-the-scenes facts about the urban Muppet adventure.

1. Jim Henson wanted to make an entertaining movie for everyone.

John Gooch, Keystone/Getty Images

The Muppets Take Manhattan came out in the summer of 1984, where it faced off against violent “family films” like Gremlins and Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. In fact, films had become so violent that the MPAA introduced the PG-13 rating with Red Dawn’s release on August 10, 1984. But a month before, during an interview with Gene Shalit, Henson explained how he felt about his G-rated movie. “It’s a strange and sort of sad thing that the G-rating has come to be thought of as a real negative,” Henson said. “I’ve always felt that people should be able to do a film that works for the whole family, that doesn’t have any kind of violence or sex, and it’s still very entertaining."

2. Working with Frank Oz wasn't easy for everyone.

Because The Muppets Take Manhattan was Frank Oz’s first solo feature, the pressure was on for the director—and some of the cast felt it. In 2018, Gonzo voice actor Dave Goelz told Smithsonian that working with Oz "was torture. We had the hardest time working with him. Frank felt he had to make every decision, dictate every tiny detail, and he micromanaged our performances. Not sure I should say it, but Jim [Henson] was as frustrated as the rest of us." But as Oz got more experience behind the camera, his relationship to his actors changed. "Now, Frank is a great collaborator," Goelz said. "He’s taken Jim’s delicacy to heart, to let people contribute, solicit input, and realize his job is deciding what to include.”

In a 2018 interview with Tough Pigs, Oz admitted he was under a lot of pressure while directing The Muppets Take Manhattan and that he was too hard on the performers. “I was a first-time director and part-writer on that, and also I performed about four or five of my characters, so I think unfortunately I was harder on those guys,” he said. “You should talk to Dave Goelz about it. We laugh about it now, how much he hated me."

3. Juliana Donald landed the role of Jenny because she was able to speak to Kermit in a natural way.

Apparently, the producers wanted to cast a well-known actress for Jenny—Kermit’s sympathetic diner co-worker and a source of jealousy for Miss Piggy—but couldn’t find the right person. “I was told that the problem they were having was finding someone who looked like they were really talking to the Muppets, not talking at them,” Juliana Donald said. “By the time I went in they had thrown up their hands and agreed to meet anyone and everyone that was remotely close to what they were looking for. I think part of getting hired had to do with timing and part had to do with my audition with Jim Henson and Frank Oz. They said I was believable talking to Kermit."

4. Frank Oz kept the movie grounded with character development.

In past Muppet films, Oz thought the humor was a bit “wilder.” But in The Muppets Take Manhattan, he reined in the comedy and grounded it in realism. “Muppets Take Manhattan was more grounded than the other stuff you’ve seen,” Oz told Tough Pigs. “Some people love that—I felt it was a failure on my part because it didn’t have that kind of Muppet wildness to it.”

In order to “ground” the project, Oz rewrote a lot of Jay Tarses and Tom Patchett’s original script. “There’s now a situation where I told Jim in my opinion I thought it was too jokey, too much just for the laughs, and not enough about the relationships and the characters themselves,” Oz said. “What I did in the rewrite is, I made it more grounded—for good or bad—and I had more focus on the relationships of the characters than just the jokes."

5. Frank Oz wanted the movie to have more “lunacy.”

“It doesn’t have enough lunacy,” Oz said of the movie in Jim Henson: The Biography. “I think the story is your basic old-fashioned story, and it was a well-crafted thing because of that. But it didn’t have flights of fancy like The Muppet Movie.”

6. Frank Oz cast the celebrity cameos based on merit.

Throughout Muppets history, celebrities from Mel Brooks to Julie Andrews appeared in Muppet shows and films. In The Muppets Take Manhattan, everyone from Gregory Hines to John Landis (who was a puppeteer on The Muppet Movie) makes an appearance. When asked how he decided on casting the cameos, Oz stated, “We wanted to have the cameos as part of the plot.” He said people criticized The Muppet Movie for its “name value only” cameos. “Why weren’t they part of the movie? It made sense that they should be characters in the movie, not just Dabney Coleman for Dabney Coleman’s sake, or Joan [Rivers] for Joan’s sake. We really chose the cameos to fill those characters. It’s almost like casting a regular movie to make sure the part that Dabney Coleman plays really suits Dabney Coleman—and Joan Rivers and Gregory Hines. I guess, all I’m saying is, we chose them because they were good for the part.”

7. Dustin Hoffman almost had a cameo.

David Misch, who was a writing consultant on The Muppets Take Manhattan, told Tough Pigs that he and Oz wanted bigger name celebrities, like Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor, and Laurence Olivier. “Hoffman was going to play a Broadway producer and planned to do an imitation of legendary film producer Robert Evans, which he later did in the movie Wag The Dog,” Misch said. “At the last minute Hoffman decided it might be offensive to Evans and dropped out, following which all the other big names dropped out as well.” But, hey, at least they got Brooke Shields.

8. The TV show GLOW paid homage to The Muppets Take Manhattan’s “whisper campaign.”

During the second season of Netflix girl wrestling show GLOW, producer Bash (Chris Lowell) and wrestler Debbie (Emmy nominee Betty Gilpin) try to sell the show GLOW at a TV expo. Bash has the idea to start a “whisper campaign” like they did in The Muppets Take Manhattan, in which Kermit goes to Sardi’s, replaces Liza Minnelli’s portrait with his own, and makes his rat friends hide under diners’ table and talk him up. However, GLOW’s campaign turned out to be more successful than Kermit’s.

9. Joan Rivers was a little tipsy when she filmed her scene. (So was Frank Oz.)

In a brief but memorable scene, Joan Rivers works at Bergdorf Goodman’s perfume counter with Miss Piggy selling Quelle Difference perfume. Rivers tells Piggy she could use some makeup. “Pigs don’t have eyebrows,” Piggy protests, but Joan gives them to her anyway. They get carried away with the makeover, and the store manager fires them both.

Oz told NPR they rented the department store all day, but Rivers had to leave early. Oz felt that the scene wasn’t working. “It’s very hard to have a spontaneous laughter,” he said. “It wasn’t working, because I didn’t know Joan that well and I guess she didn’t know me.” To remedy the issue, he asked a production assistant to bring them four Bloody Marys. “I had a couple of Bloody Marys and Joan had a couple of Bloody Marys, and we shot the scene kind of like that. Joan left, and I was feeling real good.”

10. Martin Scorsese’s parents were extras in The Muppets Take Manhattan.

In an interview, Juliana Donald revealed that Martin Scorsese’s parents had roles as extras. “They were so sweet and overjoyed to be extras,” she said. “It was great because their son was one of the all-time greatest directors, and they could have had regular parts in any of his films, but they only wanted to be extras. I think they liked the fact that they could talk to friends and have no stress on having to learn lines.” Scorsese’s parents had small roles in many of their son's films, too; in Goodfellas, Catherine Scorsese famously played Joe Pesci’s mother, and Martin’s father, Charles, played Ray Liotta’s prison friend Vinnie.

11. The Muppets take Manhattan led to Muppet Babies.

During a carriage ride through Central Park with her Kermie, Piggy tells him she wishes they would’ve met as toddlers. She envisions a fantasy sequence of baby Kermie, her, Gonzo, Rowlf, Fozzie, and Scooter playing in a nursery and singing the song “I’m Gonna Always Love You.” A few months after the film came out, CBS launched the animated series Muppet Babies, on September 15, 1984. It was Henson’s first Saturday morning show. Muppet Babies ended in 1991, but Disney Junior rebooted it in 2018.

12. The man who played the minister at the end of the film was a real minister.

Spoiler alert: At the end of the film, Kermit thinks he’s pretending to marry Miss Piggy as part of the Broadway show, but she tricks him into marrying him for real. In an interview with Tough Pigs, David Misch revealed they hired a real minister, Dr. Cyril Jenkins, for meta purposes. “Jim wanted ambiguity about whether Kermit and Piggy were ‘really’ married, not just in the movie, to drum up interest,” he said.

13. Kermit thinks it’s time for a Manhattan Melodies revival.

In a 2018 interview with TheaterMania, Kermit said he’d be interested in doing a Manhattan Melodies revival. He would like to star in it but offered another choice. “If I had to recast my role in the Manhattan Melodies, I'd go with the supremely talented singer, dancer, and actor Neil Patrick Harris,” Kermit said. “I just hope he doesn't mind playing opposite Miss Piggy; she’s contractually obligated to play herself.”

12 Perfectly Spooky Halloween Decorations Under $25

Amazon/shopDisney
Amazon/shopDisney

Halloween is right around the corner—which means it’s officially time to bring out the jack-o'-lanterns, watch scary movies, buy your costume(s), and hang up your festive decorations. Although there are thousands of decorations to choose from, you don’t have to blow your budget while decking out your house or apartment in honor of the spooky season this year. With a little guidance, you'll find plenty of ways to create the perfect ambiance at home without going for broke. (And best of all, you can put the money you saved toward extra Halloween candy to stash away.)

From giant spiders to hanging ghosts and lawn decorations, here are a few of our favorite props under $25.

1. Halloween Pillow Covers (4-Pack); $17

ZJHAI/Amazon

These adorable Halloween-themed pillowcases make the perfect accessory for any couch, sofa, or mattress. Made with thick linen fabric, these are durable, sturdy, and designed to last for seasons to come. (Tip: To prevent the zipper from breaking, fold the pillow in half before inserting.)

Buy it: Amazon

2. Black Lace Spiderweb Fireplace Mantle; $12

Aerwo/Amazon

This versatile spiderweb prop is made with 100-percent polyester, and its knit lace spiderweb pattern adds a spooky touch to any home. Display it on your doorway, across your fireplace mantel, or atop your table. (It also makes a great backdrop for Halloween photo ops.)

Buy it: Amazon

3. Statement Halloween Signs; $16

Dazonge/Amazon

These festive, statement-making banners come pre-assembled, making them incredibly easy to install. They’re also weather-resistant and washable for both outdoor and indoor use. Use tape, push-pins, or weights to prevent the signs from blowing away.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Jack Skellington and Sally Plush Dolls; $23 (Each)

Disney

Celebrate your favorite holiday with a pair of adorable Jack Skellington and Sally plush dolls from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Jack stands at 28 inches tall, while Sally is a bit shorter at 21 inches. Set them up on your sofa or against the window sill for all to see.

Buy them: Disney Shop (Jack and Sally)

5. Halloween Zombie Groundbreaker; $22

Joyin/Amazon

This spooktacular zombie lawn decoration is sure to scare all of your friends, family, and neighbors alike. Made with a combination of latex, plastic, and fabric, this durable Halloween prop is sure to last for years to come.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Hanging Ghost Decoration; $14

Moon Boat/Amazon

Drape this handmade, 14-foot-long hanging ghost decoration over your porch, doorway, or window. You can also hang it outdoors over a tree or a (very tall) bush. And, since it comes pre-assembled, you won’t have to waste time constructing it yourself.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Two-Piece Hanging Ghost Set; $17

GeeFuun/Amazon

This pair of ghosts adds a whimsical touch to any home. While they’re not “scary,” per se, they certainly are adorable. Display them in your front yard, on your porch, on a lamppost, or a tree. To hang, simply tie the ribbons and bend the wires, arms, and tails.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Pumpkin String Lights; $19

Eurus Home/Amazon

Not only are these solar-powered, 33-foot-long LED string lights good for the environment, they’re also incredibly easy to install (no long, tangly power cable chords necessary). Since they’re waterproof, you can use them both indoors and outdoors. Choose from eight different light settings, including twinkling, flashing, fading, and more.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Inflatable Ghost; $22

Joiedomi/Amazon

This adorable inflatable ghost (which dons a cute-as-can-be wizard hat!) features built-in LED lights and sandbags to help it stay sturdy. It also comes complete with a plug, extended cords, ground stakes, and fastened ropes. Simply plug it in and watch it magically inflate within just a few minutes.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Graveyard Tombstones; $17

meiguisha/Amazon

Turn your front lawn into a graveyard with this six-piece set. Each tombstone is made with foam and designed to add a touch of spookiness to your space. To install, insert one holder into the bottom of the tombstone, and one into the soil. You can use these indoors, as well.

Buy it: Amazon

11. 10-Piece Skeleton Set; $24

Fun Little Toys/Amazon

This skeleton set includes a skull, hands and arms, and legs and feet—plus five stakes to hold everything in place. Each “bone” and “joint” is flexible, allowing you to prop the skeleton into different frighteningly fun poses. Simply place the stakes into the bone socket and turn clockwise.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Outdoor Spider Web; $18

amenon/Amazon

This giant, ultra-stretchy spider web spans a whopping 23 feet. It also includes a 30-inch black spider, 20 pieces of fake spiders, one hook, and one nail. Its thick polyester rope—combined with the sturdy stakes—allows the spider web to stay in place all season long. Place the hook on a wall or tree, and expand the web using the stakes.

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The Office Children's Book Is Coming to Introduce Your Kids to Dunder Mifflin

The Office: A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary is coming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in October.
The Office: A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary is coming from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in October.
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Amazon

Thanks to constant TV reruns and easy access via Netflix, The Office hasn't lost any of its popularity since airing its series finale in 2013. Now the beloved sitcom is about to be introduced to a whole new audience that (fortunately) isn't old enough to understand what Michael Scott means when he says "That's what she said." As Entertainment Weekly reports, a new book for kids, The Office: A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary, is out now.

While it might be hard to imagine how a children's book all about Dunder Mifflin would work, now that we're getting a glimpse at it, it seems like the best idea ever. A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary will introduce your little ones to all your favorite paper company employees—though they won't be the same Jim and Pam we all know so well. In this book, the illustrated characters are all school-aged.

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

The 40-page book is written by Robb Pearlman, author of Bob Ross and Peapod the Squirrel, Pink is for Boys, and Star Trek: Fun with Kirk and Spock, and illustrated by Melanie Demmer, who works on the My Furry Foster Family series. Though the book is intended for kids ages 4 to 8, you can be sure that we'll be reading it, too.

You can order your copy of The Office: A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary for $16 on Amazon right now. And if you're looking for more Office collectibles that are available right now, head here.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.