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The Muppets Take Manhattan was the third feature film from Jim Henson and the gang. The picture took more than two years to plan, but the labor of love paid off, grossing more than $25 million worldwide and proving that the Muppets was a beloved franchise.
“Before the Muppets there was nothing like the Muppets,” said director and co-screenwriter Frank Oz. “Jim created this whole new look.”
1. They filmed on location.
The movie actually filmed in New York, which presented a challenge for the puppeteers. “It’s harder because… there’s not the whole television system around us that we work with in the studio,” Jim Henson said. “But on the other hand, it’s fun. It’s a challenge to try to create a reality there.” The puppeteers used low rolling dollies equipped with monitors in order to capture the Muppets on the streets of Manhattan. Other times, they actually used remote controlled puppets for wide shots.
2. It introduced new Muppets.
The Muppet Babies were first introduced in this feature film. Puppeteers operated these mini-Muppets from underneath a raised floor on a soundstage. “They're much more difficult because they have very short, stubby arms and legs,” said Frank Oz, director and puppeteer. “You can’t really move them like the regular characters.” After the film, the Muppet Babies got their own television show.
3. Cameos were planned carefully.
The Muppets Take Manhattan features cameos by Art Carney, Gregory Hines, Dabney Coleman, Liza Minnelli, Brook Shields, and more. The team was intentional about who appeared, after the previous film received criticism that the cameos were in the film just for cameo’s sake. Director Frank Oz said, “We wanted to really have the cameos as part of the plot.” So they cast well-known talent for specific roles that were integral to the story.
4. Joan Rivers says her catchphrase.
Pay attention to Joan Rivers' cameo as a perfume saleswoman at Bergdorf's to hear her say her catchphrase often used in her talk show: “Can we talk?” When the scene was originally filmed, director Frank Oz (who voiced Miss Piggy) felt like it wasn’t working because it was hard to capture spontaneous laughter. So he ordered some Bloody Marys for them both, and they tried again successfully. When Rivers died in 2014, Bergdorf's honored the comedian by placing a photo of her with Miss Piggy in their window.