It isn’t easy being green, let alone a middle-aged frog trying to win over new fans in a universe where the most recent TV puppets are Crank Yankers and Greg the Bunny. Still, one would think that the Kermit the Frog legacy is solid enough to resist the temptation to utilize tasteless sight gags. Apparently, it’s not.
While Kermit and company don’t stoop to raunch, there is a measurable dip in taste and comedy from the days of “The Muppet Show.” How else can you explain not one but two shots of a frog mooning the camera?
In an apparent effort to modernize Kermit’s image, writers Jim Lewis, Joseph Mazzarino and director David Gumpel have gone back in time to give the beloved amphibian a new, hipper image with “Kermit’s Swamp Years.” Kermit, after all, is 46 years old: His TV debut was back in 1956 on Steve Allen’s “Tonight Show.”
In this Starz! original family movie, Kermit is getting in touch with his inner tadpole by reminiscing about his formative years in the big swamp. Like all Hollywood autobiographies, his story is told in flashback as Kermit remembers the first time he and his friends Goggles and Croaker decided to explore the edge of the habitat.
Kermit, one of many brothers and sisters, longs for some kind of adventure beyond the confines of home. When a local pet store owner inadvertently captures Goggles and a bully of a bullfrog named Blotch, Kermit and Croaker hook up with a stray dog named Pilgrim in order to find their friend.
The elaborate action story is peppered with foreshadowing of Kermit’s showbiz future with the Muppets. At one point the group takes a short cut through a farm and Kermit encounters a feisty pig and quips, “I hope I never meet another one of those again!” Alas, we know he does.
The trio also receives help from a young animal lover by the name of Jimmy Henson, and later, when the three find themselves in a movie theater, they come across Statler and Waldorf, the two old guys from the balcony, only here, they are much younger and sport sideburns.
It turns out that Goggles, Blotch and the other frogs from the pet store are sold to the menacing Dr. Krassman (John Hostetter), who takes them to the local high school. Kermit and the gang follow only to discover the frogs will be part of a science lesson about dissection.
Sworn never to talk to humans, Kermit decides to break his oath to save his friend and the famous talking frog is born. Ironically, “Kermit’s Swamp Years” has very little to do with the swamp.
Instead, the movie is an elaborate and sometimes scary adventure that sporadically features Muppet insider jokes. While Muppet fans will appreciate the references, a ferocious looking alligator and a very disturbing story about dissection may scare newer and younger audiences. Similarly, misplaced double entendres and a bullfrog with a penchant for fistfights may put off parents.
Tape reviewed was a rough cut, although the live-action sequences, computer animation and puppeteering reinforce the high standards set by Jim Henson productions. Movie includes the fake outtakes that are now a standard of children’s movies as well as a surprising punk-like version of “Rainbow Connection.”