There are few better family friendly movie delights than The Muppets – but one censorship board didn’t always agree with that.
The sublime opening number of the sorely underappreciated 2013 Muppet film Muppets Most Wanted features a song that basically skewers the subsequent movie before the critics were allowed anywhere near it. The song ‘We’re Doing A Sequel’ tell us in no uncertain terms that ‘everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good’.
It’s a delicious way to start the film, but the opening number is a little bit different depending on where you hear it. Spin the soundtrack CD or the extended director’s edition of the film you’ll find on American disc releases, and there’s a little ditty in the song that goes ‘We’re doing a sequel/How hard can it be?/We can’t do any worse than The Godfather 3’. That moment was taken out of the theatrical cut though in a moment of self-censorship. Director James Bobin told me once upon a time that it was removed just to be a little more on the safe side.
Still, it’s not the first instance of a Muppet film being censored to some degree. There’s the excising of the ‘When Love Is Gone’ song from The Muppet Christmas Carol for instance, although that was a creative decision made by Disney’s then movie chief Jeffrey Katzenberg. However, there’s only one instance on record of a Muppet film being taken to task by a nation’s movie censorship board for its – checks notes – ‘gratuitous violence’.
The movie in question was the first of the felted folks’ big screen features, The Muppet Movie.
Directed by James Frawley whilst written by Jerry Juhl and Frank Burns, to this day the film itself is billed as a family comedy. Head to Disney+ here in the UK and it’s rated for those aged 6 or above. The streaming service has felt no reason to add any further warning before the film, and it’s certainly done that for other features.
Yet when the movie got to New Zealand in the late 1970s, a problem hit. A sequence that takes place in the movie in the El Sleezo Café sees the mighty Fozzie Bear finding himself in trouble. He tells a joke about a fat sailor – it was the 70s – and instantly attracts the ire of, well, a sailor in the crowed. You can see the moment in question just under three minutes into this clip…
What caused the problem for the New Zealand ratings board there was the shot of the sailor with the broken bottle. Not the fat joke, not the fact that someone has fired a gun in the general direction of Fozzie while he’s on stage. Furthermore, the bottle moment led to the New Zealand Classification Office insisting on a cut due to the film’s ‘gratuitous violence’, and the change was made.
The BBFC here in the UK has the film classified as a U certificate, and that exact scene is the only moment it makes specific note of, warning “In one scene a man breaks a bottle and briefly brandishes it, but no violence ensues”.
Still, the curiosity of The Muppet Movie doesn’t quite end there. The original cinema release in the UK – and the version that was released on video over here too in the 1980s – went on for just over 97 minutes (or 93 minutes on video, which ran an extra frame per second and thus was the same cut but marginally quicker). Now, the version of the film that’s commonly available comes in at 91 minutes and 12 seconds, courtesy of a round of stealth cuts to the film.
The changes are primarily harmless too, with extended versions of scenes present in the original cut back. The bottle moment appears to be in all versions, interestingly enough. What you’re missing are a few gags here and there, a car chase scene is gone, a longer version of the ‘I Hope That Something Better Comes Along’ song, a bit more reaction around Orson Welles’ moment in the film, and a few more explosions.
What’s unclear is what led to this small collection of cuts being made, and someone has detailed the full list of what’s missing over at the IMDB Alternate Versions page. You can find that here.
From what I can ascertain though, everywhere in the world but one country where The Muppet Movie was released, it got through untouched as a family feature. I find no record anywhere else of a mandated cut to the movie, yet alone on the grounds of violence.
For those in New Zealand? Beware of the violence of a beloved Muppet film. Help yourself to something like Home Alone 2, though…
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