[I put this post up yesterday, but forgot to change the timestamp, which was set to the day I started writing it, so it got buried with posts from four days ago. Sorry if you are seeing this again.]
For Sara's birthday I got her a bunch of Muppet DVDs and the first thing we did was watch The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan. We had this discussion at dinner about the movie that I thought might be worth getting down in blog form.
The main thing that stuck me was the ending of the first movie. Kermit has traveled from the swamp to Hollywood picking up muppets along the way, finally getting to the office of Orson Wells' Lew Lords, who gives them the "standard rich and famous contract." The next scene is the muppets themselves making their movie, which is the movie we have just finished watching, with cardboard sets. The film could have ended there, and if it had the point would have been that their hard work paid off, and that they found friends and became successful so you should follow your dreams and so on.
But it does not end like that. It ends as Gonzo floats up high on the movie set and crashes into the cardboard rainbow which falls and breaks the whole set and then the ceiling explodes opening up a huge hole -- and a REAL rainbow comes through. There is a close-up of Kermit singing which backs out so that you see all the muppets, then backs out some more so we see a host of Jim Henson creations all bathed in the light of the rainbow. This ending is quite different because it identifies the rainbow light of the imagination (which Shelley uses at the end of Adonais) as an otherworldly force, something emphasized by the fact that the rainbow lights characters that are beyond the scope of the film -- this is not the imagination of Kermit or the muppets, but of their creator.
(And THE Creator -- remember that the rainbow is figured in the bible as the sign from God after the flood, his promise that he will not destroy the world again.)
The other thing about the Muppet movie that struck me as particularly gnostic was the way the characters recognize each other. In gnosticism some people have that "spark" of god in them and these are your people -- you have to find them, especially because as part of the fall into the mortal world they have forgotten where they come from and may not recognize themselves as chosen (think of how Morpheus finds Neo in the Matrix). A wonderful unspoken joke in the Muppet world is that while we the audience can see that that one is a muppet while that one is Eliot Gould, the characters in the movie cannot break the world into such categories. When Miss Piggy runs off with Charles Grodin in The Great Muppet Caper no one says to Charles Grodin "why would you want to date a muppet rather than a human woman." As far as anyone in the world of the films are concerned muppets are no more different from humans than humans are from each other. Part of the fun for kids watching the Muppet movie is that they know, of all the people Kermit could talk to in one scene, he is going to talk to Rolf the Dog -- because WE know they are both muppets, and we know he will be invited to join Kermit in his quest for Hollywood. We know Rolf is one of Kermit's people before Kermit does, and it is satisfying to watch him work it out -- as for example in how they both sing together and harmonize within moments of meeting each other (music, for the muppets is the great shibboleth). Gonzo's "There's not a word yet, for old friends who just met" is an absolutely gnostic maxim. You are old friends because the spark of god comes from the same ancient source, but you have not yet met in the fallen world.
And this notion of the fall making you forget who you are is a key part of the third act of Muppets take Manhattan, in which Kermit looses his memory and forgets who he is. He thinks he should be working for an ad agency (staffed by frogs) and does not know the power that is lost inside of him -- except it cant stay hidden, as he plays a tune at the diner unconsciously, alerting all of his friends to who he really is. It is a good ratcheting up of the conflict in the first movie: there, muppets did not know they were muppets; here, Kermit -- the origin, the gnostic muppet messiah -- does not know he is Kermit.
(Notice also how the Muppets Take Manhattan simply reverses the structure of the first film. In the first film Kermit starts from nowhere, gathers people and goes to get his wishes fulfilled on in Hollywood by a very Wizard of Oz Orson Wells. The "sequel" does not have much in the way of continuity as they start at the end of their college days, get rejected by Dabney Coleman as they were accepted by Wells, then scatter, then Kermit forgets who he is and becomes a indistinguishable nobody -- Phil, surrounded by Gil, Lil, and Bill. It is only a last minute lucky reversal in The Muppets Take Manhattan that does not end Kermit in the obscurity that he began at in the opening of The Muppet Movie.
And in the end he gathers all the minor muppets he has met in Manhattan and says "That's what the show has been missing -- all of you" and he puts them on stage. See, because they all BELONG on stage, and he can remind them of who they really are, just as he recently remembered. And the human waitress Jenny? Well she can make the costumes but she does not go up on stage, because at the end of the day SHE IS NOT ONE OF THEM.
I am not sure about that last paragraph, but I am sticking with it just for now. Sara may have more to add in the comments.