What is Sarah Silverman Doing in The Muppets?

Last year's The Muppets meets the needs of both its audiences.

By , Contributor

The Muppets movie, called simply The Muppets, that came out last year is now available on On Demand and other video outlets as well. That seems like as good a reason as any to mention something remarkable about it. And Sarah Silverman is the key to that something.

You know who is Sarah Silverman is, don’t you? She’s the performer who defines the bleeding edge of what’s permissible in contemporary comedy, the woman with the potty mouth in the middle of her angelic face. And she’s in the new Muppets movie!

Of course, she doesn’t actually say—or do—anything at all. She just stands there as a greeter in the restaurant. She’s on the screen for maybe ten seconds.

Sarah Silverman is in The Muppets because it has two audiences—the kids who are the primary audience, and the parents, the secondary audience, who brought the kids there. Naturally, the movie plays primarily to the primary audience—no surprise there. But it also wants to keep the parents entertained, sporadically at least. So it puts in moments to perk up the parents as the plot makes its pleasant way to its predictable ending. Suddenly, for no very good reason, parents see Sarah Silverman, and get a shock of recognition: “What’s she doing in this movie?”

Various other performers perk up the parents without doing anything to speak of. Alan Arkin has a bit part, and Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Patrick Harris, and Judd Hirsch, as well as political consultant James Carville, play themselves. And let us not forget 92-year-old Mickey Rooney, who ties The Muppets back to the glory days of G-rated movies just by sitting on a bench in mythical Smalltown, USA, where our story begins.

The movie does something else for the parents. It elicits knowing smiles from them by giving some of the characters some self-awareness. Thus, at a critical moment when the Muppets are gathering the former members to put on a show, in the best tradition of these movies, one of them says, “How are we going to find the others?” Another Muppet replies, “By using a montage.” And what follows is a clever montage sequence that Eisenstein would have been proud of, in which the other Muppets are found.

The movie also plays with the convention of “travel by map,” which Steven Spielberg uses several times in the Indiana Jones movies. When Indy wants to go from Point A to Point B, we don’t see him making this trip. We see a map with an arrow on it that traces his journey. In The Muppets travel by map saves the day, because the hero and heroine are in Smalltown and need to return to Hollywood in a flash. Since this is a Hollywood movie, that’s what they do, and when someone asks Mary (Amy Adams) how they got there so fast, she smiles and answers, “We did travel by map.”

In short, there’s a reason why this movie did such good business on its opening weekend, and will continue to bring in big bucks for Disney. This movie satisfies the needs of both its primary and its secondary audiences. And Sarah Silverman never has to open her mouth.

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JIm Curtis has a background in Russian studies, and is fascinated with both high culture and popular culture. He just finished a book on Dylan, and covers the book beat for The Morton Report.

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