A little more than a week ago, we set out to make a list of Cinema Blend’s favorite Muppets. Ten different writers were asked to compile ordered lists of their top fifteen. We expected some diversity. What we got were few similarities. Not only did the ten lists not match, many of them bore little resemblance to each other. There were only four characters that made everyone’s list and only a further two that made nine. If we were looking for consensus, our efforts failed miserably, but if we were looking for an indication of why the Muppets have inspired such devotion for fifty odd years, these vastly different lists accomplished just that.
The world the Muppets inhabit is simply too rich for agreement. There are too many well-developed characters and too many great moments to conclude anything absolutely. It’s all a wonderful gray area, an amusement park of colors, shapes, sizes, personalities and tones. Now and again, it’s a bit of a zany madhouse, but that’s part of its charm. Halfway down the stairs, Henson’s characters meet, interact and grow in one another’s presence. Muppet strength lies in diversity. We wouldn’t change the extensive cast for anything, but since we’re pretty sure the gang’s not breaking up, there doesn’t seem to be any harm in arguing out our preferences.
As voted on by the Cinema Blend writers, here are our 25 favorite Muppets* of all-time…
#1: Kermit the Frog
More than just a frog with a talent for banjo and an oddly pleasant singing voice, Kermit’s real strength is as the perfect leader; which is to say he doesn’t really want the job. People who crave power often don’t deserve it, while those most reluctant to take it are usually the ones you want in charge. Leading the Muppets makes Kermit crazy, and he’d probably rather hang out somewhere in the background with Scooter, but he can’t sit idly by when he knows someone needs him. Kermit’s unending belief in his friends and in the genuine goodness of the world around them is what makes the Muppets great. He’s not the smartest Muppet or the most talented. He’s not the best public speaker and almost everything makes him nervous. He’s not the best looking or the strongest, and he’s definitely not much of a fighter. But he’s loyal, and he’s brave, and he believes in you. Yes, you there, reading this paragraph. He believes in you. Kermit is and always will be the greatest Muppet because he is the Muppets. Everything that makes Jim Henson’s enduring characters wonderful is, in some small way, embodied in this one green little frog. It’s not easy being green, but it’s worth it.
#2: Statler and Waldorf
The sugary sweet, hugely energetic Muppets who dare to put on a show every week would be nothing without their polar opposites. Perched high in the balcony like lazy vultures, tossing out barbs that are as clever as they are harmless, Statler and Waldorf give the Muppets the bite that Kermit and Fozzie aren't capable of. And even as much as they claim to hate everything the Muppets stand for, they're back week after week, launching their bombs from their pricey seats but also dying to see what the show will bring them next. They're like the original Internet commenters, providing the vitriol that allows the performers to thrive, all the while secretly loving the entertainment they're given. You wouldn't be able to enjoy the Muppets nearly as much without Statler and Waldorf to make fun of you for it.
#3: Fozzie Bear
Let’s just be honest: Fozzie Bear is a pretty terrible comedian. His jokes are almost all based on puns and usually cause more groans than laughs. Statler and Waldorf typically go way too far with their Muppet hatred, but it’s somewhat understandable when they feel the need to throw tomatoes at Fozzie. So what makes him such a great character? His passion and unwillingness to stop doing what he loves. In spite of the punishment, Fozzie never gives up on his dream of being a stand-up and unrepentantly believes that he has the talent to make it. Because of this, the audience doesn’t get bored or sick of Fozzie, bur rather gives him embarrassed chuckles and half-smiles. Throw in the fact that he is a founding member of the muppets troupe, as seen in The Muppets Movie, which makes him incredibly important to the whole show, and Fozzie deserves one of the top spots on our list.
#4: The Swedish Chef
Hergy-bergy-flocken-durk. I've never understood a single word the Swedish Chef has said, and I've never needed to. He's not just one of the few Muppets who never speaks a word you can understand, but he's also got the fewest facial features, everything masked by a big floppy chef's hat and the mustache and eyebrows that seem to be taking over his face. And yet, none of it matters-- the Swedish Chef isn't capable of a heartfelt tune like "The Rainbow Connection" or of pulling off a pun like Statler and Waldorf, but his presence in any sketch is automatically good for a laugh because the guy just looks funny. Even the most standard comedy setup gets better when the Swedish Chef is somehow involved-- like when he, Animal and Beaker sang "Danny Boy" together and burst into tears. Who knew a take on the old Irish ballad would be even better when you couldn't understand a single word?
Every Dr. Frankenstein needs an Igor, and when it comes to Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, his favorite test subject has a shocking tuft of clown-red hair, a giant nose that occupies most of his face, and perfect globes for eyes that have been known to light up like Christmas trees when he’s electrocuted. Not that Beaker’s able to protest. He actually speaks a language few can understand, chirping “meep” every time he’s volunteered for yet another dangerous experiment. And he has a softer side, one display when he grabs the microphone and belts out covers of Coldplay’s Yellow or Feelings (as a duet with The Swedish Chef). But it’s his resilience in the face of science that makes Beaker one of our favorite Muppets.
Animal is probably every young boy's favorite Muppet. I mean, with the mayhem, the destruction and the fun, how could he not be? He's a complete nostalgia kick who instantly makes me remember my love for the troupe of felt friends. I don't think it's a coincidence that Animal has appeared in EVERY rendition of the Muppets since their origin on Sesame Street. From The Muppet Show to Muppet Babies, Animal is always present, collared and leashed (don't mistake him for a pet though, he's dangerous), ready to rock out on his drum kit ("Beat Drums!"). And even when the others were fading, Animal continued to show up in pop culture, like having this staring contest with the drummer of OK GO. Oh, and while on the topic, what a drummer! Clearly the most accomplished musician on the variety show, he's battled some of the all-time greats during including Buddy Rich or Harry Belafonte. Apparently modeled after The Who's Keith Moon (watch this clip, see the similarities... maybe he brought in Crazy Harry?), Animal may seem like a simple character, but don't mistake his guttural blasts and grunts for stupidity. Even though he may have a limited vocabulary, he is clearly a cultured and tortured artist. "Renoir! Renoir!"
The real question here should be, “What’s not awesome about Gonzo?” Easily one of the funniest muppets, he is the kind of comedian that doesn’t mind hurting himself for a laugh. Every week on The Muppet Show he would play his trumpet at the end of the theme song, despite the fact that he knew that it would most likely blow up in his face (sometimes quite literally). But then, of course, there’s his stunt work. Whether he’s shooting himself out of a cannon, launching himself off of a catapult, or driving a motorcycle into the balcony, he is a consummate performer who will do anything to entertain the audience. We may never get to know what Gonzo The Great’s true origin or his species – Muppets from Space was just a movie and I don’t think that he can be biologically defined as a “weirdo” or a “whatever” – but one thing is for certain: he is one of the greatest Muppets in existence.
#8: Dr. Bunsen Honeydew
Very few Muppets can be mistaken for “smart.” Daring? Yes. Creative? Absolutely. Loveable? You know it. But intelligent? Only Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, host of the famous Muppet Labs segments, earns that distinction. Or does he? If you ask his trusty lab assistant, Beaker, he’ll tell you Honeydew’s science is more than a little off. Could it be the good doctor’s lack of eyeballs that’s preventing him from perfecting the next medical or scientific breakthrough? Not that it matters. Bunsen and Beaker are legendary in the Muppet field, besting Star Trek icon Mr. Spock in a 2004 BBC Internet poll asking for Britain’s favorite cinematic scientists. Not bad for a melon-headed doctor who has a penchant for doling out puppet pain.
#9: Rowlf the Dog
It’s hard to remember that loveable Rowlf the dog wasn’t always a secondary Muppet character. Back in the day, he became the first prominent Henson Muppet thanks to a stint on The Jimmy Dean Show. Much later, after Henson’s death, there wasn’t a suitable casting for Rowlf’s voice, so he remained a background character. It’s funny how time changes perspective. Jimmy Dean has become the sausage king, and Rowlf has become a music-making side show. Still, Rowlf is at the heart of the Muppets. His musical abilities, affable personality, and self-reflective humor have ensured he is one of the most fleshed out Muppets ever. On the musical end, whether he’s fervently jamming with a member of the Electric Mayhem or having a tender moment with Kermit, his laid back personality still comes out as a focal point. With Bill Barretta at the helm in the Muppets, expect Rowlf to fall quite comfortably back into our laps. Every good team needs a bilingual member to save the day on occasion, and Rowlf has the English and dog speak to prove it. Besides, who doesn’t love a dog who can take himself for a walk?
#10: Rizzo the Rat
Rizzo the Rat always came across as one of the more independent Muppets. While he gets along well with the group, he always seems to do just fine when he’s on his own. Chalk that up to how streetwise he is and his good attitude. Rizzo has appeared on The Muppet Show and in some of the movies, including a brief appearance as one of the bellhop rats at the Happiness Hotel in The Great Muppet Caper and in a more prominent role as one of the kitchen staff members in the diner in The Muppets Take Manhattan. He also does a fine job of offering his own commentary as one of the narrators in The Muppets Christmas Carol.
#11: Miss Piggy
Let's be honest-- the Muppets are kind of a boy's club. The list of memorable characters from the show reads like some kind of vaudeville frathouse, and you can imagine Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, Animal and even Statler and Waldorf setting aisde their differences to bond over scotch and cigars. And then there's the lone, defiantly feminine and utterly bananas Miss Piggy, who's love interest and diva and boss all wrapped into one exquisitely dressed Muppet. Miss Piggy has no problem being the only woman in the show's main ensemble-- in fact she probably prefers is that, since it allows all the more attention for moi. In fact, as demanding and loud as she can be, Miss Piggy can never be bothered by anything, be it Kermit's attempts to run away from her love or her hefty size, which only makes her karate kicks that more powerful. She may be ridiculous and a pain in the neck, but there's no Muppet I'd rather be when I grow up.
#12: Sam the Eagle
Statler and Waldorf get most of the attention for being the resident grumps among The Muppets, but Sam the Eagle does his part to disapprove of almost everything and make sure too much fun isn't being had. He does this on behalf of his love for America, the country for which he's a national symbol, of course. In The Great Muppet Caper Sam appeared to declare everyone at the Happiness Hotel to be weirdos. It seems likely that Sam the Eagle would get along well with The Colbert Report’s Stephen Colbert in their mutual appreciation for promoting good morals in America. Sam's uppity attitude offers an amusing contrast to the fun loving nature of most of the other Muppets.
#13: Floyd Pepper
Floyd Pepper is one strange looking Muppet. If his honking, nearly Gonzo- sized nose weren’t enough, the man has lavender skin, a generally bright red wardrobe, and orange hair. And man, does the Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem bass player have some fine looking sideburns. Not only are they neon orange, but they sprout out of the side of his face like a chia pet. It’s pretty glorious. Floyd Pepper is a beatnik turned rock enthusiast, and also the only Muppet who seems to have any sort of influence on Animal, earning him a few brownie points. Pepper is the mad coolest of all the Muppets, and he knows it, but somehow that makes him more fun to watch. Maybe we all just have a soft spot for bass players, but his ability to croon and to often take the lead in The Electric Mayhem is pretty swoon-worthy, too.
#14: Dr. Teeth
You can't have a variety show without a house band and you can't have a house band without a band leader. Yes, just as David has his Paul, Conan had his Max and Jimmy has The Roots, Kermit has Dr. Teeth for The Muppet Show and some subsequent films. Unfortunately, since the character's voice was one of the hardest for Jim Henson to perform (not to mention that it required extra Muppeteers to control his separate and elongated arms) he was often replaced by Rowlf as the show's go-to pianist. However, I still feel like there is no replacing Dr. Teeth, the Muppet with "golden teeth and golden tones," who was based on real life musician Dr. John. Dr. Teeth's signature style includes the mis-use of big words and verb conjugation, but behind the garbled mess usually lies a comment of some real value, whether a call to action or a moral revelation. Although it was sad to hear about the band's collapse (documented by VH1), it was certainly uplifting to see them back on fine form The Muppets.