The Muppets Go to the Movies aired on ABC on May 20, 1981 and on ITV on July 10, 1981; it helped to promote the Muppets' second feature film The Great Muppet Caper, which came out on June 26 in the USA and on July 30, 1981 in the UK.
In this one-hour special, Lily Tomlin and Dudley Moore join the Muppets in a tribute to film classics. Kermit the Frog hosts the program, which begins with an all-cast rendition of "Hey a Movie!" from The Great Muppet Caper.
The special was taped between March 9 and 17, 1981.
- Invasion of the Unpleasant Things from Outer Space: Moore and Tomlin face giant alien rats, and Moore speaks Japanese with English subtitles.
- The Nephew of Frankenstein: Fozzie visits his uncle, mad scientist Dr. Julius Strangepork, who's creating a monster comedian (Mulch).
- A silent movie (spoofing The Sheik) presented by Rowlf, starring Kermit, Sopwith the Camel, and Mulch.
- Silent Strawberries: A parody of Ingmar Bergman films, directed by Ingmar's brother Gummo Bergman.
- Casablanca: Kermit bids a wind-blown Piggy farewell.
- Tarzan and Jane: Tomlin plays Jane opposite Gonzo's Tarzan.
- Goon with the Wind: Moore plays Rhett opposite Piggy's Scarlett.
- A Frog Too Far: Kermit is a World War II air force pilot, with Tomlin playing a variety of love interest roles.
Additionally, Floyd and Janice perform "Act Naturally" backstage, the entire cast and guest stars (in multiple roles) sing "We'll Meet Again" as the finale, and the special includes three clips from The Great Muppet Caper: "The First Time It Happens", Beauregard's taxi-driving sequence, and "Steppin' Out with a Star". A clip from the finale of The Muppet Movie also appears during the special's opening sequence.
The special is unique because it's the first time the entrance to The Muppet Theatre is shown at the end of the special. There is a close up of the exit door and the back entrance during the credits as Kermit is locking up.
Muppets: Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Scooter, Statler and Waldorf, Beauregard, Lew Zealand, Sam the Eagle, Floyd Pepper, Janice, Animal, Rowlf the Dog, Link Hogthrob, Rizzo the Rat, The Swedish Chef, Beaker, Rats, Dr. Strangepork, Mulch, Foo-Foo, Penguins, Pigs, The Scarlet Pimpernel
- Some changes were made to the special for the international airings:
- The corrected title card used before "Hey a Movie!" is inserted before the "Silent Strawberries" sketch.
- Statler and Waldorf make a comment following the "Wizard of Oz" medley.
- Stock footage of the Muppet Theatre audience from The Muppet Show is used before "Heat Wave."
- The sequence during the closing credits uses a different take. The credits are also aligned differently.
- According to Mike Quinn, this was the last thing to be taped at ATV using the classic Muppet Show sets.
- Executive Producer: David Lazer
- Producer: Jim Henson
- Director: Peter Harris
- Writers: Jerry Juhl, Chris Langham, Jim Henson, and Gummo
- Associate Producer: Martin Baker
- Muppet Designers: Amy Van Gilder, Caroly Wilcox, Leslee Asch, Cheryl Blaylock, Ed Christie, Deborah Coda, Christine Cooper, Nomi Frederick, Jane Gootnick, Janet Kuhl, Will Morrison
- Muppet Costumes: Calista Hendrickson, Barbara Davis, Joanne Green, Connie Peterson, Carol Spier, Mary Strieff
- Muppet Workshop Supervisor: Robert MacCormack
- Muppet Design Consultant: Michael K. Frith
- Creative Consultant: Frank Oz
- Music Consultant: Larry Grossman
- Art Director: David Chandler
- Orchestra Conductor: Jack Parnell
- Musical Associate: Derek Scott
- Lighting Director: John Rook
- Audio: Roger Knight
- Senior Floor Manager: Richard Holloway
- Costumes: Ann Hollowood
“This is not, obviously, the most elegantly witty humor. It is, by turns, silly, outrageous, sophomoric and hilarious. Old vaudeville gags compete with brisk standup routines. When the energy threatens to wane, an elaborate production number is hauled in... Miss Tomlin is especially suited to the special world of the Muppets. She takes them quite seriously and enters their routines with totally zany but understandable dedication... And so on, right to the entire company finale in which everyone joins in singing "We'll Meet Again." I hope so.”
—John J. O'Connor, The New York Times. May 20th, 1981.
This special was released on video in the United Kingdom by Palace in the 1980s. It was also released on DVD in Israel. The PAL VHS release omits the original UK commercial bumpers and substitutes them for a shot of the Muppet audience applauding Rowlf at the end of his tribute to the Silent Era.
The special was also made available on VHS through Films Incorporated in 1988.