For years, I’ve tried to mentally reconcile the Muppet movies and shows into one cohesive timeline/universe. Of course there were several Muppet appearances prior to “The Muppet Show”, but I am mostly concerned with “Cannonical Muppets”….basically, the main collection of Muppets, from “The Muppet Show” forward. (Anything during the time period featuring only one or two of the Muppets equivalates to a guest appearance, or else promotion of some upcoming project.)
The difficulty in sorting this all out lies in the fact that some movies are clearly adaptations of previously-existing stories, while others are concerned with, for lack of a better term, ‘Muppets Prime’- the primary existance of The Muppets, as a theater company consisting of frogs, bears, pigs, chickens, and a Whatever. Further confusing the issue is the fact that there is at least one movie which is an original story, rather than an adaptation, and yet The Muppets are all portraying characters.
Here, then, is what I have assembled:
'The Muppet Movie' is obviously the primary origin story. However, between when the film within the film is made and the premiere of said film (which bookend 'The Muppet Movie'), the events of 'Muppets Take Manhattan' occur. This is evidenced not only by several characters who appear in the bookend scenes, but not the actual “film” of 'The Muppet Movie', while they receive their “origins” in 'Manhattan' [both Swedish Chef and Lou Zealand show up at the movie theater in Ohio where Scooter takes a job], but also retroactively evidenced with the appearance of Big Bird and the rest of the Sesame Street gang at the wedding which closes 'Manhattan': during the roadtrip in 'The Muppet Movie', Fozzie and Kermit stop a walking Big Bird, who tells them he is on his way to New York to “try to break into public television”. The fact that he and the rest of the Sesame Street cast being present in the closing wedding scene indicates that, not only did Big Bird make it to New York, but Fozzie and Kermit seem to have found him once they got there themselves.
Obviously, with the success and fortune that came from the Broadway hit ‘Manhattan Melodies’ and film-within-a-film ‘The Muppet Movie’, The Muppets were able to lease a theater in California, where they held a weekly variety show. They also used this money to finance a few films in which they acted as the primary cast: ‘The Great Muppet Caper’, ‘Muppet Christmas Carol’ and ‘Muppet Treasure Island’. Again, ‘The Great Muppet Caper’ obviously takes place after ‘The Muppets Take Manhattan’, as Rizzo the Rat (who is introduced in ‘Manhattan’) is seen (and heard) working at The Happiness Hotel in ‘Caper’. Also, when the trio of Fozzie, Kermit, and Gonzo land in England, and are discussing (with the man on the park bench) where to stay for free, Gonzo asks “What’s wrong with bus terminals?”, an obvious callback (and in-joke) to their initial sleeping arrangements in ‘Manhattan’.
Following these three films, and various TV specials, they again begin to concentrate on their stage show, this time with ‘Muppets Tonight’, incorporating new talent. Following this run of variety shows, they again took a brief break. As evidenced in ‘Muppets From Space’, they live communally in a cast house (which makes sense: most properties have enough issues with renting to someone who has pets, let alone someone who could be classified as a pet). The Electric Mayhem and Gonzo continue to take outside gigs while the theater closes down (most likely, this is simply their off-season). In fact, it would seem that most of the Muppets seek outside employment during this time, as Piggy has begun to pursue a TV career.
As they begin their theater season again, and begin to prepare a Christmas show, they discover that the lease on their theater is in danger (‘It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie’). (The lease on the theater, and the whole of Muppet Studios would again fall into danger during the events of ‘The Muppets’, this time due to a clause in the “standard Rich and Famous” contract signed near the end of ‘The Muppet Movie’. As ‘It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie' seems to take place in New York, it seems obvious that Muppet Studios owns two theaters- one in California [and their main base of operations], and one in New York. The New York theater was obviously where 'MuppeTelevision' and 'Muppets Tonight' were filmed, as being in New York would not only allow closer access to the networks, but allow them to more easily retrofit an old theater to make it suitable for running a television show. That the two theaters could suffer such similar fates so close together indicates that, while all the Muppets have interesting quirks and talents, none of them is particularly skilled in the negotiation, or even reading, of contracts.)
After having successfully saved their theater, they embark upon a cross-country tour, again trying to incorporate new talent (‘Muppet Wizard of Oz’). This is where things begin to get very, very complicated….
'Oz' does not follow the typical 'Wizard of Oz' storyline. In fact, the adventure in Oz is never resolved to be Dorothy's dream. It stands to reason, then, that Dorothy actually does cross over into Oz, which is, in short, an alternate diminsion. There, she meets alternate versions of Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, et al.
This is not the first alternate diminsion in the Muppet universe, however. This calls into question if the non-Kermit version experienced in ‘It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie’ is a hypothetical vision, or if it is, in fact, a separate diminsion. 'Muppet Babies' is yet another diminsion: it does not follow the origins laid out in either 'The Muppet Movie' or 'The Muppets Take Manhattan'. Furthermore, the existance of Skeeter, Scooter's twin sister (who is never mentioned, let alone seen, in Muppets Prime) certainly raises questions regarding this version of The Muppets. We will never know what became of the 'Muppet B' universe (or any other of the Muppet universes). Perhaps through some freak experiment from Bunson and Beaker (either version), that universe was merged with 'Muppet Prime', accounting for Piggy's “daydream” in 'Manhattan': it merely seems like a daydream to her, but in fact she had just experienced the memories of a life that she never had. Why, then, did no-one else experience this? Possibly, they did. However, Piggy is far more prone to flights of fancy than anyone else.
All of which brings us to where we currently stand in Muppetdom: Some films are stories ABOUT the Muppets, some are stories told BY the Muppets, and some are explorations into alternate realities. So, to sum up:
The Muppets Take Manhattan
The Muppet Movie
"Real-life" adventures had by The Muppets
The Muppet Show/MuppeTelevision/Muppets Tonight
It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie*
[various other Muppet Christmas specials]
Muppets From Space
Muppets Wizard of Oz**
Films made by The Muppets as part of their “standard Rich and Famous contract”
The Great Muppet Caper
Muppet Treasure Island
Muppet Christmas Carol
It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie*
Muppets Wizard of Oz**