Couldn’t We Ride

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Jarrod Fairclough – Recently I bought a bicycle in order to get in shape.  I’ve gained a couple of pounds, and to help me achieve my goal of losing a bunch of them by the end of the year, I decided what better way than to get on two wheels and feel the wind through my hair.

While on my bike the other day, my mind wandered and I began to wonder if we’d ever seen a Muppet ride a bike.  Yes, that thought went through my head.  And then 4 seconds later I laughed at my stupidity, because we’ve seen Muppets on bikes many times!

One of the most talked about (and impressive) parts of both The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper are the bike riding sections.  Kermit rides in to town in the former, and a full musical number with the whole Muppet cast is done on two wheels in the latter. A question that has been asked a million times is ‘How did they do that?’.  Rather than explain it all ourselves, we’ve taken just some of the explanations that are out there and put them below. Just in time for International ‘Go For a Ride Day’ (It’s almost like I knew!)

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The Muppet Movie Director, James Frawley
Every time I show the film — whether it’s to film students at USC or UCLA or I’m going to a festival — that’s always the first question: How did Kermit ride the bicycle? And my stock answer is: I put him on a three-wheeler until he got his balance, and then I put him on the two-wheeler.

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Dave Goelz on The Muppet Movie
With The Muppet Movie, we had a very sophisticated bicycle rig that was a little radio-controlled car that was mounted in the bike between the front and rear wheels, and it had a mirror on it so it reflected the ground in front of the bicycle (as you saw from the camera’s point of view), but it broke just before we had to shoot the bit, and so we ended up doing that with three strings from a camera crane, and there were many many takes and we ran out of time finally and never got it to work right. He was always kind of tilted on the bike — if you look at the final take in the movie, he’s not really riding a bike that’s straight up and down, it’s kind of tilted over to the side.

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The Great Muppet Caper (From Muppet Wiki)
Although marionette devices continued to be used in this sequence, the process was simplified when multiple bicycles were in the same shot. Two bicycles could be connected together with a stiff rod from axle to axle, eliminating the need to hold the bicycles up and enabling them both to be pulled from in front. In shots of the whole Muppet gang, the entire mass of bicycles — all wired together — was pulled by a fleet of over-sized tricycles and bicycles, ridden by Brian Henson and other performers. Another innovation in this sequence was the use of radio controls to move the characters’ mouths in long shots.  Just as in The Muppet Movie, bike-riding Muppets were hand puppets in close-ups. Some shots featured Kermit in the foreground as a hand puppet, with Piggy as a marionette behind him, and other such mixtures of technique.

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Frank Oz on The Great Muppet Caper
It’s amazing, though, you work and work on the most difficult things and people say, ‘That’s nice.’ Then something easy will occur and it will be all anyone talks about! In the first movie it was Kermit riding a bike. It was very easy to do that. It was just a simple marionette with strings. In the same film there was that whole complicated sequence with Gonzo in the balloon, crashing into the sign and landing in the car. It took forever to film that — and all the talk was about the bike! That’s why we have a whole bicycle parade in it!

And now, sit back and marvel at Muppet Caper’s wonderful ‘Couldn’t We Ride’

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