Making of A Scene: Muppets Riding Bikes in The Great Muppet Caper

When this scene was mentioned in the Filmspotting podcast (which I absolutely recommend) it immediately captured my imagination. I remember seeing it for the first time when I was little and it just blowing my mind, and coming back to it as an adult I was so surprise it still does.

The Great Muppet Caper came out in 1981, and the technical aspects surrounding that production are just incredible. The fact that they were able to do so many intricate shots with no CGI and very limited technology amazes me.

To make the Muppets “ride” the bicycles, the pupetteers had to climb in huge moving cranes that not only held the bikes, but made them move forward while them where moving their feet up and down with strings. In interviews they mentioned that the most complicated part was to sync the moving pedals with the music, and that the scene where they move in circles was just incredibly elaborate to make.

They used radio control to move the heads to the sides and to make some of the muppets sing in full body shots. But the scene that really stunned me was Kermit riding the bike with just one hand, such a mix of technology with masterful use of old school string puppetry.

The final part when all of them appear together was achieved through holding all the bikes together with rods, and then they were pulled by the two little kids you can see riding in the front, one of them being Jim Henson’s son.

Even after seeing production pictures and videos for this clip it still makes me go “Wow”. The legacy of Henson is not about him creating films we enjoyed as kids, is about making us as adults twenty years or more into the future still wonder: how did he do that…?