Editor’s note: This story was written by guest writer Julia Orendain back in 2020.
We’re releasing this story early in celebration of “The Rainbow Connection” sung by Kermit the Frog aka Jim Henson (1979) being inducted into The Library of Congress National Recording Registry Class of 2020!
It is a wonder how from a swamp, came hope and clarity, but with the hearts and minds of Jim Henson and Paul Williams, the way the story connects is obvious. The Muppet Movie (1979) follows several stories before it, ones about believing in an idea greater than yourself and the journey belief takes you on. So it was no surprise to learn that the inspiration for “Rainbow Connection” came from “When You Wish Upon a Star”.
Both Kermit the Frog and Jiminy Cricket are in their element, voicing a similar message of opening one’s heart to the power of belief. Inspired solely by the opening image of The Muppet Movie, Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher dove into Kermit’s home of a swamp to allow him to speak his identity and reveal his inner life. Williams noted that, “[he] started with a blank page and a frog sitting on a lily pad holding a banjo.”
The vision of the swamp and the frog sparked the question, “what’s in a swamp?”, drawing Williams to the light, the rain, and the inevitable rainbows. As Williams went on to explain, he claimed that Kermit was a cultured frog, one unconcerned with the trivialities of refractions of light. Being such, the curious frog would rather ponder the rainbow’s magic, continuing into the line, “someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection”, in which Kermit steps down and places himself with the audience, singing to himself as much as he sings to us.
Searching for answers, he concludes that the real magic and power is found purely in the belief itself. When Jim Henson’s wisdom pours into Kermit’s heart of a sailor, you get an anthem that lives within the lovers and dreamers; with words that meet you right before you voyage into somewhere only belief can take you.
According to Willams, the ability for Kermit the Frog to soften the hearts of so many can only be attributed to Jim Henson. Something special happens when Henson’s authenticity and wonder becomes so intertwined with Kermit the Frog. Throughout the movie, we follow Kermit’s journey of meeting himself and returning from deserts of self-doubt, we see Kermit become real, we see ourselves. Kermit’s reflection in the pond sings back to him in the final verse: “Have you been fast asleep / And have you heard voices, / I’ve heard them calling my name.” There lives a voice inside Kermit that speaks love and sense that he cannot ignore. Kermit, being as Williams calls him, a seafaring frog, professes these words, which carry him into his adventure to follow.
The end of the rainbow (connection) finds itself at the end of the movie, with a Muppet chorus singing, “Life’s like a movie, write your own ending. Keep believing, keep pretending. We’ve done just what we’ve set out to do. Thanks to the lovers, the dreamers, and you.” This final piece brings it all full circle and back to the audience, inviting them to believe in something. Revisiting the verse, “somebody thought of that and someone believed it” highlights the overarching idea that what we believe is powerful. Moving out of the swamp and into the bigger picture, they finally complete their journey, doing what they believed they would with the sweet understanding that it was all thanks to people believing in them all along.
Beneath the melody of dreams and belief in the “Rainbow Connection”, however, lives the quiet sentiment that everything is going to be alright, we just have to keep looking. This is perhaps the message that speaks the loudest now, the voice of relief to be heard amidst today’s terror and isolation.
It becomes all the more meaningful to then hear Williams echo those same words, the words he wrote 40 years ago, among chaos and a worldwide pandemic. Hearing him recite with such certainty that, “someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection / the lovers, the dreamers, and me”, is a kind of hopefulness that only Kermit the Frog could assure us of, the same hope and belief it takes to bring the Frog to life. Williams insists that it is impossible to experience fear or pain when hearing Kermit sing and would argue that when we cannot tear ourselves from the darkest parts, our hearts open to his words, hearing them more than before.
And so, we are brought back to the opening scene – the swamp, the Frog, and his banjo. The words of solace in his solitude and the magic to follow speaks volumes into hearts and homes worldwide. Believing this fully well, Williams closed the chat with warm encouragement saying, “You know what, we’re gonna be alright, just keep looking, someday we’ll find it.”
Our very special thanks to Paul Williams for contributing to this story!