The cartoonish image created of the flappy shoe wearing, can of beans eating, trolly pushing hobo reduces a group of society to a dehumanized abstraction. As an audience our fascination with homelessness is clear from the sheer volume of homelessness we see depicted on the screen yet this group of people, very much in need of or sympathy, is bearing the brunt of some insensitive and vicious treatment.
And during a recent viewing of The Muppets, a lightbulb moment:
It occurred to me that homeless people are probably the last minority group of disadvantaged people we are “allowed” to make fun of on screen. Had the movie depicted a stereotype of a bad Asian driver, a predatory gay man, an Arabic terrorist, or even a dumb blonde, you can bet your boots a vocal response would be heard from angry audiences. But make light of a destitute man down on his luck and that’s just good ol’ fashioned humour. Humour, apparently, that is suitable for children.
It's a great article that includes categories of homeless characters (‘warning light’ hobos, the sagely vagrant) and in which films they appear. I recommend reading it.
Have you seen the new The Muppets? Were you put off by "Hobo Joe"?