The Muppets – Review


Unpacked from mothballs, the Muppets are worth meeting again.

When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope still is to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here. It’s a wonderful life and I love it. – Jim Henson

It’s never easy bringing old television staples to the big screen and have them be a worthwhile treat for both parents and their children. Kid-friendly flicks like The Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks may have been big hits, but parents probably didn’t share in the enjoyment; instead finding the computer animation distracting from the Saturday morning cartoons they once remembered.

With The Muppets you won’t see any major changes in the felt-and-fuzz creatures. This isn’t like when Star Wars‘ Yoda went from puppet to CGI. The green felt amphibian ringleader, Kermit the Frog, and his pig-nosed girlfriend, Miss Piggy, still look and act the same as they ever did. So parents will be more inclined to wax nostalgia at the loveable puppets, while their offspring’s eyes light up when they meet the Muppets.

The storyline, just as it has been in early Muppets movies, relies less on a cohesive narrative and more on multiple song and dance numbers, lots of cameos, and the magic that happens when these characters come together. The Muppets, at its heart, is a variety show made with supreme affection by those who love the Muppets and, like Kermit, have ever wondered why there are so many songs about rainbows.

The carefulness that went into the production is not lost. Jason Segel, who took a meeting with Disney after the success of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, pushed hard to do a new Muppets movie, and that love he has for Jim Henson’s famous characters is duly noted. Having watched videotapes of The Muppet Show as a child, Segel would grow up but still retain his Muppet devotion adorning walls with posters and collecting figurines.

Together with writing partner Nicholas Stoller, they devised a story that would bridge the gap and bring the once popular Muppets – television mainstays of the late 1970s and 1980s – to prominence again. But how do you make the Muppets relevant after all these years? You have a story about someone who still believes the lights are still lit for the Muppets.

The story’s focus is on Walter (voice of Peter Linz), a Muppet who looks like he could be a cousin of Sesame Street‘s Bert (of Bert and Ernie fame), but missing the nose and unibrow. Walter looks up to his older, human brother, Gary (Jason Segel); the two have been inseparable since childhood. When others weren’t accepting of young Walt, the two would stay home in their PJs and watch old episodes of The Muppet Show.

It’s been Walter’s lifelong dream to visit the Muppet Studio in California. When Gary and his girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), take a trip from their quaint little town of Smalltown to Hollywood, Gary invites Walter along. While touring the crumbling remains of the once revered studio, Walter overhears a plot by the villainous, if not perfectly named Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), to tear it down and get the oil reserves hundreds of feet below. To save the Studio, Walter, Gary and Mary reach out to the only one who can stop such a tragedy from happening: Kermit the Frog. But it’s going to take more than the pleading of the Muppets star to save the studio. Ten million dollars needs to be raised in less than a week. Cue the Muppet reunion montage, and a two-hour TV slot that resurrects The Muppet Show as a telethon.

Along with the Muppets the human stars are given their own moments to sing and dance. With Adams we know what to expect after her star-making turn in Disney’s Enchanted, and Segel flexed the golden pipes in Sarah Marshall pulling the strings of a singing vampire puppet. But the biggest wild card has to be Chris Cooper. His music number is so over-the-top, but so perfectly in line with his character.

It would be easy for a jaded critic to overanalyze The Muppets. But that proves difficult for this is a film that breaks the “fourth wall,” with the characters knowing full well that they are in a movie. Such a revelation makes it easy to overlook any gaps in logic. As pure fantasy it’s easy to accept gags like “traveling by map” to speed the movie along with a deadline looming. And like the previous Muppet movies the scenery is loaded with cameos, including Mickey Rooney, Emily Blunt, Neil Patrick Harris and Zach Galifianakis playing “Hobo Joe.” Jack Black plays the kidnapped host of the telethon and he’s put through the ringer. Guess the Muppets didn’t care for Gulliver’s Travels either.

If there’s one thing to find fault with The Muppets, it would be some of the musical and non-musical song choices. One Amy Adams number isn’t all that great, and there’s one montage that uses Starship’s excruciatingly bad “We Built This City on Rock and Roll.” Songs from the bands Nirvana, AC/DC, plus Cee Lo Green are also sampled throughout. Though odd selections for a family film, they don’t derail the overall fun viewers will have.

The Muppets is all about cheerfulness and finding true happiness. Why these non-cynical fuzzies have been gone for so long is of no consequence. They’re here now at a time where our world is overtly cynical. A new generation will fall in love with the Muppets, while the old generation will feel right where they belong.

Director: James Bobin
Notable Cast: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Jack Black
Writer(s): Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, based on characters created by Jim Henson

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