– Summary –
Director : James Bobin
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Walter, Kermit The Frog Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Jack Black, Animal, Walter, Rowlf The Dog, The Swedish Chef, Scooter.
Approx Running Time : 103 Minutes
Aspect Ratio : 1.85:1
Synopsis: When a greedy oil tycoon threatens to demolish the run-down Muppet Theater, die-hard Muppet fan Walter and his friends must reunite Kermit and the old gang to perform one last show in order to save it.
What we think : This film laments the fact that the Muppets have past their use-by-date, before going on to prove to us all that while they haven’t been seen in over a decade, Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie and Co still have what it takes to charm an audience. Filled to the brim with slapstick, sight-gags, celebrity cameos, song-and-dance numbers and a heap of self-referential Hollywood humor, The Muppets is terrific fun and a wonderful return to form for the Henson gang. It’s like they never left.
This review is gonna be so easy to write. Like everyone my age (30-something) who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, The Muppets have always been a cultural and emotional touchstone, so much so that it’s virtually impossible not to find somebody my age (30-something) who can’t hum the entire theme tune to their eponymous television show, if not sing the first verse. It’s time to put on make-up, it’s time to light the lights. Yes, the Muppets return to the big screen in their first major cinema release since the lamentable Muppets From Space back in 1999. This film, which is the brainchild of star Jason Segel and his writer/director partner Nicholas Stoller, removes the lukewarm pall the franchise had over it and rejuvenated all the favorite characters, and brought back the sense of fun and insane Muppety goodness we all fell in love with way back in the day. To say this film is breath of fresh air is something of an understatement. To say Segel and Stoller have written a film that balances the old with the new equally well, harkening back to the madness of Henson’s unique creative vision while at the same time keeping things hip and modern (well, as modern as you can get with a talking frog and pig!). It’s like finding a pair of old slippers under your bed and discovering they are just as comfortable now as they were the last time you wore them. Sure, they might be frayed around the edges, and the color might have faded, but damn they’re some comfortable slippers. The Muppets is a lot like that.
A young Muppet, Walter (voice of Peter Linz) lives with his human brother Gary (Jason Segel) in Smalltown USA. They both are huge fans of the original Muppet Show, which they watched when they were young. Gary, planning to take his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to Los Angeles for a holiday (where he plans to propose) invites Walter along; Walter agrees, knowing he’ll finally be able to visit the famed Muppet Theater, even though the Muppets are now a long distant cultural memory. Mary, who is uncomfortable with Gary’s relationship with Walter, agrees to the young muppet accompanying them, but seems disenchanted with Gary’s resistance to marriage. Walter, while touring the disused and abandoned Muppet Theater, discovers the plans of ruthless businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to demolish the site and drill for oil. Instead of running for the hills, Walter persuades Gary and Amy to help him recruit the old Muppet gang to save the theatre by holding a telethon and raising $10 million – thanks to shallow television executive Veronica (Rashida Jones). So they journey to find Kermit, to get him to put on one last show. As usual, Muppet madness ensues.
I personally believe anybody who doesn’t like the Muppets needs to vacate the Earth. Those soulless, angry things posing as human beings need to shove off, and leave more room in the world for fun and sunshine. Because that’s what the Muppets bring us – fun and sunshine. The Muppets effectively reboots, revives, and retreads the franchise in equal amounts, managing to bring more heart to those beloved characters than the post-Muppet Christmas Carol films combined; and that, my friends, is a whole heap of heart. Much kudos to Muppet fan Jason Segel for managing to get this project off the ground, and enormous kudos to all involved for bringing their A-game to make this film as awesome as it is. It’s the kind of film you watch with a big grin plastered on your face, the sort of movie you go to the movies to see, instead of the pap masquerading as entertainment so easily digested by the facebooking masses. The Muppets is sheer entertainment for the sake of entertainment – it never pretends to do or be anything but an escapist spectacle with songs and a hell of a sexy pig.
This film drips love – love for the characters, love for film-making, and love for entertainment. My general “meh” feelings for Jason Segel (He was okay in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I didn’t think much of I Love You Man, and I don’t watch How I Met Your Mother…) gave way to outright emotional bling when this film started; as the Everyman Gary, he’s pitch perfect. Amy Adams, as his romantic interest Mary, is also sweet natured enough, although her character doesn’t quite have enough depth to make her frustration with Gary’s inability to commit move beyond cliche. But she winks and smiles knowingly at the camera in all the right places, so it still works. Chris Cooper, as the evil Tex Richman, has a terrific time hamming it up for both the audience and his fellow cast – his musical number is both jaw dropping and hilarious for its audacity… I mean, he was once nominated for an Oscar, right? – and he served us well as the films central villain. I Love You Man co-star Rashida Jones re-teams with Segel as the carnivorous television executive who allows the Muppets to put their telethon on in the first place, and she seems to be enjoying herself throughout. The traditional star-studded cameo appearances sprinkled throughout the film add a level of hilarity to proceedings, although if you were to point out one of the two weak spots of the movie, it seemed to me that they relied on these cameos too often to deliver the laughs. Not that it was a problem for me, no sir, but I can see this film becoming dated in about five years – Modern Family fans might know what I’m talking about – for its celebrity cameos. Jack Black’s lengthy cameo role was hilarious, however.
But the true stars of the film are indeed the Muppets – even newcomer to the franchise Walter, voiced by long-time puppeteer Peter Linz, never seems out of place, such is the quality of his character design and performance. Walter’s the pivot point for this entire film, the driving force behind the narrative (Segel and Adams play second-fiddle to his story) and if his character hadn’t worked, the film would be for naught. As it stands, a new Muppet star is born. Mega-stars of the franchise, Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Gonzo et al all feel like long lost friends returning to the screen, and their characters don’t seem to have been “modified” for the modern audience whatsoever. Kermit’s still a worry-wart, Piggy’s still a diva, Fozzie’s still so horrifyingly unfunny, and Gonzo is still uncomfortably intimate with chickens. Not often you can say that in a review. Which brings me to my second weak spot in the film – the story spends so long dwelling on Kermit’s failure to live up to his reputation, and Kermit seems near suicidal with depression for so long in this movie, it almost undoes the happy-go-lucky nature the characters enjoy…. I was starting to wonder when we’d see Kermit in some sort of therapy session, he seemed so down in the dumps. That being said, long-time franchise comedy acts (aren’t they all?) appear in moments of Muppety bliss – Staler and Waldorf get a few good lines, Fozzie finds cringe-worthy “fart shoes”, the famous Muppet Show Opening gets a big-screen revamp, and Scooter returns as Kermit’s right-hand-man – while these moments were short-lived, they made me laugh, and that’s what I asked for. For this Muppet fan, I say a thankful “welcome back”. The negative points I raise about this film are far, far outweighed by the sheer awesomeness of having them back on the big screen in such a wonderful film.
Director James Bobin, part of the creative team behind Flight Of The Conchords, helms this film with a sure hand and a genuine sense of love for the characters. The Muppets require a deft hand in comedy, with the rapid-fire jokes and often explosive slap-stick needing somebody with terrific timing, a sense of scale and the ability to handle everything the Muppets throw at the screen – Bobin delivers everything and more. He handles the pathos of Kermit’s emotional turmoil, the Celine Dion/Barbara Streisand inspired diva of Piggy, the restrained anarchism of Animal, and the gaggle of reprobates backing Kermit up with equal parts panache and a desperate frenetic confusion. With characters referencing the film they’re actually appearing in, breaking the fourth wall, and generally behaving in a manner so chaotic its like juggling jelly, Bobin does a top job of maintaining some sense of cohesion among the insanity without dropping the ball on the narrative’s inherent pathos. Kermit lamenting the loss of prestige for the Muppet brand is both identifiably poignant and intrinsically truthful – the brand itself has suffered from a confusing output in recent years, and the film does a lot to not only acknowledge this, but also go a long way to rectifying it.
I loved this film, I really did. From the songs (including the long-awaited rendition of Mah Na Mah Na in surround sound) to the brilliant insanity of the re-uniting of the Muppet cast for “one last show” – I kept waiting for Kermit to give a glib “we’re gettin’ the band back together” but he didn’t – The Muppets is everything this long-time fan could ask for. It’s a stroke of brilliance, and easily one of the best films in the franchise’s history. It’s not the best, but it’s up there. Maniacal laugh. Maniacal laugh.