Director: James Bobin
The Muppets are back! It’s been a long, odd road back to movie theaters after their last big screen effort, 1999’s Muppets In Space. Along the way, Jim Henson’s colorful creatures have been shuttled through several low-frills productions with little impact. A couple of flat made-for-TV movies and a string of lame commercial spots had many long-time fans fearing that the best of the Muppets was long behind them. Then came an unexpected Muppet-mania revival spurred by the surprising appearance of some seemingly familiar puppets in Jason Segel’s R-rated comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The bawdy rom-com was a hit with audiences and critics, which gave Segel, its writer and star, enough sway to shepherd the Muppets he’s long loved back to the spotlight with a new feature film. Many were skeptical. Would this crude comic actor spoil the Muppets’ good name? Would audiences still respond to the Muppets’ sweet but silly sense of humor? Would a new Muppets movie live up to its predecessors but offer something uniquely worthwhile? There was a lot at risk, and I have to admit, I too harbored these reservations as I sat down to see Segel’s The Muppets. But within minutes, my concerns were utterly forgotten as this vibrant and jubilant adventure made me feel like a kid again. Yes, Muppet fans, I’m happy to report The Muppets is an absolute delight.
The story centers on a wannabe Muppet named Walter (performed by longtime Muppeteer Peter Linz), who has idolized Kermit and company since their 1980s heyday. So, when his brother Gary (Segel) and Gary’s long-time girlfriend Mary (a perfectly cast and playful Amy Adams) plan an anniversary vacation to Los Angeles, they decide to take Walter along so he can tour the illustrious Muppet Studios! However, once they reach L.A., Walter is shattered to discover not only is Muppet Studios a dilapidated shell of its former glory, but also it’s soon to be razed to the ground by a malevolent and mirthless businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper who is suitably and absurdly villainous). To save Muppet Studios from destruction, Walter, Gary and Mary seek to reunite the far-flung and estranged Muppets, and put together a star-studded benefit show!
This premise allows Segel (who co-wrote Muppets with Get Him to the Greek scribe Nicholas Stoller) to openly relish in Muppet-related nostalgia, allusions and self-referential, fourth wall-breaking jokes. Sure, there are plenty of moments built in for Muppet maniacs to gleefully gasp in sentimental recognition, but these references also serve to inform Walter’s fandom and paint the backstory of an entertainment troupe who was once deeply bonded but has since grown woefully apart. As Kermit and company gather together and prepare for this do-or-die show, the recalling of their career highs, makes their shared fear of failure all the more palpable and poignant. What if Tex Richman was right, when he cynically sneered, “The world has moved on”? (As ever, snark and cynicism are the true villains of The Muppets.) Thankfully, in theaters as onscreen, everyone loves the Muppets! They are as daffy and hilarious as you remember, and are guaranteed to captivate old and new fans alike with their unabashedly absurd sense of humor. Be it Fozzie and his wonderfully lame jokes, Gonzo and his jaw-dropping pratfalls, Piggy and her karate-chopping fits of rage, or Kermit and his pensive private moments; there’s plenty here to enchant even the most jaded moviegoer.
Now, it must be said that while a long list of celebrities have mixed it up with the Muppets over the course of The Muppet Show and the Muppet movies, few have done so as gamely as Segel, whose childlike glee at sharing screentime with Kermit is so abundant it’s contagious – if not envy-inducing. His mugging and capering come to a fitting climax with the wonderfully over-the-top song “Man or Muppet,” one of several show-stopping musical numbers penned by Bret McKenzie, the bearded half of Flight of the Conchords. Curiously, FOTC director James Bobin took the leap from TV to film for the first-time with The Muppets. Yet, what may have seemed a risk proves a great fit as Bobin and McKenzie’s sensibilities of wit and whimsy are well suited to the wacky world of the Muppets. Basically, Bobin manages the mean feat of staying true to the Muppets’ trademarked style while bringing in a contemporary air. Thanks to a new generation of celebrity cameos (none of which will be revealed here since celeb-spotting is part of the fun of Muppet movies), some spiffy and spirited new tunes, and the earnest and adorable addition of Walter to the cavalcade, The Muppets manages to feel familiar yet fresh. Of course, with all these elements jam-packed into one movie, the pacing stumbles and the structure suffers – becoming a bit clunky as it goes — but this too is also true to the established Muppets aesthetic. Still, purists may lament certain absences (Henson’s which is sadly unavoidable, and Frank Oz’s which is merely unfortunate), but most moviegoers won’t notice, and ultimately these omissions are not enough to sink this buoyant romp.
All in all, The Muppets is an out-and-out crowd-pleaser. Reveling in nostalgia while offering fresh and fun innovations, this wild adventure is sure to delight audiences of all ages. It’s as star-studded, goofy, gleeful and giddy as its predecessors, yet handles its themes of growing older, fear of failure, and enduring friendship with an admirable grace. So stocked with fun, thrills and laughs that you’ll be hard-pressed to pick your favorite part, The Muppets is thoroughly marvelous.
The Muppets opens nationwide November 23rd.
For more Muppet fun, check out their various trailers:
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