The Muppets – Movie ReviewDecember 27, 2011
As I sit here writing this review of The Muppets for Metal Arcade, I’m watching the original Muppet Movie, which was released over 30 years ago. That film represents my childhood spent revering over Jim Henson’s beloved puppet characters that helped shape modern pop culture. I may not have been part of the generation that grew up enjoying the classic films and The Muppet Show on TV, but I love The Muppets nonetheless. With that said, for the past decade I lamented for the fact that since Disney acquired the rights to The Muppets, their movies, shows, etc. went down the toilet. However, when I saw the trailer for a new Muppet movie earlier this year, I had newfound hope for this very old franchise, and now The Muppets is finally in theatres for our enjoyment. Has The Muppets recaptured that self-aware ridiculousness, fun and magic found in the old films? Read on to find out.
Beginning in the late 70s (or early 80s, not entirely sure), we are introduced to Walter, a puppet who for some unknown, yet undeniably funny reason is the brother of Gary, a human. Early on in their youth, they both fall in love with The Muppets when they discover The Muppet Show, but during the opening scene it becomes apparent that Walter is the ecstatic fan of The Muppets, and they serve as his lifetime idols. Fast forward to the present day, and adult Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter are still living together in Smalltown (literally), USA. As Spring Break begins, Gary plans a weeklong vacation to Los Angeles with his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to celebrate their 10th anniversary of being together. Much to Mary’s disappointment though,Gary invites Walter along so he can see the Muppet Theater in Hollywood.
When they actually arrive, they discover that The Muppets have been disbanded and that they’re now virtually unknown when compared to other figures of popular culture. When touring the defunct Muppet Studios, Walter accidentally discovers that evil oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to purchase the property once Kermit the Frog’s Rich and Famous Contract expires, which means that The Muppets will no longer have the rights to the studio. Afterwards, Richman plans to destroy the historical studio and drill for oil considering that the property rests upon a rich oil field. Walter then informs Gary and Mary of Richman’s dastardly plans and then attempt to reunite The Muppets and raise $10 million to save the Muppet Theater.
For me, it’s rather difficult to define what purpose The Muppets truly serves. Perhaps Disney just wanted to make good use of The Muppets license it purchased and make millions of dollars, but due to the loving care Jason Segel and the brilliant writing team gave to this film, I highly doubt that this is the only reason. For one thing, The Muppets feels like a reboot (seems fitting considering Hollywood’s current mindset) since it is the first theatrical Muppet film in 12 years. In another sense, The Muppets at all times seems to be the spiritual sequel of the first film since this movie features numerous references to the original Jim Henson flick and it feeds on nostalgia. This is probably one of The Muppets’ greatest strengths since I guarantee that any fan of the original film or the Muppets in general will jump for joy. While being utter fan service to Muppets lovers, The Muppets also does well enough to serve as an introduction to the classic characters for youngsters who weren’t able to grow up with The Muppets. Another great thing about The Muppets is how even though its story is blatantly simple (we’ve seen the “save the theater” plotline in film before), it still manages to feel fresh and engrossing due to its marvelous execution. I immediately felt connected to Walter as we were introduced to him in the opening scenes, Gary and Mary’s romance serves as a secondary plot device but it remains important to the story, and of course as I said before, the Muppets themselves have been treated with the utmost reverence. The story has some great messages about believing in oneself, and it manages to be a sarcastic, self-aware outlook on the state of The Muppets’ unpopularity for adults while still being heartwarming, hilarious, and wholly enjoyable for all audiences.
The only mistakes I felt were made with the narrative is that oftentimes loses its focus on giving attention to all of the characters. Yes, this movie is called The Muppets, and of course they deserve attention in such a film, but I felt that at one point in the film the writers took a back seat from the main characters that were the main focus of the first act of the film and by the end, the film jumped from character to character, resulting in some narrative issues. Nonetheless, The Muppets proved to be a surprisingly heartwarming story of following dreams, believing in oneself, and family (well, in a sense since The Muppets are a hypothetical family). If you don’t mind, I’d also like to briefly talk about Segel and Stoller’s script. Now, most movies have always been known for providing a heartwarming story (as I mentioned earlier), along with loads of smartly-timed slapstick humor, sarcasm, and self-aware hilarity. The Muppets embraces this ideal proudly, for it is heartwarming, and very, VERY, funny.
In every Muppet film, the large-eyed puppets are always the spotlight in the cast. Yes, you will see all of your favorite Muppets from the ages; the most well-known Kermit, Fozzie, Ms. Piggy and Gonzo are at the head of the Muppet cast of course, but old favorites and lesser-known characters such as Rowlf the Dog, Sam the Eagle, and even Crazy Harry get their dues as well. The Muppet that gets the most attention in this film however is the one that’s newest to the party, Walter. I won’t spoil much of what makes Walter special in this review, but I will say that he deserves being marketed as the latest and greatest Muppet for his admirable humility and quirky charm. In short, The Muppets and their performers are as lively, loveable, and entertaining as ever, which is refreshing considering their dry film efforts of late. As for the human actors though, they also fare quite well. Jason Segel puts his heart and soul into his role as the loving brother of a Muppet and boyfriend to a beautiful girl, which makes sense since he helped write the great script. Amy Adams also does a pretty good job at acting out an “unappreciated” girlfriend of Gary, but since Gary and Mary’s relationship is a secondary plot device, we hardly see her as much I would have liked when compared to the Muppets, so I feel that Adam’s full potential isn’t reached in this film. Granted, she sounds fantastic in musical numbers, though. No Muppet film is complete without celebrity cameos, and believe me, there are a lot of them. You will see Mickey Rooney in the opening number, Neil Patrick Harris singing “Manha Manha” (YES!!), and perhaps the best of all, Jack Black (as himself) in an anger management support group. Believe me when I say that this is one of Jack Black’s best roles in years, so be excited for what’s coming.
The audio/visual presentation in The Muppets is awesome, simple as that. Now visuals don’t matter as much in a Muppet film, I’ll admit, but the cinematography is some of the best I’ve seen in any Muppet film. Set design is great as well, and the many visual references to The Muppet Movie will make some fans like me ecstatic as the film progresses. As far as the music goes, this is one of the film’s many strengths. For one thing, the music of The Muppets relies heavily on nostalgia since one of the songs you will hear at the very end is a modernized rendition of the classic “Rainbow Connection”, and the various songs often sound gleeful, sarcastic (in a good way), and absolutely hilarious.
I have to say that the voices of The Muppets sound rather different considering that many of the original performers have either died or retired, but I got used to them pretty quickly anyhow. This is because of how entertaining the whole film is; there wasn’t a scene in The Muppets in which I wasn’t laughing, feeling nostalgic, or even feeling like a kid again. Segel, Stoller and the whole creative team made smart choices in referencing to the original Muppet films from the early 80s, for the reintroduction of the elements that made those films so great makes this reboot of The Muppets fresh and wholly entertaining, not to mention pleasing to the senses.
If Jim Henson was still alive in our day and age, he would be proud of this film in the same way that Walt Disney would be proud of movies such as Tangled and The Lion King. Director James Bobin, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller have done a fantastic job at crafting a film that serves as a nostalgic, “cheerfully sarcastic” (for the lack of better terms), and immensely entertaining reboot for The Muppet film franchise. And yes, if you have loved The Muppet Movie at one point in your life, this film will speak out to you since it is a worthy, yet indirect sequel to that classic. With well-timed and satirist humor that The Muppets are known for, great acting (including The Muppets), fun musical numbers, and so much more, The Muppets is definitely one of the year’s biggest surprises. If you are a lover of Jim Henson’s beloved creations, redemption has come in the form of this wonderful film. If not, well, there has never been a better opportunity to become a Muppet fan then now. This Christmas weekend, see this film and appreciate one of the year’s best films.