Movie Review: The Muppets

The Muppets!  I don’t exactly know where to start with this one, so I guess I’ll give you guys some background.  The Muppets are a series of puppet characters created by Jim Henson who starred in a television series, as well as a number of films.  Initially a smash hit, their popularity has waned in recent years, due to a couple of factors including Henson’s death, and a subsequent lack of direction.  When it was announced that Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller were in the development stages of a new Muppets film, there was a bit of a backlash online.  “How can these guys know what the Muppets are really about?” they asked.  “It’s disrespectful!”  Never mind that the film hadn’t been released yet.

Well, I saw The Muppets last night, and I have to say, those people were off their rockers.  Segel and Stoller know exactly who the Muppets are and what they’re about, and they showed it off.

The Muppets is the story of Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), a puppet who grew up loving the Muppets, and his brother Gary (Segel).  Walter accompanies Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to Los Angeles on a trip in hopes of visiting the Muppets Studio.  While there he discovers the studio will be torn down by oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper).  He, Gary and Mary find Kermit the Frog and convince him to get the gang back together for a telethon to raise the $10 million needed to save the studio.  What follows is a road trip and one-last-show story filled with Muppets, songs, and celebrity cameos.  It’s really funny and really charming.

What makes The Muppets stick with you, though, is the fact that it’s a true story.  Let me explain.  This is a movie about itself, about a beloved franchise which has fallen on hard times and what makes it special.  Understanding this context, the fact that The Muppets was made as an uphill battle at times, the fact that this was an all-in gamble to revive the Muppets as a brand, and the subsequent response by audiences (universal acclaim) makes the heart and soul of this movie, a movie about being yourself and making people happy, resonate that much more.  It’s also an intensely personal film.  Jason Segel is a lifelong Muppets fan.  He wrote a Muppets-style Dracula rock opera which was partially used in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  He may play Gary in the film, but Walter is Segel.  The kid who was inspired by the Muppets, who grows up to repay them by getting them back on the screen.  His enthusiasm for the projects shines through in every scene.

Even without all my self-referential metatextual mumbo-jumbo The Muppets is a delight.  Bret McKenzie’s musical numbers are perfectly in keeping with Muppets style: funny, but also genuinely beautiful in their own right.  The Muppets themselves are the same characters they’ve always been, and are timeless enough to still delight.  The film is also impressive from a technical standpoint, especially in larger musical numbers or action scenes.  Muppets film have always been innovative in their use of puppetry techniques, and they haven’t slowed down.  My main quibble is with the fact that Rizzo the Rat only gets one line.  Growing up with Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets Christmas Carol, I was looking forward to some more Gonzo-Rizzo banter, and I was a little disappointed.  The film does provide a nice consolation in ’80s Robot, one of my new favorite characters.

The Muppets is a great movie.  It’s a treat for long time fans of the series, newcomers and everyone in between.  It’s family-friendly, but it doesn’t condescend to viewers or shoot low.  Why are you still reading this?  Go see it!

RATING: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FOUR)

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One response

  1. Longtime Muppet fans will undoubtedly have more fun than young ones, but for the most part, it’s a witty, delightful romp, that shows you that you can still be funny, without ever being mean still in 2011. Good review. Check out mine when you get the chance.

    November 30, 2011 at 1:05 pm

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