Eric D. Snider

The Muppets

Movie Review

The Muppets

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: A-

Released: November 23, 2011

 

Directed by:

Cast:

The premise of "The Muppets" is that this hard, cynical world needs the gentle-but-firm humor and optimism of the Muppets. If you doubt this is true, I suggest you watch "The Muppets," a movie that winningly makes the case for its own existence.

It's also a movie that's well aware of the Muppets' current position in pop culture: fondly remembered by those of us who were kids in the '70s and '80s, but mostly unknown to today's youngsters. (The "Sesame Street" Muppets don't count.) Nostalgia plays a significant part in the film, both overtly -- the plot centers on the Muppets' attempt to remind people that they love the Muppets -- and as subtext: we know that the human star and co-writer, 31-year-old Jason Segel, grew up with the Muppets and has long dreamed of making a movie with them. So while this is technically a children's movie, the real target audience is the millions of adults who feel the same way Segel does.

But hey, kids, don't worry if your parents drag you to see this. I bet you'll like it almost as much as they do.

Segel plays Gary, a resident of Smalltown, U.S.A., who grew up watching "The Muppet Show" and the Muppet films of the early '80s. (We don't speak of "Muppet Christmas Carol," "Muppet Treasure Island," or "Muppets from Space.") Gary's brother, Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), shares his affinity for the fuzzy creatures, and looks suspiciously like one of them. While taking a tour of the Muppets' dilapidated old theater in Los Angeles, Gary and Walter, accompanied by Gary's long-suffering girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), learn that the place will be torn down by a greedy oilman named Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) unless someone can come up with $10 million to save it.

You know what that means: Gary, Walter, and Mary must reunite the disbanded Muppets and help them put on a show! Segel and his co-writer, Nicholas Stoller (who directed him in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"), have thus found an ingenious way of bringing the Muppets back to us without it feeling like someone at Disney just wanted to relaunch a cash cow. The movie acknowledges the group's history, acknowledges that a lot of time has passed, and gives the characters a logical reason to reunite and do a version of their old TV show. And if this reunion of theirs should happen to spark renewed interest in the Muppets, well, they'd probably be willing to make more movies....

I'll leave it for you to discover the specifics of how Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and the rest get back together, what they've been doing in the meantime, what unresolved issues they have with each other. As in the Muppet capers of yore, there are road trips, montages, celebrity cameos, self-referential jokes, and musical numbers. The new songs were written by Bret McKenzie, from "Flight of the Conchords," and abound with catchy tunes and rhyming wordplay. (The film's director, James Bobin, worked on the "Conchords" TV show.) I particularly enjoyed the opening number, "Life's a Happy Song," if my inability to stop humming it is any indication. It's unabashedly cheerful, cleverly self-aware without being smug, and simple, funny, and sweet -- which means it sets the tone for the whole movie.

The humans and their subplots don't add a lot, but they don't detract much, either. When the Muppets are the focus (which is 90 percent of the movie), they radiate magical, unfiltered joy. These characters manage to be edgy and innocent, satiric and kind, grown-up and childlike, all at once. That's how we remember them, and that's how Segel, Stoller, Bobin, and the talented puppeteers present them. Most of the gags are genuinely funny and most of the sentiment genuinely endearing -- enough so that when a joke misfires or a moment feels mawkish, we readily overlook it. I freely admit that I brought plenty of Muppet adoration with me into the theater. I was overjoyed when the movie earned it anyway.

Grade: A-

Rated PG, mild rude humor

1 hr., 38 min.

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This item has 19 comments

  1. Alaska Boy says:

    So glad to see all the positive reviews and out-and-out love for the Muppet Movie! I've had my fingers crossed all year that this would actually be a project worthy of the legacy of Jim Henson, and I'm thrilled to hear it is. Now I just have to get my expectations lowered enough to go to the theatre and enjoy it. :)

    "there's not a word yet--for old friends who've just met"...

    Can't wait to meet my old friends again...

  2. Adam says:

    I also have less trepedation about dragging my whole family to see this the day after Thanksgiving with the positive review here (I have anxiously been awaiting Eric's endorsment since checking rottentomatoes and feeling I must be seeing things with the 97% rating and only 3 rotton reviews).

    What I don't get is why most reviewers dismiss the Muppet Treasure Island and Muppet Christmas Carol movies in all their reviews (I agree with forgetting about Muppets in Space). I agree they don't follow the development of original plots the original three movies put forth and that they also tend to be more human heavy. But they have great songs, use Gonzo and Rizzo well, and remained self referential and broke the barrier between movie and "being in a movie" enough to remain Muppets.

    But again, I am just glad to see all the muppet love, I just hope if they do start remaking movies that Segal stays involved and Disney doesn't just start churning out straight to video sewage like the truly unmentionable (Kermit's Swamp Years and The Muppet's Wizard of Oz).

    Also, if this movie is PG, true to the muppets, and not over the top, I wonder why a lot of Jim Henson alum (notably Frank Oz) bailed and bad mouthed the project.

  3. Daniel says:

    I genuinely enjoyed 'Muppets From Space'. Nearly everyone speaks badly about it, but I remember laughing all the way through. (I admit that it's not one of their more important works, however.)

  4. Marvin Suggs says:

    @Adam: Frank Oz's main concerns, as I remember, were that it would be more a starring vehicle for Jason Segel as opposed to one for the Muppets themselves (having just come back from seeing it, I can guarantee you this is not even close to being the case), that Kermit lived in a mansion (an old, dilapidated, run-down place, which is very much in the underdog Muppet style), and that it used crude humor like Fozzie's fart shoes (they were whoopee cushions, for pete's sake! If that doesn't scream "Fozzie Bear," I don't know what does!) I don't remember hearing what any other former Muppeteers had to say about it.

    I am very anxious to see this one again, and I haven't said that about a movie in a very long time. I don't recall ever feeling so joyful after exiting a theatre--I'm still smiling! This one has the old-school Muppet spirit of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, et al, in almost every single frame. I can't recommend it highly enough!

  5. Chrystle says:

    What's wrong with Muppet Christmas Carol? I loved Muppet Christmas Carol. It used the most Dickensian language of any version I've seen, and was not boring. Plus it has some of my favourite lines ever. "God save my little broken body", "You're such a goof".

  6. Takino says:

    This sounds fantastic. *^_^* Can't wait to see it.

    Hmm... with the way you seem to enjoy shows that are, as you say, "simple, funny, and sweet", as well as your statement at the beginning about "this hard, cynical world needs the gentle-but-firm humor and optimism of the Muppets."

    Have you seen the show "Friendship is Magic"? If not, I think you absolutely should.

  7. Jenna says:

    Seriously - why are we lumping Muppet Christmas Carol in with the likes of Muppets in Space?

    Muppet Christmas Carol has been my favorite Christmas movie for years. Gonzo as Charles Dickens = pure gold.

  8. John says:

    Agree about Muppet Christmas Carol--that was a great film. Was very apprehensive about this Muppet Movie, but with Eric's review and the above endorsements I am now looking forward to seeing it.

  9. Russ says:

    What was that other Muppet Christmas movie? The one where they go on vacation and fill up someone's home. I have a very, very vague memory of it, so sorry about the lack of other details...

    I think I saw it like 15 years ago or something, and I would definitely like to see it again, and if this movie is in the same vein as that one, I might go see this one too!

    And I'll also chime in on the side of Muppet Christmas Carol. Great movie.

  10. Tom says:

    I found the movie to be okay. It has its moments but it was not all that funny. The Toy Story short which was shown prior to The Muppets was far, far funnier.

  11. Danae says:

    Russ-- I think you're remembering A Muppet Family Christmas. The old man from Fraggle Rock rents Fozzie's Mom's house because she is spending Christmas in Malibu, but Fozzie and the gang show up to surprise her and everybody ends up getting snowed in. Not really one of their best, but it has its moments. There are a whole bunch of other Muppet Christmas specials as well. I'm really excited to see this Muppet movie, though!

  12. Cafe_Au_Lait says:

    I laughed, I cried, I went all gooey inside and caught myself dancing in my seat more than once. And I am guilty applauds a film once it ended, never mind what anyone else thought :P. A wonderful experience all around. (I'm also adding my vote for categorizing Muppet Christmas Carol with the better Muppet films. "You can fit through those bars?!")

  13. Cafe_Au_Lait says:

    Wow, I did a really good job of proofreading my comment before I posted it! Not. I meant, "And I am guilty of applauding the film when it ended". Anyhoo, Mah Na Mah Na.

  14. Edna T says:

    My favorite line of the movie was when Kermit comes running in saying "Jack Black's got nothing!"

  15. Dave R says:

    I loved it, and I'm an old-timey Muppet fan.

    Aside from its considerable Muppet charms (which Eric described eloquently above), the movie made the best use EVER of Jack Black (whom I loathe utterly). I won't mention how, so as not to spoil the fun, but they kept him from doing any of his usual annoying/obnoxious schtick. Well done, Muppets!

  16. Brian says:

    Chalk up one more vote for Muppet Christmas Carol being the best Christmas movie of all time. Favorite line: "Hello London...goodbye lunch!"

  17. Samantha says:

    I've gotta throw my vote in for A Muppet Christmas Carol. Its actually my favorite muppet movie. This is from someone who has seen all the original Muppet movies and read A Christmas Carol more than once. I still use "Thank you for making me a part of this" whenever the situation calls for it.

  18. Joanna says:

    what about the camping with John Denver special. Does anyone remember that?

  19. Jimmy says:

    Surprised there was no Rizzo. I love that guy.

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