Reviews

The Muppets

By Tom Brennan November 23rd 2011, PG, 120min, Touchstone Pictures
The Muppets

“The Muppets” is a celebration of all things Muppets — filled with fun, laughter and moments of pure joy. The film appeals to an enormous span of age groups and will undoubtedly succeed in pleasing all in attendance. “The Muppets” is teeming with nostalgic gems for older fans and also works as a perfect gateway into the world of the Muppets for new ones.

Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (a Muppet voiced by Peter Linz) are brothers who along with Gary’s girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams) take a vacation to Los Angeles. Walter serves as the eyes and ears of the audience as an unabashed Muppets fanatic who wants nothing more than to visit Muppets Studios. Once there, he discovers a devious plot by oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who wants to destroy the Muppet Theater so he can drill for oil underneath Muppets Studios. Walter, Gary and Mary then seek out Kermit the Frog to warm him of Richman’s devious plan.

In order to save the studio, Kermit needs to raise $10 million by staging a Muppet telethon. With the help of Walter, Gary and Mary, Kermit attempts to reunite the Muppets, who have all gone their separate ways in life. Fozzie now performs in a dilapidated Reno casino with a tribute band called The Moopets, Miss Piggy is a fashion editor at Vogue Paris, Animal is in a Santa Barbara clinic for anger management, and Gonzo is a high-powered owner of his own plumbing company. The film has a lot of fun in finding the various Muppet characters in different settings.

The Muppets have always been humorously self-aware in their films and that endearing element is showcased in abundance in “The Muppets”. The film acknowledges the fact that the Muppets have had quite a few years of inactivity; the last theatrical film to showcase the Muppets was 1999’s “Muppets from Space”. “The Muppets” exaggerates the level of Muppet dormancy to great effect. When Walter, Gary and Mary arrive at Muppet Studios, it’s in extreme disrepair and there are many references that poke fun at the fact that the Muppets’ height of popularity was over 30 years ago.

Credit has to be given to Jason Segel and his writing partner, Nicholas Stoller. The two grew up with the Muppets and their respect and love for the characters comes through in their affectionate screenplay. They wisely stayed true to the elements that made the Muppets great to begin with and resisted introducing any comedy elements that would be considered adult in nature. Frankly, it would have been easy to go for the occasional quick, adult themed laugh; but then the Muppets never had much of a problem making adults laugh.

One reason for the enduring nature of their appeal is that one never really grows out of the Muppets. For many kids, the Muppets served as an introduction to comedy. In that sense, the Muppets can be considered a genuine comedy troupe. The Muppets never talked down to their audience and their humor was often considered advanced for their target audience. In its initial 5-year run, “The Muppet Show” never taught kids the alphabet or subtly attempted to instill math lessons; there were other programs for that. “The Muppet Show” simply entertained kids and their parents by making them laugh.

Familiar staples of previous Muppet films are apparent throughout “The Muppets”. The most entertaining aspect is the consistent destruction of the fourth wall as the cast (both human and Muppet) frequently acknowledge the fact that they’re making a movie. There are also around a half dozen musical numbers, all of which are fun and entertaining. And, as with all their previous incarnations, the Muppets are shown as characters that blend into society alongside humans without a reference to their puppet-like nature. As always, the effect is pulled off flawlessly in the film. This is a credit to the talented men and women who voice and control the numerous Muppet characters.

“The Muppets” also has its fair share of celebrity cameos. Cameos were always a big part of the early Muppet films and it was always fun to see contemporary stars interacting with the various Muppet characters. The first Muppet film, “The Muppet Movie” (1979) included the likes of Orson Welles, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, James Coburn, Bob Hope, Mel Brooks and Milton Berle. Apart from the three lead actors, most of the celebrities that appear in “The Muppets” are all decidedly B-list. This leaves one thinking that the Muppets should have better pull.

The Muppets never age; they still look and sound exactly how we remember them. Despite self-deprecating claims to the contrary within the film, the Muppets defy being labeled as dated or irrelevant. This is a film that thrives on nostalgia for older fans, but also serves as a perfect introduction to the Muppet world for a new generation. “The Muppets” succeeds in feeling fresh and new, all while showcasing endearing and familiar touches that remind us how special these characters are. Anyone who grew up with the Muppets will be hard pressed not to acknowledge their heart strings being tugged on at various points throughout “The Muppets”.

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