The Muppets is a long awaited a reunion concert experience that showcases our old friends doing what they do best: singing, dancing, joking and playing music. What is pretty clever is that not only is this a meta story asking and answering the question “where have the Muppets been?“, it reflects the social mindset that wondered the same thing as if the Muppets were living breathing creatures. But even without the involvement of Frank Oz this still feels like a true Muppet movie with all the charm and allure that has kept the property vibrant for decades. The Muppets are a brand everyone knows and as such we were allowed to jump fuzzy feet first into this comeback story.
Walter and Gary are inseparable brothers, the very best of friends and from a young age have been obsessed with The Muppets. When Gary (Jason Segel) takes his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to California for their anniversary he invites Walter to come along to to tour the famous Muppet studios but sadly it’s been nearly abandoned for years. Sneaking away from the makeshift tour Walter happens upon Kermit’s old office and learns that the contract on the studio is set to expire and will soon fall into the hands of greedy oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) who plans to level the studio and drill for the oil under it. Walter, Gary and Mary set out to find Kermit and encourage him to raise the money to buy the property back from Richman. Kermit and his new friends then set out to reunite the band (which has been broken up for years) for one final fundraising show.
As this is a story of a bunch of entertainers, The Muppets doesn’t waste much time getting right into the opening number and it is just classic Muppets from note one. The Muppets are so unique in that they are very self aware and they can have a laugh at themselves before the credits are even done rolling. They even poke fun at their own dance number which is just the familiar brand of humor we’ve come to expect. There is no limit to the way in which they deliver their jokes as The Muppets constantly break the fourth wall and as always are entirely self-referential. It’s just fun to see these characters back on the big screen as no matter what they do, it can illicit huge smiles from the audience.
Muppet films as a whole have a very universal appeal and while these lovable foam and felt creations look childish they’ve always been brimming with humor and subject matter that not only keeps the parents entertained but also was originally aimed at that age group. Think back to the genesis of the Muppets; a prime time show with guest stars like Steve Martin, George Carlin and other more adult entertainers. Even Jim Henson got his start doing late night commercials so this rag-tag bunch of characters were in a way geared to the adults. But that was a long time ago and while The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth seem too mature The Muppets and the last few Muppet films have been continuously aimed at the Sesame Street crowd/generation. In a way this film is catered almost exclusively to children in attempts to get them acquainted with characters we’ve known for years using using Walter to help represent the audience.
The story of the team getting back together and trying to raise 10 Million to save the Muppet studios, nostalgia aside, just feels thin. The Muppets have driven cross country, taken Manhattan, stopped a robbery at the Mallory Gallery, revisited the works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens and told us that Gonzo is actually an alien, so this felt a tad underwhelming but maybe that’s asking too much. This whole film is essentially a long awaited get together with old friends over coffee; simple as that. Further it’s a reminder of who the Muppets are (not like they really need to) and a call to dust off the VHS and DVD copies of Muppet films to introduce them to a younger generation free of the trends, gimmicks and envelope pushing that saturates young minds today. It’s in that respect that The Muppets really succeeds even if the story was lacking and predictable.
It would seem that to find fault at all in the Muppets or this film would be to have no soul but this film just stayed lukewarm throughout the entire duration. Plenty of times while The Muppets were doing their thing, maybe it was just the theater showing it, there were just long drawn out moments of silence where neither the children or the adults were laughing. That’s deflating considering the amount of hype and marketing we’ve seen this year. Also unfortunately this time around the cameos were not only so random and haphazardly thrown in but were of the blink and you missed them variety. A few numbers that just didn’t hit their mark but still there’s tons of heart and some really witty sequences (keep an eye out for the simply hysterical number Man or Muppet) and belly laughs to be had. Not what was expected but still for the first full length feature in over a decade, The Muppets is a terrific time getting reacquainted with the old gang.
The Muppets is a call back to the simpler days of entertainment where, like they say about country songs, it’s just three chords and the truth. Segal, Stoller and Bobin gave the Muppets a facelift and again remind us why after 40 years they are still relevant and appealing. It’s just a tiny let down that all the effort and creative juices that created the endlessly entertaining parody trailers in this mammoth marketing campaign didn’t find its way into a more fulfilling story. Now it’s not that I didn’t like it, but just like my experience with this year’s Super 8 I really wanted to love it. But regardless of what this reviewer thinks, the songs, jokes and more importantly the chance to see Kermit & co again will bring endless smiles as this is vintage Muppet showmanship that warms your heart.
Editor’s note: Enormous credit must be given to Jason Segal and company for bringing The Muppets back (if this movie really succeeds don’t be surprised if we get The Muppets returning to prime time). So as far as giving credit where credit is due it’s quite funny that while The Muppets are fine with having a laugh at their own expense, Jason Segel has adopted a similar mindset. Jason appeared on Letterman and in the segment below tells of his love of Muppets and how he got the film got started. Watch it all or skip to 5:15 to hear what kids think of Jason starring alongside the Muppets for a good laugh. He’s fully OK with laughing at himself which makes it that much funnier.
Which leads me to my next point. Segel has always fancied himself as a Muppet so perhaps that 7 year old didn’t like Jason’s face because he kind of resembles Sweetums.
If you’ve seen The Muppets, let me ask you: What did you think?? Was it the Best Family Movie of the Year? Or simply fun nostalgic entertainment??