I remember sitting in the theater watching FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL when at the end Jason Segal orchestrates a large Muppet-esque play and thinking that I would really love to see a new MUPPETS movie. Low and behold 2011 has made that wish come true with none other than Jason Segal instrumental to the process. Over the years there’s been some blatant nostalgia exploitation in movies like ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS and THE SMURFS but I’m happy to finally get a property from my past brought back to the big screen with loads of heart and love given to the characters.
The film begins with brothers Walter and Gary (Jason Segal); one of them is a Muppet, Walter and the other is not, Gary. Growing up Walter is increasingly disheartened by his lack of growth and one day he discovers The Muppet Show and it changes his life. Walter begins idolizing the Muppets all the way into adulthood. Now grown up, Walter and Gary still live together but Gary is in a long term relationship with Mary (Amy Adams) and are going on vacation for their anniversary and invite Walter along to visit the Muppet Studios. Once there the place is a dump and in process of being purchased by an evil oil baron (Chris Cooper) who plans to tear it down to access the oil underneath. Gary and Walter go in search of Kermit to convince him to bring back the gang for a show to raise the $10 million they need to save the studio.
I love THE MUPPETS- but to be perfectly honest, as much as I would love to say this is a flawless movie that simply isn’t the case. The film plays highly on the nostalgia of fans and while it is kid friendly, it just doesn’t seem to play entirely towards anyone who isn’t already familiar. These are characters that have already been introduced over the years and there are many scenes dedicated to fans already knowing the dynamic between them and the quirks that come with them.
Getting the flaws out of the way- as much as I like Walter’s story at times especially at the beginning, his character seems a bit flat other times. There are a few of the musical numbers I could have done without, but the opening number as well as the “Man or Muppet” song that I loved quite a bit. Lastly one of the last of my main problems is that the film is a little long and given some of the things I could have done without, trimming them down a bit would have done the film a lot of good.
I found myself chuckling and smiling all the way throughout the movie though despite my reservations. Also, my absolute joy to what I was watching was not shared by everyone around me that did not have the connection and love for the Muppets that I remember having. Hence the disconnect I feel is present for audiences- I believe it is possible to enjoy for some of the goofy jokes and gags and the heartwarming message but not as much for the connection to the characters and the property itself. If you were never a fan this probably won’t change your mind and younger children may become a little bored and uninterested that these are not culturally stereotypical animated cars. The Muppets themselves are as they are depicted in the film, which is mostly forgotten by the masses and kids have no basis really for who they are and probably look at their spot in the DVD shelf with indifference.
Almost every joke, reference and gag had me laughing or chuckling and I couldn’t have been happier to see these characters on the big screen again. I fell in love with the film the moment Kermit began rounding up his friends and interacted with Fozzie, Animal and Gonzo- three of my absolute favorites. The scene where they picked up Animal had me laughing out loud just as the gag about him struggling to maintain “control” over his drumming.
I cared so much more about the actual Muppet half of the movie that at times I felt like the Jason Segal/Amy Adams storyline was interfering. This is not to say I didn’t like it on some level, but in my opinion it was so secondary for me I could have done without it and been just as happy. However, without that storyline two of the musical numbers I liked wouldn’t have worked as well.
Chris Cooper is great as the evil oil baron that’s constantly instructing his two Muppet goons to laugh maniacally. There are a variety of celebrity cameos that induce a short laugh here and there- but I really wish Neil Patrick Harris had a more expanded role as opposed to Jack Black. At times it becomes a bit of a Where’s Waldo of celebrity faces but some of them add to the film humorously so it’s not much of a complaint.
From beginning to end THE MUPPETS warmed my heart and made me smile more than most movies have this year. It may not be the funniest movie I’ve seen this year, but it has one of the biggest hearts of just about any other movie released. The film is not perfect by any means, but for Muppet fans I can’t imagine a more glorious reintroduction of the property. When that iconic Muppet theme kicks in during the show the goosebumps really set in but by that point I was already in love with the film. No other family film this year can integrate Cee Lo Green’s “F*ck You” and remain as endearing as it is. THE MUPPETS may not be the right type of family movie that unites young and old in the same way, but from this fan’s perspective it fits in just fine.