The Muppets (Review)

The Muppets’ return to film ages with its original fans, pumping nostalgia to its maximum level and delivering everything a fan could want, and so much more. 

Score: * * * * * (out of 5)

Rated: PG for some mild rude humor

There never was a show quite like The Muppets Show, nor was there a series of films quite like that which the Muppets had. That very special brand of humor, iconic characters, and enthusiastic celebrity cameos and hosts was a formula that won over a legion of fans, until the show ended and production of the movies stopped. Living for years only in the memories of the characters’ aging fans, the Muppets were in need of a revival. One such pair of rabid fans, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller (of Forgetting Sarah Marshall fame) had the same idea, and began working on a script, and here we are with a return to form that is just about perfect.

The world of this new film has sadly forgotten about the Muppets for the most part, and all of them have separated and gone on to do other things while the original Muppets theater and theme park have closed down.  Young Walter, who himself is a Muppet (although not by name, his physical status as a puppet is, like the rest of them, something that is never noted or apparently even realized), falls in love with the Muppets as a child and when he and his older brother Gary (Jason Segel) are adults, they travel to Hollywood to visit the Muppets Theater and for Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to celebrate their anniversary. When they get there, Walter overhears oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) discussing his plans to bulldoze the place and drill for oil. As per the contract the Muppets signed at the beginning of the career, if they can raise $10 million within the next few days, they will be able to reclaim their theater. It’s up to Walter and Gary to get Kermit and the Muppets back together for one last show so they can save their theater from Richman and his gang of Moopets, scumbag Muppet knock-offs (including Foozie the gangster bear and the gender-unspecific Miss Poogy).

One of the defining features of the Muppets anthology of entertainment has been a razor-sharp sense of self-consciousness as a piece of media. As always, the characters seem keenly aware that they exist in a musical film, from recommending that they “travel by map” (which is faster, they say), to one character upset that his story was not part of the reunion montage,  to another character referencing a song he just sang. It’s the best kind of humor for this type of movie, made even better with the way they’re placed in the script, paced at an almost perfect rate. Some of the gags here are just brilliant; I won’t spoil all of them, but I was laughing frequently and loudly throughout the film. Many of them might go straight over the heads of youngsters, however, which might make this better for adults who used to love the Muppets as a child (and I certainly feel that that was the intended audience for the film anyway).

A Muppet film would be nothing without some musical numbers, and Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords does the music-writing numbers here. While some of the songs feel like they could have come from that show, nearly all of them are as catchy and wonderful as ever, particularly the opening song and one toward the end of the second act. As always, basically anyone that walks into the frame during the first and last song gets into it, and there’s an infectious energy running through the film as a result of all of the great music.

Chris Cooper as Tex Richman deserves a special mention here. As if having the absolute best name imaginable for an evil oil tycoon was not enough already, Cooper plays his character relentlessly straight, but completely in on the joke: that is to say, while he’ll do things such as physically say, “Maniacal laugh!” instead of actually laughing, his character never partakes in the same sort of self-conscious joking that the rest of the characters do. It’s a careful balancing act that Cooper pulls of with ingenuity, and you can tell he’s having the time of his life doing this role. He does do something rather surprising a way into the film–which I will not spoil–but it is hysterical. The rest of the cast is perfect as well: Segel and Adams crank up the earnestness to delightful levels, and the celebrity cameos, which are numerous, were all great. One of my favorites was Selena Gomez, who claimed that she was only at the show “because my agent told me to”.

Though it is not actually part of the movie, it is absolutely worth noting the Toy Story short that precedes the film. I admit that I was fairly against another Toy Story film given that last year’s fantastic third installment bookended the series so well, but the material here, which involves Buzz getting accidentally left at a fast food restaurant and joining a support group of discarded fast food toys, is so fresh and creative, I’m on board for another. It was also extremely funny. From Beef Stewardess (a flotation device-equipped cow in a flight uniform) to Super Pirate (exactly what is sounds like), the characters and dialogue written for this short had me in stitches. Don’t be late for the movie or you’ll miss a quality prologue.

Just about anything a longtime fan of the Muppets could ever want is in this new film. It hits just the right notes of nostalgia, has most of not all of the legion of characters in varying degrees, is legitimately hysterical, and has doses of humor and emotion in perfect amounts in just the right places. As with this year’s other nostalgia trip, Winnie the Pooh, it is a joyful celebration of childhood and a rekindling of a shining memory. The Muppets is a must-see for anyone that enjoyed the characters so many years ago. It’ll put a smile on your face that lasts for two solid hours and will probably continue for a long time afterward.

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Posted on December 15, 2011, in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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