Directed by James Bobin
Written by Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller, based on characters created by Jim Henson
imdb USA 2011
The central difficulty with reviving a beloved franchise like The Muppets is that what you gain in brand recognition, you lose in the established fan-base’s resistance to change. Keeping the older fans happy while pleasing new fans is a tricky tightrope to walk. The Muppets one big advantage over a franchise like Star Trek is that it is something that today’s parents loved as kids and that they are really looking forward to introducing to their children. That was certainly the case at the preview screening that I attended.
The Muppets come to theatres boasting the best marketing of any film this year. The clever, parody Muppet movie trailers have excited long-time fans of the Muppets
Believe me, I understand that combination of fear and excitement and I share it. One of my most prized childhood possessions is a Kermit with a zipper on his stomach that you can unzip to reveal his guts…
Maybe I should explain.
I was already a Kermit fan and “Being Green” was the unofficial anthem of my childhood, but Appendix Scar Kermit pushed it to another level.
Maybe it’s not fair for fans like me to put so much pressure on The Muppets to be great, but we can’t just stop loving something that we have loved all of our lives.
So is The Muppets good? Does it get it right? Or is it, as a friend of mine described, The Jason Segel Experience featuring WALTER!!! guest starring The Muppets?
It’s good. It’s great. It’s right.
Yes, Gary (Jason Segal) has a big part in the film, as does his long-suffering girlfriend Mary (the fantastic Amy Adams) but the focus is on Gary’s brother Walter, the biggest fan of the Muppets, acting as
Putting on a show is at the heart of so much that is great about the Muppets from their very beginning. In a sense, the Muppets have always been a puppet version of the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney “Backyard Musicals” trilogy (Babes in Arms, Babes on Broadway, and Strike Up the Band). It is amazingly appropriate that Mickey Rooney makes an early cameo in the film. It is only surprising that it has taken so long for Mickey Rooney and the Muppets to share the screen. (Rooney’s son Michael Rooney choreographed the opening song and dance number Life’s a Happy Song that his Dad pops up in.)
Cooper is fantastic as the scenery-chewing villain – and an easy match for Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) the french-fried frog leg tycoon from The Muppet Movie. Cooper plays Richman as though the oil tycoon has his evil soliloquies pre-written by a screenwriter, only when Richman delivers them he includes the scriptwriter’s action notes as dialogue.
In order to save the Muppets Studio and the Muppets Theatre from being demolished, Walter has to find Kermit and help him put the gang back
Once the gang is back together, the solution to saving the studio and theatre is to put on a telethon in the hopes of raising the money before Richman’s deadline, which echoes the plot of It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. (In the TV film, a loose adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life, they have to get money to their evil banker before a capricious and changing deadline, while putting on their Christmas show. Fozzie loses the money and Kermit wonders if the gang might be better off without him.)
The Muppets delivers we expect from a Muppets movie: great cameos, a lot of corny jokes, casual and continual destruction of the fourth wall and a moral lesson about believing in yourself that is simultaneously pure sap and pure Muppets.
Frank Oz and the old guard’s concerns that this film is too racy ignores how sneakily racy that the Muppets always were. Carmela’s performance of
What makes The Muppets work is Walter’s story of growing up loving the Muppets (as so many of us did) and then one day miraculously finding himself part of the Muppets. In a meta-sense, it’s the story of virtually all the performers bringing life to the Muppets in this film. They grew up idolizing Jim Henson and Frank Oz and loving the Muppets… and now they are the Muppets, putting on a show, because as Kermit said at the end of The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, “That’s the way the boss would want it.”
And that’s the way that we would want it.
Welcome back Muppets. Sing us a song.
– Michael Ryan