The Muppets Directed by James Bodin
Starring Jason Segel, Chris Cooper, Amy Adams, John Henson
Release Date: November 23, 2011
So, let me start this review by saying I wasn’t the hugest fan of The Muppets characters when I was growing up and I’ve never cared for musicals. Even today I have a healthy respect for the fandom and appreciate the iconic nature of Jim Henson’s creations, but am still not what I’d call a fan of the franchise. So with these caveats in mind I may actually be the perfect person to review this film, simply titled The Muppets, or the absolute wrong person.
I sort of stand in parallel to Jason Segel, the star of the film and co-writer. He’s the person really responsible for making the film happen. He fought to be involved with the project and fought to get the movie made, all because he loves the characters so much. Segel is an actor having starred in such films as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I Love You Man, but his true talent may be as a writer. He wrote Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a film that ended up being much better than it should have been.
You’d think a hardcore fan of a franchise that is a capable artist would be the perfect person to take on this film, but we’ve seen similar situations fall completely flat. The most perfect example has to be Bryan Singer directing Superman Returns. That film was so beholden to the people that created the character before that it literally imploded. I was offered an opportunity to see an advance screening of The Muppets and I went mainly to see if all of the struggle that Segel and his team went through paid off. I couldn’t help but ask myself if I’d truly know the answer since I’m not a fan of the franchise.
So, the lights dim in the theater and we’re treated to a Toy Story short film and I mean treated. This little Pixar short is a true joy just like the feature films. The story focuses on those little toys that are packed into fast food kids meals like of course, Happy Meals. It’s nostalgic, clever, and gorgeous to look at, just what we’d expect from a Pixar film. i won’t give away any of the gags in the short film but suffice it to say that it was the perfect appetizer for the feature film that was to come…
The film begins with home video footage of Walter and Gary, two brothers joined at the hip. Walter feels different than everyone around him though. It’s only when he and Gary discover old episodes of The Muppet Show that Walter realizes their are others in the world like him and he becomes a super fan of the show. Years later Gary and his girlfriend Mary, played by Amy Adams, are heading to Los Angeles for a romantic getaway and Walter tags along to visit the old Muppet studio. There they find out that an evil tycoon (Chris Cooper) is dead set on tearing the studio down and drilling for oil. So Walter sets out to reunite the Muppets to put on a new show and save the studio.
Ok, so right away yes the story is really basic and stereotypical but the plot is laid out with a wink at the audience the whole time. The writers, and even the Muppets themselves, know how pedestrian the plot is and they’re going to have fun with it. The film is a spoof of those sort of 80’s basic plots but what’s surprising and brilliant about this aspect of the film is just how subtle this part of the story is handled. The film never feels the need to rub our noses in the fact that yes this is a spoof of films like Fame, and of old Muppet Show themes, it just does it and expects you to catch on.
Like in the old show the characters break the fourth wall and talk directly to us plenty to get some points across though. The site gags, dialogue, and other spoofy elements are much more blatant and they nearly always work beautifully. There are so many really tiny, almost throwaway bits in this film that are uproariously funny. I’m not even a big fan of the franchise and it was still fun and exciting to see the old gang get back together. I’m also not a fan of musicals but the musical numbers in this film were just plain fun, except for one. Amy Adams gets a number about sightseeing all on her own that just doesn’t really work and it feels like it could have been cut for time since this is a rather lengthy film. Otherwise though, the music is spot on throughout the film. The chicken performance in the last act and a Walter performance about being a man had the entire audience, me included, laughing to near tears. Points for having AC/DC on the soundtrack too.
There are also many new characters and they are all great fun. Without getting spoilery, my favorite of the new characters had to be 80’s Robot. Jason Segel was easily the weakest link in the chain onscreen. It’s not that he was terrible. He just wasn’t particularly great. Amy Adams had much less to do but she made great use of her screen time. She has a few funny moments and a few entertainingly weird ones. This a clean film and it does feature what Chris Cooper’s villain calls “hippy dippy” feel that you’d expect from a franchise that has always felt like that but some clever slightly edgier comedy does balance out the overall feel of the film. At a few points in the film it feels like G-rated South Park, and that’s a good thing.
One might complain that some of the more biting comedy is of the now similar to Shrek and that it won’t hold up in later viewings but wasn’t The Muppet Show kind of always of the now? When Alice Cooper was popular they had him on the show and many of the jokes played on current pop culture. Speaking of pop culture there are tons of cameos in this film and be prepared becasue these are truly cameos. If you blink you’ll miss some of them. Some of the cameos are brilliantly funny though. So, The Muppets is a near perfect movie. There are a few minor hiccups along the way but overall the film is just fantastic. It’s cute, it’s clever, it is nostalgic, it has a standard but well delivered message for kids, and most important of all it’s just plain hilarious. This is one of the best true family films I’ve seen in years. If this film doesn’t revitalize the franchise then it’ll be a true crime.