Movie review: The Muppets
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Family, Musical
Opens locally Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour 38 minutes, Rated PG
Starring: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones
Directed by James Bobin (feature film directorial debut)
The Muppets are back, and all's I can wonder is why they ever left! I would imagine that it would be impossible to have grown up in the 70s and 80s and not have known about The Muppets. Created by the late Jim Henson, The Muppets are a part of American pop culture, although their last theatric release, "Muppets in Space," was released over 12 years ago (they have been around with a few TV specials since then.) So what became of Kermit, Piggy, and the gang?
That is the premise of the new Muppets film, "The Muppets." The famed Muppet Theatre, home of "The Muppet Show" that aired from 1976 to 1981, is about to be bought by a nasty oil tycoon appropriately named Tex Richman (Cooper.) There is oil under the theatre, and he plans to destroy it. A clause in the original land contract gives the Muppets a chance to save their theatre, if only they could raise 10 million dollars by the time of the sale.
A new Muppet character named Walter is this film's hero. Born as a Muppet, he himself was raised up watching The Muppet Show. His twin brother Gary was born a human (Jason Segal), and the two share a brotherly connection even though they are Man and Muppet. When invited along with Gary and Mary (Adams, Gary's fiance), Walter uncovers the sinister plot of Tex Richman, and goes on a cross-country trip to reunite the original Muppets in hopes of pulling off "one last show" that could save the theatre.
This "one last show" gives us a hilarious, creative trip down memory lane as Walter confronts one Muppet after another, whom have all moved on since the Muppets are no longer culturally relevant. Kermit lives in seclusion, having had a fall-out with Miss Piggy, who is a successful fashion designer living in Paris. Fozzy Bear makes appearances in a dingy Reno casino as part of "The Moopets," a Muppet tribute band. Gonzo has gone on to become an incredibly rich CEO of a toilet company. The rest are given a montage as to how they are re-discovered. Says Rowlf, the piano-playing dog, "Hey, why wasn't I given my own scene?" When Kermit doesn't want to go at first, Amy Adams looks into the camera and says, "Well this is going to be a very short movie then."
It's this self-referential silliness that has made us all fond Muppet-lovers since our childhoods. This movie is a love-letter to the Muppets themselves, and the millions that grew up with them. It's also an open-invite for future generations of kids and families to reconnect with these classic characters, who prove in this film that their comedy and appeal are truly timeless.
But "The Muppets" is even more than that. The new character Walter gives us a storyline about believing in yourself, and finding out what you truly are. Surprisingly, Kermit is given an arch as a character, beginning as a frog who feels past his prime, and ending on a surprising realization that Muppet fans will love, growing up himself and learning about what's important. It is a truly amazing achievement, that these felt hand-puppets are given such depth of emotion by an off-screen puppeteer. This may seem heavy-handed to say (pun intended), but some scenes with Kermit literally brought me to nostalgic tears.
First-time director James Bobin has a knack for comic timing, having directed several TV shows including "Flight of the Conchords" and "Da Ali G Show." Any fans of these mentioned shows know that have a quirky brand of comedy, and Bobin really knows how to pace the laughs.
Of course, who cares whether or not The Muppets save the theatre? As they teach us in the film, laughter is one of the most important gifts one can give...actually, they rank it as the 3rd most important thing, but still, it's important.
Add to the inventiveness, the laugh-out load comedy, and the heart-warming tender moments, the film also boasts a list of celebrity cameos, young and old ("Are you a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle?" A young celebrity asks of Kermit.) It even has a number of incredible new songs (namely "Life's a Happy Song," "Man or Muppet," and Kermit's "Pictures in my Head") that will ensure that The Muppets will be at this year's Oscar celebration.
Adults will love the nostalgia, and kids will love being introduced to these classic characters. "The Muppets" was surprisingly the best family film of the year for me, even despite a few misfires (Chris Coopers' rap number and Amy Adam's cringe-worthy solo stick out.) But a criticism against "The Muppets" would be like somehow casting a vote against their return to the mainstream...and I'm not willing to get in the way.
Even Stadler and Waldorff, the balcony critics, would have to agree: Some things have a time and a place, but Muppets are forever.
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