Some would have you believe that The Muppets is a liberal Hollywood tool to indoctrinate our children with a message of ‘money is evil’. Really?
In truth, The Muppets is 102 minutes of, for the grown-ups; reassurance that we aren’t remembering the classic 70’s characters through rose-tinted glasses, and for the kids; fun, entertainment and some great song-and-dance numbers (well mostly but we’ll get to that).
When I was growing up, one of the regular staples of my Saturday evenings was The Muppet Show. It was a show that was great for kids with bright colorful characters, crazy stunts, songs and decent message slotted in for good measure. But, as I have grown to learn as I have gotten older and watched the show back again, there was plenty in there for the parents who were watching along with their kids with topical gags and just a little irreverence and a knowing self-awareness to keep you engaged with the characters. And what characters they were.
What is great about this movie is that it hasn’t lost touch with its roots. It still has elements for both audiences except that now the grown-ups are the kids who used to watch the TV show. It is also self-aware enough so as to poke through the ‘fourth wall’ without knocking it down on top the audience.
The Muppets begins with an introduction to our main protagonists, Gary (Jason Segel – How I Met Your Mother) and his suspiciously Muppet-like brother, Walter. We watch as they grow up together and as they discover (and Walter develops a borderline obsession with) The Muppet Show. The film then begins in earnest as we discover Gary will be leaving his Smalltown home to take girlfriend of 10 years, Mary (Amy Adams – Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Enchanted), to LA for their anniversary. But it’s ok, Walter is coming as well, and will finally get the chance to meet his Muppet idols. They arrive at falling apart Muppet Studios with no sign of any actual Muppets. While taking the official tour, Walter steals into Kermit’s old office where he overhears the plans of oil tycoon, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper – The Bourne Trilogy, American Beauty), to tear down the studio and drill for the oil beneath. Only one thing could stop him, if Kermit could raise $10m by midnight on Friday he can buy the studio back. And there is the plot for the rest of the movie. Walter, Gary and Mary then embark on a mission to find the Muppets, get them back together and put on a telethon to end all telethons to raise the money. Typical Muppet hi-jinx ensue with healthy dose of self-discovery, song-and-dance numbers and celebrity cameos.
Now, it’s not perfect. There are a few wrinkles in the felt. Firstly, a conspicuous lack of Henson in the credits, due to the long legal battle over ownership of the Henson properties resulting in Disney acquiring the Muppets and all associated materials while the Sesame Street properties going to Henson (ever wondered why you never see Kermit on the Street anymore?). Peculiarly a very similar situation makes an ironic appearance within Kermit’s ‘Standard Rich and Famous’ contract which is the anchor of the film’s plot, succinctly laid out for us by Statler and Waldorf.
Secondly, not only is Oil Tycoon, Richman the bad guy, he is also a bad rapper.
And finally, though to be honest this is the least of all, it is very Jason Segel heavy. Not too surprising as he is one of the film’s writers but, whereas in previous Muppet movies, and the TV show, the billing is very much ‘Starring The Muppets, co-starring *insert human actor celebrity here*’ The Muppets is much more ‘Starring Jason Segel, co-starring The Muppets’. Like I say, though, this is the least of my complaints. Segal is engaging and entertaining, has a very good singing voice, is not too shabby a dancer, and is able to hit all the performance points needed in such a film; serious, heart-felt and comedic. And with the latter he stands out with an understated, dry and often dead-pan delivery. He is not working for the joke but the joke just works.
The supporting cast of Cooper, Adams and, of course, the rest of The Muppets, perform very well, especially Adams who gets to showcase her sing and dancing talents. Jack Black is, well, Jack Black. Then there are the numerous celebrity cameos. Whether it is Selena Gomez expressing “I don’t really know who you guys are, my agent just told me to show up”, or Neil Patrick Harris answering the telethon phones with, “No, I don’t know why I’m not hosting this?”, all do what they are required to and no more, no-one tries to scene steal.
So, all-in-all, The Muppets is a worthwhile watch, whether you want to re-engage with your childhood, introduce your kids to your childhood or even if you’re just a raging Jason Segel fanatic, it’s all in there. Bring on the new Muppet Show.
4.5 / 5