Somehow, I missed the Muppet moment growing up. Though I had a steady diet of Muppet Babies, I was too young for the early TV shows and movies and too old or preoccupied for the later incarnations. If you’re like me and images of Kermit strumming his banjo or Gonzo vaulting through the air don’t give you an immediate nostalgia trip though, you can still enjoy The Muppets, a movie so thoroughly winsome and warm-hearted that it’s guaranteed to hit your childhood soft spot.
Writer-actor and avowed Muppet-lover Jason Segel along with co-writer Nicholas Stoller reboot the franchise for a new generation. That the beloved characters are out of step with the kiddie zeitgeist is one of the many self-reflexive jokes that the film employs. These days, it’s shows like (the fictional) Punch Teacher that grab the largest market share with little room for zany but family friendly programming.
The fading Muppet brand is what prompts this latest adventure. Gary (Segel), an overgrown kid in a chaste relationship with his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), takes a trip to Los Angeles to celebrate their 10-year anniversary, but he also brings along his Muppet brother, Walter. Besides hitting up the usual tourist sites, the main attraction, especially for the brothers, is the old Muppet Studios.
Walter is disappointed to say the least when he discovers its dilapidated condition. He is more shocked, however, when he overhears gazillionaire businessman Tex Richman’s (Chris Cooper) plans to bulldoze the studios in order to drill for oil. It’s a race against time as Gary and Walter try to round up the ol’ Muppet gang and help them find enough money to buy back their former stomping grounds. They need to raise $10 million, which they try to do with a national telethon, and are banking on the public’s appetite for scenes from their glory days.
The movie is a little piece of magic for audiences of all ages. While family films try hard to attract parents with wit and cheeky asides, The Muppets bounces by on sheer exuberance and good will. There’s not a cynical bone in this furry, felt body. It helps to have Adams, known for playing wholesome, wide-eyed innocents, as one of the human leads, but she’s matched by Segel, who gives Gary a pure-hearted, Smalltown, USA glow. Even when he’s grinning ear to ear, it never feels like he’s feigning affection or playing down to the crowd.
The warmth of the script and attentive direction by James Bobin (Flight of the Conchords) give the film the vibrancy of a Crayola multipack. Music director Bret McKenzie (also Flight of the Conchords) adds to the mood with jubilant new songs, including the effervescent “Life’s a Happy Song” and the disco-y, upbeat pityfest “Me Party”, that will truly make you laugh out loud. But the movie doesn’t just coast on good feelings. There are poignant lessons in self-confidence and learning to value what, and who, you truly love. McKenzie’s Oscar-winning “Man or Muppet” hilariously but affectionately embraces the existential question posed by Gary and Walter, both of whom must grow up and into their own identities. Additionally, Walter’s fanboy obsession over the Muppets is about more than a case of an awestruck groupie. It’s about fitting in, and with his idols, he gets a sense of belonging that not even his devoted brother can give. In the end, the film really does deliver “the third (and fourth) greatest gift ever,” behind children and ice cream – and that’s laughter and love.
“Life’s a Happy Song” by Jason Segel and Walter:
“Me Party” by Amy Adams and Miss Piggy:
“Man or Muppet” by Jason Segel, Walter, Jim Parsons, Muppet Gary:
“The Rainbow Connection” by Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy:
Bonus “Life’s a Happy Song” by writer Bret McKenzie and Kermit:
Prod: David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman
Dir: James Bobin
Writer: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Walter, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Jack Black, Jim Parsons, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Gonzo, Rowlf, Miss Poogy, Alan Arkin, Emily Blunt, Kristen Schaal
Time: 103 min
Country: United States