Directed by: James Bobin
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams
We all know the Muppets. They may not be as ubiquitous and popular as they once were, but their infectious mixture of slapstick, strangeness, satire, and singing is familiar to generations alike. In their newest incarnation, director James Bobin and co-writers Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel (the latter of whom also co-stars) have never forgotten what made Jim Henson‘s creations so special.
Although the title is sadly bland, the contents gush with color, energy, music and enough soft-edged parody to remind longtime fans that the Muppets always winked through their smiles.
Jason Segel plays Gary, a grown child whose beloved brother, Walter, happens to be a Muppet (something the film wisely leaves unanswered). With Gary’s long-suffering girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), in tow, they visit the Muppets’ old theater in Los Angeles, only to find its depleted remains set for demolition by a real-estate tycoon (Chris Cooper) in order to drill for oil.
It is soon up to Walter, Gary, and Mary to bring the Muppets back together so they can stage a telethon and raise the $10 million to save the studio.
Utilizing the ‘getting-the-gang back together’ plot to great effect, the film cleverly appeals to two audiences: the young kids who probably will only recognize Muppets from Sesame Street, and the adults who remember the TV series and movies from yesteryear.
The first half plays as set-up, bringing everyone back together and showing how most of the Muppets have turned their backs on fame Fozzie is now performing in Reno with “The Moopets,” Gonzo is a plumbing magnate, Animal is in anger management, and Kermit lives alone in his Los Angeles mansion – quietly yearning for a reconciliation with his old gang, and the love of Miss Piggy.
Again, the film is smart, providing an introduction/re-introduction of the characters to a new audience while providing plenty of in-jokes and references that will remind older fans of the nostalgic Muppet magic.
The old chestnut of a plot is balanced lovingly by loads of self-referential humor that has long been a Muppet mainstay — as when Kermit first declines the challenge, and Mary decries, “Oh no, this is going to be a really short movie.”
With all its fun and irreverent humour, The Muppets is not a perfect return to the big screen. Walter is a bit of a washout next to his fellow puppets, and Adams is mostly wasted in a supportive role. Segel, meanwhile, remains a ball of exuberance (both as co-writer and actor), declaring his chops in a show stopping ballad called ‘Man or Muppet’, which see’s Walter and he recognize their true destinies.
It isn’t till the second half that parts start to drag. Strangely, it feels that when the energy should be exploding, the characters are overwrought with concerns.
Will Gary feel abandoned if Walter leaves him for the Muppets? Will Mary leave Gary because he forgot their anniversary? Can Walter overcome his stage fright and perform on the big show?
It’s all too much to contemplate when we want jokes and songs and just the right sprinkling of sentiment.
In Muppet tradition, several musical numbers pop up frequently, as do human guest spots (even though one would have expected more). Although old favorites — such as the TV theme song and Rainbow Connection — are welcome reprises, some of the newer numbers get lost in the breakneck shuffle.
Still, with a healthy nostalgia factor mixed in, The Muppets may find parents having more fun than their youngsters at this lighthearted affair. It truly is a treat to see hand-held puppets hopping across the big screen opposed to an army of computer-animated stand-ins. That, and it’s great to see Kermit again. What a charming frog.