Back in September of 1976, the world got its first taste of a sort of grown-up "Sesame Street." "The Muppet Show" featured an innocent but clever sensibility that appealed to both children and adults alike. While audiences were familiar with the Muppets from PBS and Kermit the Frog was already something of an iconic character, "The Muppet Show" introduced the world to a host of new lovable fuzzies that swiftly found themselves beloved. Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and the Swedish Chef all became overnight sensations and as recognizable as Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny.
In recent years, the Muppets have lost a bit of popularity. Lacking a TV series since the failed relaunch of "The Muppet Show" in 1996 and absent from the cineplexes since "Muppets from Space," the lovable bunch seemed destined to become a stale memory of a more innocent time.
Enter actor/writer Jason Segal - something of a puppeteer himself and big fan of the Muppets - who dreamed of bringing the classic characters back into the Zeitgeist and allow the world to rejoice in them once again. As a result - and with the franchise now owned by Disney - Jim Henson’s Muppets now have their own reboot on the big screen with the eponymously titled The Muppets.
Set in Smalltown USA, Gary (Jason Segal) and his Muppet brother Walter (Walter) live in a world both naive and innocent. The two grow up best friends, even though Walter knows there is something different about himself. One night, Walter catches a glimpse of "The Muppet Show" and immediately feels a sense of belonging. He becomes the ultimate Muppets fan, sporting a Kermit watch, and decking out his room with Muppet merchandise. His biggest wish in life is to realize his dream of visiting the Muppet Theatre in Los Angeles.
Years later, Gary is dating his longtime girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), a schoolteacher in Smalltown, and the two have planned a trip to Los Angeles - with Walter in tow. Mary isn’t too thrilled about the tagalong, as she always seems to play second fiddle to Gary’s relationship with his brother. She goes along with it, however, and after a rousing musical number in the town square, the three set off on a bus trip to Hollywood.
When they arrive in the City of Angels, they realize that the Muppet Theatre is in shambles and the Muppets have all gone their separate ways. They also learn that a rich oil tycoon named Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is about to buy the Muppet Studios in order to raze it and dig for oil that supposedly flows underneath. If the Muppets can raise $10 million dollars before the deadline, they can save their studio. So Gary, Mary, and Walter set off on a journey to find Kermit and the rest of the Muppets and save a little piece of history.
It’s best not to say too much where "The Muppet’s" plot is concerned because that would just spoil the fun. While the basic plot is certainly nothing new - it’s almost shockingly unoriginal - it’s actually the perfect vehicle for the forgotten property. Why? First, it allows those of us who grew up with the Muppets to reminisce about the good ol’ days when the Muppets aired weekly with famous guests, performing numbers and routines that are so recognizable they are simply a part of the public consciousness. Who doesn’t remember "Mah Na Mah Nah?" (I remember giggling and singing that song on the playground at school the day after it aired.)
The film also works by gathering the Muppets together for a "big show." Muppet fans are no strangers to this device; but it fuses the past and the present in something of a true story that doesn’t just place the Muppets into a familiar narrative ("Treasure Island" or "A Christmas Carol") - but instead utilizes their "real" personalities and allows for a charming underdog tale.
Plus, it’s damn funny. "The Muppets" eschews the pop-culture cynical joke route like, say, the "Shrek" movies did; instead, it allows the Muppets to maintain their benign innocence that makes them appropriate for all ages. At the same time, their humor is also irreverent, leveraging hilarious sight gags and off-handed remarks that will amuse adults and kids alike.
Tech credits on the film are excellent as expected. It has a highly fake look that has become almost a Disney staple at this point, but in this unrealistic world, it’s perfectly appropriate. The actors perform well even when they could have used a little fleshing out - especially the flesh and blood characters, with whom we’re not as familiar. While Adams is charming when she’s given something to do - her song "Me Party" with Miss Piggy is giddily adorable - she lacks depth, her primary role often devolved to standing behind a cadre of Muppets and reacting to their antics with big eyes.
Segal, who co-wrote the script with Nicholas Stoller, is clearly having the time of his life here, and how can you blame him? As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, how can you not delight in having Muppets literally surrounding you and interacting with you? It’s like an eight-year old’s Best. Day. Ever.
Songs by Flight of the Conchord’s Bret Mackenzie are funny and tuneful and just offbeat enough to make you giggle throughout. From group musical numbers to intense power ballads, the songs are enjoyable and don’t overstay their welcome. In fact, sometimes they seem a bit too short, but that’s a quibble.
In the end, "The Muppets" is a nostalgic entertainment that will put kids and adults of all ages in a glorious mood. And that’s no small feat. Webbed or otherwise.
Gary :: Jason Segel
Mary :: Amy Adams
Tex Richman :: Chris Cooper
CDE Executive :: Rashida Jones
Tour Guide :: Alan Arkin
Himself :: James Carville
Junior CDE Executive :: Donald Glover
Herself :: Leslie Feist
Punch Teacher Host :: Ken Jeong
Himself :: Judd Hirsch
Himself :: Rico Rodriguez
Himself :: Jack Black
Herself :: Whoopi Goldberg
Himself :: Neil Patrick Harris
Herself :: Selena Gomez
Himself :: John Krasinski
Himself :: Mickey Rooney
Hobo Joe :: Zach Galifianakis
Greeter :: Sarah Silverman
Miss Piggy's Receptionist :: Emily Blunt
Director, James Bobin; Screenwriter, Jason Segel; Executive Producer, Nicholas Stoller; Producer, David Hoberman; Producer, Todd Lieberman; Executive Producer, Jason Segal; Executive Producer, Martin G. Baker; Original Music, Christophe Beck; Costume Designer, Rahel Afiley; Film Editor, James Thomas; Film Editor, Alan Baumgarten; Production Design, Steve Saklad; Cinematographer, Don Burgess; Executive Producer, John Scotti; Art Director, Andrew Cahn; Set Decoration, Tracey Doyle; Casting, Marcia Ross; Casting, Gail Goldberg.