Full disclosure: I'm one of the biggest Muppet fans you'll ever meet and all of this is about to sound really biased coming from me. The only person that rivals my Muppet Mania is star Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I Love You, Man). I knew this even before he started doing press interviews for this film. When I interviewed Segel a few years ago, he leaked it to me that he was working on this script and he was doing it as a labor of love. We instantly hit it off with our chat about Muppets and how they needed a huge comeback. He flexed his Hollywood muscle and totally delivered.
It's been 12 years since The Muppets have released a movie and some could argue that the famous characters were falling apart ever since the death of their creator, Jim Henson. After lack of solid management, being sold around to international companies and finally landing as used goods on Disney's doorstep in 2002, they were shelved in the back with other has-beens. But that is no place for The Muppets! They took it upon themselves to stay relevant among their hardcore fans with viral videos online that gained them several awards in that community. That and Segel's hilarious script mixed with his persistence was all Disney needed to take a gamble on this.
The film is exactly what it should have been. No more of the "Muppets Do Literature" movies where they don't even play themselves. It's about The Mupppets coming together again to put on a benefit show to raise money to save The Muppet Theater from being destroyed by the evil Tex Richman, who's played by Chris Cooper (American Beauty, The Company Men). The self awareness at their irrelevancy lends itself to many tear-jerking scenes for us hardcore Muppet fans that involve things like Kermit (listen to my interview with Kermit the Frog at the bottom of this review) singing a heartbreaking song called "Pictures in My Head" as he wanders through his house looking at old, dusty pictures of his long lost friends. Anyone who has missed The Muppets this past decade and grew up on a steady diet of felt and fuzz will get a lump in their throat. Especially when lines like "Will anybody watch/Would anyone care?" are sung by a defeated Frog who's had better days.
This film is not on a quest to make you sad though and scenes like that are few and, if you're not a fan, will be uneffective. But what's guarenteed to work is the comedy. Segel captured the tongue-and-cheek, on-the-nose comedy that Henson emphasized with The Muppets his whole career. It was almost as if Henson was writing through Segel, despite what co-creator and best friend of Henson, Frank Oz, has been saying in recent interviews. This film pumps in the same veins as everything Henson did for The Muppets. It's aided by fun songs written by director James Bobin, who also directed HBO's Flight of the Concords and Da Ali G Show. That level of hard adult edge is masked so masterfully in The Muppets by Bobin and Segel.
Not everything in the film works. Parts feel disjointed and I have a feeling it's because a lot was cut from the final film. At 120 minutes, it's already pretty long for a kid's movie and I know for a fact there was a lot more. Some of the songs are a little weak as well. Amy Adam's (The Fighter, Enchanted) song "Me Party" is a stinker that falls flat and just ends up eating 90 seconds of film. But these instances of medicore Muppet action flitter by quickly and you move on to the funny.
The biggest accomplishment of The Muppets happened at the very end when the audience was leaving. A 4-year-old girl that was sitting next to me, stood up to leave and screamed out to her dad "I love The Muppets!" THAT is why this movie is so great and needed to be made. It has introduced a new generation to the characters that used to be responsible for so much joy and happiness. A throwback to a time when characters for kids weren't just shallow noise and color machienes but made children aware of soulful, warm, emotional thoughts of self reflection. Not to mention the fact that it was the first introduction to comedy to many of today's top comedic minds, such as Segel. That's why the cameos are so plentiful that some of them were even cut; the influence of The Muppets is deep and important and now, hopefully, with this film...it will continue on. The Muppets (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: A
Listen to Gavin's interview with Kermit the Frog here: