**** (out of 5)
November 23, 2011
Kermit the Frog as HIMSELF
Miss Piggy as HERSELF
Fozzie Bear as HIMSELF
Gonzo the Great as HIMSELF
Walter as HIMSELF
Jason Segel as GARY
Amy Adams as MARY
Chris Cooper as TEX RICHMAN
Directed by: James Bobin
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I usually identify myself as a “Star Wars baby” when it comes to my most defining element of popular culture growing up. I suppose I could also identify myself as a “Muppet baby” (though I might get into a copyright dispute with Disney about that one, considering the late-80s Saturday morning spin-off cartoon).
Not only did I grow up watching “Sesame Street,” but I watched Kermit the Frog make the hop from PBS to syndication when he started “The Muppet Show” in the mid-70s. And after the success of that show, I was first in line to see all the Muppet movies that were made in the 80s. My generation is so in love with these furry puppets that when Jim Henson died on May 16, 1990, my entire high school was in mourning. (Oddly enough, this was the same day that Sammy Davis Jr. died, and the student body was outraged that the Rat Pack member was getting more news coverage by some outlets.)
The Muppets have been influential for so many of us, not just because they provided fun and wholesome entertainment, but because they also had more heart than most human entertainers. They offered invaluable life lessons without being preachy, and they had a brand of humor that was smarter than most people gave them credit for.
It was sad to see them fall into obscurity in the 2000s, but like the pocket watch that Belloq holds up in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” they must be buried in the sand for a while before they can be unearthed as treasure.
The unearthing of the Muppets is happening this week with the release of Disney’s “The Muppets.” The film is both a revival and a pioneer, tapping into the nostalgia of its original run and the era that surrounded it, as well as forging ahead with the old-but-new brand of humor and presentation that made us all fall in love with them decades ago.
The story follows Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter, two brothers who couldn’t look any more different. Walter, who is undeniably a Muppet, has dreamed of going to Hollywood to meet his entertainment heroes. Gary invites Walter along with him and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to Los Angeles. There they find themselves fighting to reunite the Muppets and help them put on a show in order to raise $10 million to buy their theater back from an evil oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper).
Everything you remember from the first films comes to life again in this movie. Not only do they sling out call-backs to “The Muppet Movie” (including Sweet’ums getting left behind), but it’s also loaded with fun cameos. The characters occasionally break the fourth wall, and some jokes are extremely meta. Now, I know that being meta has fallen out of favor lately because it’s seen as too self-aware, but we forget that the Muppets were doing meta jokes decades before it was cool for the rest of Hollywood to do so.
There are a couple jokes and gags that don’t quite stick the landing, such as a bizarre Chris Cooper rap song that I think was making fun of the uncool raps squeezed into the movies of the 80s, but for the most part, “The Muppets” is completely on target. Like so many other elements from Henson-driven entertainment, there’s something for everyone here. Kids will like the simplicity of the story, the slapstick and the cute puppets. But adults will be taken back to their childhood days with the presentation and in-jokes.
The only real sticking point I had with this movie is that the focus switches a few too many times. Ultimately, it’s Walter’s story, and being a Muppet, he fits in with the bulk of the film which is about the gang getting back together. It’s Jason Segel and Amy Adams who seem out of place at times. Sure, Segel headlines one of the show’s best musical numbers, but in reality his and Adams’ characters are quite disposable.
I understand why they’re in the film, and the script even pokes fun at this concept: that the Muppets are so culturally irrelevant that they need a guest star to put on their own show. I’m sure Segel and Adams provided enough star power to fill in a box on a widget sheet for studio funding, and they’re really not that distracting. It’s just as a Muppet movie, they’re not the focus for me.
Still, if these are the only problems I have with a film, I consider it a home run. The Muppets are back, and its great to have them again.