Release Date: November 23, 2011
Director: James Bobin
Writers: Jim Henson (characters), Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller (screenplay)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jason Segel and Chris Cooper
MPAA Rating: PG
There have been a number of Muppet films to come along in the post-Jim Henson era, but none of them have been able to capture the spirit of the original, iconic television show and subsequent films. Some of them were good, some of them were not so good, but none of them felt like a true “Muppet movie.” Thankfully, this time around, they finally got it right.
The Muppets is a heartfelt family comedy with the right amount of nostalgia and reverence for the material that came before it and just the right touch of melancholy to give it the same emotional weight of the original Muppet stories. In short, it’s the movie you’ve been waiting for all these years. It’s the rare family film that parents will actually be more excited to see than their children.
The film centers around Walter (Peter Linz), a puppet born in Smalltown, USA who always felt like an outsider because, well, he was made of felt. His human brother Gary (Jason Segel) and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) have done their best to be there for him, but it was the Muppets who helped Walter get through his tough formative years. When he discovered The Muppet Show in the 70s, he realized he wasn’t all alone in the world.
Walter tags along as a third wheel on Gary and Mary’s tenth anniversary trip to Hollywood, where he takes a tour of the now derelict Muppet Studios. All of the Muppets have gone their separate ways, leaving the studio abandoned. During his tour, Gary sneaks off to Kermit’s office and accidentally overhears a nefarious scheme by the evil Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who plans on buying the studio so he can level it and get to the oil he believes is buried underneath.
The Muppets must raise $10 million to save their studio, so Gary, Mary and Walter set out on a journey to reunite the old gang to put on one more show. Although Mary, patient and loving though she may be, can’t help but be hurt that her anniversary plans get completely derailed. And the Muppets themselves are reluctant to get back together after all these years. The biggest holdout of all is Miss Piggy (Eric Jacobson), who is harboring resentment toward Kermit (Steve Whitmire) for the falling out they had years back.
Getting the band back together and putting on a show to save your theater are certainly two well-worn movie plots, but the film embraces the ridiculousness of them. Characters constantly break the fourth wall and address the audience directly. The plot is completely secondary to all of the Muppet-related hijinks.
Also, the strength of the set up is that it allows the film to mirror the original Muppet Movie (which also involved the characters traveling around the country, banding together for a common goal) and to pay tribute to The Muppet Show. Walter is a surrogate for the audience – he grew up watching the Muppets and reveres them, so he’s sad to see that they aren’t putting on great shows anymore, which is undoubtedly how any child of the 70s or 80s feels. And by having the Muppets disbanded and forgotten, it allows the film to examine what the Muppets place is now in the cultural zeitgeist.
Is there still room for the Muppets in today’s cold, cynical world? Are they too campy and pure-hearted to still resonate with today’s youth? These questions become a central theme in the film. In addition to adding emotional weight to the film, this premise also helps set up some of the film’s funniest moments, including the gang’s mission to land a guest star by any means necessary for their telethon after the network says they aren’t a big enough draw on their own.
The film features a ton of great performances, both by Muppets and humans alike. Jason Segel (who also co-wrote the film), Amy Adams and Chris Cooper all completely nail their parts. There are also a number of great celebrity cameos, including appearances by Neil Patrick Harris, Selena Gomez, Whoopi Goldberg and Jim Parsons.
There are also some great songs in the film – including two big dance numbers for “Life’s A Happy Song,” at the beginning and end of the film. But by far the best song and dance sequence is for “Man or Muppet,” a hilarious and oddly moving number. The rest of the soundtrack is filled out with a variety of pop songs, including “We Built This City” and “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard.”
The movie is almost pitch perfect, though there are a few moments that seem out of place in a Muppet film. The two I had the most trouble with were a joke involving Fozzie Bear wearing “Fart Shoes” and Camilla and her fellow chickens doing a clucking cover of Cee Lo Green’s “F*ck You” (which means they never actually say the f-word, but it’s certainly in your head as they perform the song). It was jarring to have jokes like these in the film (as they are certainly jokes that never would have flown in the Jim Henson days), though not jarring enough to ruin the experience by any stretch of the imagination.
Overall, this is a wonderful movie that parents and kids will enjoy. Hopefully it’s the start of a Muppet resurgence because, as this film proves, there is definitely still a place for the Muppets in today’s modern world. They’ve just been waiting all this time for a chance to prove it.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.