I grew up loving “The Muppet Show”, watching the Muppet movies and tormenting my dog with a Kermit the Frog hand puppet. Considering that, I don’t necessarily think you ever grow out of being a fan of Kermit and the gang. As far as I can tell, there is a universal, age-defying quality to their humor and when it comes to Disney’s The Muppets, screenwriters Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller have managed to capture all of the innocent fun the Muppets represent while also opening Jim Henson’s creation to a whole new audience as the film tracks the emergence of a new Muppet character named Walter and reintroduces us to the entire Muppet crew.
I will admit, however, that while I don’t think you ever grow out of being a fan of the Muppets you can grow unaccustomed to their style. At least that was my experience over the first ten minutes or so of this new film, which introduces us to Walter as he “grows up” alongside his brother Gary (Segel). Without attempting to explain why Walter is a Muppet and Gary is a human, it just accepts them for their differences and begins tracking their lives in Smalltown, USA. Growing up, Walter and Gary are inseparable, but this thankfully doesn’t become a story of Gary abandoning Walter as I was scared it would once Gary begins dating Mary (Amy Adams) and things kick into gear.
The film wastes no time getting to the heart of the story as Gary and Mary prepare for a trip to California and a romantic anniversary where Mary hopes Gary will finally pop the question after a lengthy ten year courtship. However, upon hearing the news, Walter assumes he’s going with them and as the self-proclaimed “world’s biggest Muppet fan,” he sees it as an opportunity to explore the old Muppet Studios. Not seeing a problem with Walter tagging along, Gary invites him to join, but the invite has Mary wondering if Gary will ever be able to truly commit and be the man she needs him to be.
It’s at this early moment where the film goes into its first of several musical numbers and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel like a broadside. Segel’s smiling face as he belts out “Life’s a Happy Song” alongside Walter is your first reminder this is a film of a different sort. I wasn’t ready for it, but they were smart to place it right at the beginning, get it out of the way and set the stage for what was to come. From that point forward I was on board. And even better, this first musical number was easily my least favorite of the lot, as things only improve from there on out.
Once the trio arrive in Los Angeles their first trip is to the Muppet Studios where they find a decaying relic, empty and abandoned as the Muppets have gone their separate ways. However, while snooping around Kermit’s old office Walter learns greedy oilman Tex Richman (played with a perfect amount of corny villainy by Chris Cooper) is planning on destroying the studio and drilling for the oil beneath it. Now, the only chance for saving the studio is if the Muppets can mange to get back together and raise $10 million, otherwise Richman’s evil plan will become a reality.
Walter, Gary and Mary take it upon themselves to get Kermit and the entire gang back together, clean up the Muppet Theater and put on a Muppet Telethon to raise the money they need and save the studio. As for whether or not they succeed, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.
Everyone from Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Animal, Beaker, the Swedish Chef and even Lew Zealand the Boomerang Fish Thrower get together to help help out and the film isn’t short on celebrity cameos either as the likes of Rashida Jones, Jack Black, Alan Arkin, Emily Blunt, Ken Jeong, Sarah Silverman and Zach Galifianakis all have small roles in the film. However, I will say I was ever so slightly disappointed they weren’t able to get a truly A-list actor in there to throw things over the top. A celebrity appearance from the likes of Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon or even Meryl Streep would have really been something, or maybe even Lady Gaga who was rumored to be included for a while would have added a little spark, but Jack Black as the film’s lead celebrity serves his purpose even if I was expecting more.
Beyond the story, gags such as “traveling by map” and Animal’s therapeutic attempts to avoid the drums are quite funny as are the inclusion of the Moopets, a bizarro version of the Muppets attempting to step in and fill the void left open by Kermit and his gang of entertainers. However, it’s too bad there wasn’t more Beaker and the fact the Swedish Chef never got his own segment is almost blasphemous in my opinion. I even made sure to watch the duration of the credits, thinking they would, at the very least, give Chef a chance to try and boil some lobster or chop a “chicky” as the credits rolled. Didn’t happen.
Beyond any minor disappointments and the film’s slight narrative conventions, The Muppets is simple, cinematic fun. I couldn’t help but smile throughout the majority of the film’s running time as characters I remembered from my childhood sparked back to life on the big screen.
The film certainly plays more toward a younger audience, but I still found myself enjoying it immensely, happy to see they didn’t trample Henson’s legacy and hopefully now the Muppets will find a whole new audience. That said, it will be interesting to see how it plays to audiences unfamiliar with Henson’s creations, though I think the approach that was taken should satisfy most.