The Muppets

Cast:
Jason Segel as Gary
Amy Adams as Mary
Chris Cooper as Tex Richman
Rashida Jones as CDE Executive
Steve Whitmire as Kermit / Beaker / Statler / Rizzo (voice)
Eric Jacobson as Miss Piggy / Fozzie Bear / Animal / Sam Eagle / Marvin Suggs (voice)
Dave Goelz as Gonzo / Dr. Bunsen Honeydew / Zoot / Beauregard / Waldorf / Kermit Moopet (voice)
Bill Barretta as Swedish Chef / Rowlf / Dr. Teeth / Pepe the Prawn / Bobo / Fozzie Moopet (voice)
David Rudman as Scooter / Janice / Miss Poogy (voice)
Matt Vogel as Sgt. Floyd Pepper / Camilla / Sweetums / ’80s Robot / Lew Zealand / Uncle Deadly / Roowlf / Crazy Harry (voice)
Peter Linz as Walter (voice)
Alan Arkin as Tour Guide
Bill Cobbs as Grandfather
Zach Galifianakis as Hobo Joe
Ken Jeong as ‘Punch Teacher’ Host

Directed by James Bobin

Story:
Gary (Jason Segel) and his puppet brother Walter (Peter Linz) have spent their lives watching “The Muppet Show” with Walter growing up dreaming of being a Muppet himself. When Gary decides to take his long-time girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to Hollywood, they bring Walter along so he can fulfill his lifelong dream of visiting the Muppet Studios. When they arrive, Walter learns that wealthy mogul Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans on razing the Studios so they create a plan to reunite the Muppets to put on a telethon to raise the $10 million needed to save it.

Analysis:
As a fan of the Muppets since childhood and having a great respect for what Jason Segel and his co-writer Nicholas Stoller have done in their R-rated comedies, I was just as excited as anyone else to see what they would bring to the table while trying to revive the magic Jim Henson and his team of puppeteers brought to the fans weekly on “The Muppet Show.” The results work in some respects but fail in others, though it’s hard to be too critical of a movie that is trying to help revive such beloved characters.

It takes some time before the Muppets actually show up and a little longer before they’re all reunited, so one has to be patient with the movie’s introduction of a new Muppet named Walter and his human brother Gary, played by Jason Segel, which isn’t exactly what most people were paying to see. As soon as they realize their help is needed to reunite the Muppets–this is roughly 20 minutes in–we start following them around to find all the Muppets, though older Muppets fans might need some adjusting to the obvious fact it’s no longer Jim Henson or Frank Oz voicing their favorite Muppets characters.

Some of the old Muppets magic is missing as many of the jokes seem dumbed down for kids and Middle America, complete with the requisite pratfalls that kids thrive on, something Henson and his team would never have done. For some reason, it feels like Segel is restraining himself in order to reach a mass audience who might not appreciate his normally edgy humor, but this leads to a very boring first hour that doesn’t feel as special as a Muppets revival should. Where it does work is in its self-aware breaking of the fourth wall to give audiences the much-needed wink to let them know they’re in on all the jokes, even the ones that fall flat.

As would be expected, the Muppets characters constantly outshine their human counterparts, though the desire to include so many of them also means few of them, other than Kermit and Miss Piggy, are given fully satisfying arcs. Neither Segel nor Adams really give audiences any reason to care whether they’re in the movie or not. At least Adams feels more natural when playing a PG version of a real person, maybe because she was so perfect in “Enchanted,” but the constantly-smiling Segel seems like he’s just escaped from some sort of cult. If Chris Cooper was happy to be there interacting with puppets, you couldn’t tell from his phoned-in performance as the baddie, complete with a rap that’s likely to be the worst thing you see on screen this year that doesn’t involve Adam Sandler.

By then, we’ve already been alerted to the fact this is going to be musical just like the old Muppets movies, though in this case, the songs just feel bland and uninspired. Not that this is necessarily Segel’s fault because we know what he’s capable of from “Get Him to the Greek,” but we expect much better from director James Bobin and his musical supervisor Bret McKenzie, one half of “Flight of the Conchords,” because their attempts at making modern Muppet music falls flat since they’re clearly out of their comfort zone. And honestly, when you start resorting to the likes of Starship’s overused and outdated “We Built This City” for a montage, you’re in trouble. The turning point for the film’s music is the brilliantly inspired “Man or Muppet?” a duet between Segel and Walter that’s far better than all the previous musical numbers combined.

As expected, the film is full of cameos, some which are funnier and more beneficial to the story than others, most of them being done merely because it’s standard practice. One of the standouts is Zack Galifianakis as a hobo living in the Muppet Theater, and his characterizations seems perfectly attuned to the Muppets’ sensibilities. It doesn’t help that Segel brings back some of his “Gulliver’s Travels” co-stars, as if anyone needed a reminder of that horrendous dog of a movie.

Otherwise, the movie often resorts to nostalgia and sentimentality to manipulate the audience into ignoring the fact it doesn’t have a particularly solid story and that the humor isn’t nearly as clever or original as what made the original Muppets so special.

By the time it gets to the actual Muppet Telethon, you’re likely to be on board out of necessity, because you keep hoping it will get better, and fortunately, it does. “The Rainbow Connection” is the type of showstopper that will melt any grouchy critical heart, but the fact it takes so long for the filmmakers to figure out they would have been better off relying on Henson’s tried and true classics, rather than reinventing the Muppet wheel, one wonders whether this Muppets revival is successful or not.

The Bottom Line:
“The Muppets” may not have all the magic Henson and Oz brought to the original “Muppet Show” or the equally brilliant “The Muppet Movie,” but we’ll give Segel et al credit for trying and it’s incredibly hard to fully fault a movie with such a terrific finale.

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