Opening today at nearly every multiplex in Raleigh and the Triangle area:
“The Muppets” (Dir. James Bobin, 2011)
It’s not surprising that somebody would try to reboot the Muppets. I mean, every other franchise in the world has been dusted off in the last decade so why not Jim Henson’s once wildly popular creations?
And it’s not surprising that that somebody would be Jason Segel, the oafish man-child best known for his work with Judd Apatow and the hit TV series How I Met Your Mother. Segel is a huge Muppets fan, who previously proved he could provide puppetry power in the Dracula musical climax of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” so there’s that.
But what is surprising is that “The Muppets” is really good.
Segel, with the assistance of co-writer Nicholas Stoller, and director James Bobin, has wonderfully captured the spirit of the Muppets I knew as a kid in the ‘70s and ‘80s, making it feel like the muddled Muppet movies made in the ‘90s never existed.
The film has quite a lengthy, yet quite enjoyable, buildup before we see our old felt friends in which we meet a new Muppet named Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), who lives in a small town (named Smalltown) with Segel as his brother Gary. You see, somehow Muppets can be related to humans – we never see their parents or get any explanation, which is just as well.
Segel, and his longtime girlfriend Amy Adams, take Walter to Los Angeles to visit the Muppet Theater and Muppet Studios, only to them find them to be abandoned cobweb-covered tourist attractions that an evil oilman named Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is targeting to tear down so he can drill for oil.
So it’s up to Walter, Segel, and Adams to re-unite the Muppets so they can save their old digs. They find Kermit living in a dark mansion alone with his memories (well, and an ‘80s robot that serves Tab and New Coke – nice fitting retro joke, huh?).
Once they convince Kermit to join them, they’re off to find Fozzie Bear (in a sleazy Reno casino tribute band called “The Moopets”), Miss Piggy (now Fashion Editor of Paris Vogue), and the Great Gonzo (currently a corporate CEO of a plumbing empire). Most hilarious is Animal in court-appointed anger management therapy with Jack Black as his sponsor.
With the help of a montage they locate the others (Rowlf the Dog, the Swedish Chef, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beeker, Dr. Teeth, etc.), and they got a back-to-basics ‘hey, everybody let’s put on a show’ thing a-happenin’.
They have trouble getting a network to broadcast their telethon, as TV executive Rashida Jones tells them: “You guys aren’t famous anymore.” However Jones still gives them a shot, and the gang go full throttle to put on a money-raising spectacular in which almost every Muppet gets a chance to shine.
Bret McKenzie, from Flight of the Conchords, whose series was also helmed by director Bobin , wrote a few catchy songs for the production including the recurring theme “Life’s a Happy Song,” and the Linz and Segel sung “Man or Muppet.”
I could’ve done without a few of the song/dance numbers – Amy Adams/Miss Piggy’s “Me Party” is a screen time waster, and Cooper’s rapping on “Let’s Talk About Me” is just plain awful – but for a great deal of its breezy 2 hour running time “The Muppets” is a lot of fun.
Even the tacked on Segel/Adams rom com subplot (i.e. he forgets their 10th anniversary dinner in the midst of Muppet madness) doesn’t detract from the large amount of pure cinematic happiness on hand here.
I loved how so much of the meta material was laugh out loud funny, really enjoyed the abundant cameos which I won’t spoil, and was impressed at how dead-on the Muppet voices are –especially Steven Whitmire who has been doing Kermit since Henson died in 1991, and has often sounded a little off, but thankfully not here for the most part.
It’s certainly the best Muppet movie since Henson died, but it’s much more than that. Segel and co. have pulled off a tribute that revitalizes the furry family friendly franchise in the most welcome way.
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