“It’s time to play the music. It’s time to light the lights.” If you’re of a certain age, those words no doubt have a very special place in your heart. Years ago, they signified the introduction to Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and the rest of the wacky puppet crew on The Muppet Show. For years, Jim Henson and The Muppets were a pop culture staple, with their weekly variety show and movies featuring tons of Hollywood superstars and media icons. You hadn’t made it until you had a chance to sing a duet with Kermit or fly with the Pigs in Space. And then, The Muppets simply vanished. Their brand of feel good, subversive humor disappeared, and for too many years it was felt like they never existed.But they did exist, and without their was a comedy void we all felt, but couldn’t identify.
But that void has now been filled with The Muppets, a heartwarming labor of love from Jason Segel, who showed us his affection for puppet entertainers in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Both he and co-writer Nicholas Stoller have been diehard fans for years. Their adoration of Jim Henson’s creations runs deep, obvious in every goofy, fulfilling moment of the film. If you were a fan, The Muppets is every thing you could have hoped for: goofy, chaotic, hopeful, and full of songs that you’ll never be able to forget.
As it should be, the story is delightfully simple. and centers around a new Muppet by the name of Walter. A hilarious montage shows his life growing up alongside his very different and very human brother, Gary(Segel). When Walter discovers old footage of The Muppets, he instantly feels a connection to them, never realizing they’ve been out of the spotlight for nearly twenty years. When he’s invited on a trip to Los Angeles with Gary and his all too forgiving girlfriend, Mary(Amy Adams), it’s the perfect chance for Walter to visit Muppet Studios. Unfortunately what he finds is a rundown shell of it’s former glory, about to bought out by a comically maniacal tycoon(Chris Cooper at his most devilish) looking to cash in on the Muppets’ good name…and the pools of oil beneath the studio’s surface.
So what you have is the perfect story to reintroduce the Muppets to a new audience, as Walter joins Kermit in rounding up the gang, who have all gone their separate ways over the years. Fozzie, always the vaudevillian show comic, is performing in a crappy lounge act. Gonzo and his chicken entourage has his own company. The insane drummer, Animal, is in anger management therapy with Jack Black. And then there’s Miss Piggy, who has become an Anna Winter-esque editor of a magazine in Paris.
It’s as the Muppets slowly come together that the film is at it’s most delightful, with a slew of celebrity cameos(although not as many as were hyped) helping to usher in this familiar wave of nostalgia. Segel and Stoller understand what made the Muppets tick. At their core, they’ve always been about finding a sense of family, and the power that loyalty holds. You’d have to be pretty loyal to stick with a sicko like the Swedish chef. Would you eat a meal from that guy?
Directed by Flight of the Conchords helmer, James Bobin, and featuring music by his colleague Bret McKenzie, the tone remains bouncy and uplifting throughout. If the film’s ultimate theme song, “Life’s a Happy Song” doesn’t make you want to go out and buy the soundtrack someone ought to check your pulse.
For fans, there may be some disappointment that some of our old favorites sound a little different than they used to, but it’s pretty easy to get over once you start laughing at the old gags, like Fozzie’s stale jokes. Or Gonzo’s disastrous attempts to fly. It’s all so innocent that it’s hard to believe this stuff remains funny, but it is. Those new to the Muppet style of comedy will be just as tickled.
With rumors already swirling about The Muppet Show returning to the airwaves, their future appears to a bright one. Whether that proves to be the case, it won’t change the fact that The Muppets is a welcome breath of fresh air this holiday season. It’s a film designed simply to make you leave with a big ol’ smile on your face.