If you’ve been feeling a little empty inside, like something’s been missing for the past, oh, 12 years– chance are it’s the Muppets.
Now they’ve returned to the big screen with the appropriately titled The Muppets, their first full-length feature film since 1999’s Muppets from Space. (Though one could argue that the Muppets haven’t been relevant theatrically since 1984’s The Muppets Take Manhattan.)
But now they’re back. And as good as ever. And your life is complete again.
The Muppets is the brainchild of Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), a long-time Muppets devotee, who pitched the idea of resurrecting the felt-covered fellas (and pig) to Disney. They bought it, he made it, and the result is hands-down the best family movie of the year; kids will love it, and adults (preferably those of the ‘I love Muppets’ ilk) will feel like they’re back in the arms of a good friend.
For this go-round, Segel and co-writer Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to The Greek) have created an all-new Muppet named Walter, who, inexplicably, is the brother of Segel’s (human) character Gary. After realizing that being covered in felt sets him apart from the other kids, Walter gets depressed. But Gary snaps him out of his funk by offering to take his little brother with him on a trip to Hollywood that Gary’s planned with girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams).
While there, Walter makes it his mission to take in the sights of everything Muppet, and when he’s visiting the old, dilapidated Muppet Studios, he overhears oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plotting to raze the theater to clear the way for oil-drilling. Walter runs to Gary with the news, and together they track down Kermit the Frog. They all then make it their mission to reunite the ol’ gang in order to raise the $10 million needed to snatch the Studios back from Richman.
Chock-full of audience asides, blink-and-you-miss-them one liners, and more celebrity cameos than an entire season of The Love Boat (Mickey Rooney, Selena Gomez, and The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons are among the highlights), The Muppets comes off like a seamless segue from the 1979 Muppet Movie; there’s not a thing here that feels forced or out of place.
Segel and Adams are just goofy enough to affirm that they’re the only people who could have done justice to the roles of Gary and Mary, and Cooper (and his ‘maniacal laugh’) is the best Muppet villain since Charles Durning’s Doc Hooper (and his French Fried Frog Legs) from the original.
With all-new musical numbers that feel like they’re pulled straight from the “Rainbow Connection” songbook, including the theme “Life’s a Happy Song” (“Everything’s great, everything is grand. I’ve got the whole wide world in the palm of my hand…”), The Muppets is at once both fresh and vintage. You’ll swear you’ve seen and heard this type of stuff before, only to realize that it’s a fresh, modern day take on a true classic.
Director James Bobin (TV’s The Flight of the Conchords) keeps the story movin’ right along, wisely showing respect for (and paying homage to) the spirit of the Muppets; surely Jim Henson is smiling down from Muppet heaven.
At one point Richman sneers that the Muppets’ “Julie Andrews/Dom DeLuise-hosting era has passed,” but I’ll argue that The Muppets makes the case that it’s high time for that era to come back. In fact, it may actually (hopefully) already be here.
Surely ABC can carve out a half-hour in its Wipeout-heavy summer schedule for a little felt-covered fun?
Then everything would be grand, indeed.
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@popcollin is the resident movie critic at Essex Cinemas in Essex, VT, and Cumberland 12 in Plattsburgh, NY.