Those of us with formative years in the 70s and 80s remember The Muppets with great fondness. Whether learning and dancing with them on Sesame Street, or enjoying the offbeat humour and easy class of The Muppet Show, there was always something about them that appealed, even to the older generation. But although they’ve never really gone away, it’s been a long time since The Muppets were a big thing. Now they’re back, and while most of the best jokes have been given away in the advertising, The Muppets is still great entertainment for kids and their nostalgia-prone parents.
The premise wisely recognizes the fact that Kermit the Frog and friends have faded from our cultural radar. (There’s even a diagram in the movie to prove it.) Even though the resulting “Let’s get the old gang back together!” plot is nothing original, there is enough going on around it to keep things lively.
Walter is a Muppet who grew up in small-town USA, idolizing the stars of The Muppet Show, who he never got a chance to meet. On a tour of the near-abandoned Muppet studios with his brother Gary (Jason Segel, also co-writing and co-executive producing) and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), Walter overhears evil oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plot to buy the studio land and bulldoze it for the oil deposits underneath. The three then set off to reunite Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and the rest, to raise the money to buy back the studio by conducting a TV telethon.
The aim here has obviously been to recapture the essential elements of Muppet entertainment, and it succeeds. Their humour has always ranged across the spectrum, and here we get everything from the absurd (Richman says the words “maniacal laugh” instead of actually laughing), to meta-jokes at the movie’s expense, to subtle references to 80s trivia. Not all of it works, but it keeps the action light and brisk. Celebrity cameos abound as well, though it’s a clever joke that Kermit can’t get any of his old friends on the phone to guest-host the telethon. And the climactic scenes play out just like an episode of the classic TV show, though they tend to cut away from the action a little too quickly, which is annoying.
Segel contributes much more as a writer than as a performer, but as a self-admitted Muppets fanatic he’s clearly geeking out at getting to star with his heroes, and his enthusiasm is infectious. Adams gets to play a character with more emotional range, and is very good. But everyone knows who we all want to see, and it’s wonderful that, despite the absence of originators Frank Oz and the late Jim Henson, the Muppets have lost none of their charm. In this age of CGI animation, what a joy it is to experience the work of expert puppeteers, who can express more through simple hand movements than many flesh-and-blood actors do with their whole body.
It’s not the best family movie you’ll see this year, but everything about The Muppets is engaging, light-hearted fun. Take the kids to it, and then introduce them to the old TV show. You know you want to.
Tags: movie review