Reviews

Are You a Man or a Muppet? 'The Muppets'

My childhood has been thoroughly mined for questionable Hollywood fodder, and I was gun shy, lest this become another Transformers or G.I. Joe-sized travesty against the beloved institutions of my youth.


The Muppets

Director: James Bobin
Cast: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper
Distributor: Disney
Rated: PG
Release date: 2012-03-20

This should be said up front: I am a huge fan of The Muppets. I grew up on The Muppet Show, I think it's a crime against humanity that The Muppet Babies is not available on home video, and I maintain that all of their movies are great, even Muppets From Space, haters be damned.

When I first learned about this reboot I was understandably skeptical. After all, my childhood has been thoroughly mined for questionable Hollywood fodder, and I was gun shy, lest this become another Transformers or G.I. Joe-sized travesty against the beloved institutions of my youth. At least The A-Team was good.

My wary tune quickly changed to one of hope and joy when I heard that Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller were going to write the script. Segel has a well-known fetish for all things puppety and felt—watch the end of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which he wrote and Stoller directed, to see this point wonderfully illustrated. My uncharacteristic optimism was rewarded as the duo, along with director James Bobin (Flight of the Concords) handled the material perfectly.

Jim Henson’s lovable creations haven’t appeared together since Space in 1999, and The Muppets does exactly what a reintroduction needs to do. The film reminds lifelong fans of all the things they love, about all the things that make the Muppets great. At the same time, it tells a new story instead of being a simple rehash, and captures a whole new generation in the process. The movie is an ideal balance between nostalgia and modernity. I may or may not have wept openly when I saw The Muppets in the theater last fall. You’ll never know.

Walter, a new Muppet, lives in Smalltown USA, the kind of berg where the entire town breaks into sporadic musical numbers. On the surface Walter’s life is great. His brother, Gary (Segel), is Walter’s best friend, and he is loved, but there’s always been something different about him that he can’t quite pinpoint. When he discovers The Muppets, he sees the missing piece: someone like him.

When Walter, Gary, and Mary (Amy Adams), Gary’s long-time girlfriend, go to Los Angeles, they find Muppet Studios in shambles, and uncover a plot by a fiendish oil baron, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), to tear down the studio and drill for oil. It's up to Walter and his childlike sense of wonder to convince the estranged cast of the Muppets to reunite to save their home.

Can they mend fences and heal old wounds? Can Fozzie be coaxed away from his new gig at a divey Reno casino? Will Gonzo leave his successful plumbing supply business? It's an uphill battle, to be sure.

All of your favorites are here: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Rolwf the Dog, Animal, the list is nearly endless. The story of The Muppets parallels the real life journey of the Muppets. It has been a while since they were in the limelight, and a lot of people have forgotten about them. Are the Muppets and their messages of hope, friendship, and love outdated in a world where the most popular show on television is Punch Teacher, or is there still a place for them and their values?

In the movie the characters remind people about the Muppets, while the movie simultaneously reminds people about the Muppets. It's a very clever approach, one that works wonders.

On the human side, the acting is wonderful and surprisingly subtle, sneaking up on you. Gary and Mary begin as broad, simple types of small town goodness. He sings and dances and wears sky blue suits; she’s a grade school teacher in a hoop skirt and modest blouse. But over the course of the film they transform into real people with real feelings and emotions, all the while maintaining that superficial mold. It is a sophisticated bit of writing rendered with sharp precision on screen. Not to mention that there's a cavalcade of cameos.

The only real misstep is when Tex Richman raps. Yeah, that happens. You understand why that’s in the film, but it’ll make you cringe all the same. Fortunately the moment passes quickly, and The Muppets gets back to being charming and adorable in short order.

The Muppets is warm and witty, funny and clever, and will leave you smiling and singing songs like the Academy Award-winning “Man or Muppet?” for days on end. On the nose in a clever way—like when the residents of Smalltown drop, exhausted from all of the dancing—this is a movie that will remind you of something you loved and forgot, or make you fall head over heels for something you’ve never seen.

As if The Muppets itself wasn’t enough motivation to run out and buy the home release, the new Blu-ray comes absolutely stuffed with worthwhile bonus features. Not only do you get the crisp HD transfer, but the package comes with a DVD and digital copy of the film, and a free download of the entire soundtrack, which, like I said, will be stuck in your head.

A 15-minute behind the scenes featurette approaches this standard trope like a documentary. Full of cast and crew, including the Muppet cast and crew, this functions as glimpse behind the curtain, but also as a creative endeavor on it’s own. It's a lot of fun.

“The Longest Blooper Reel Ever” is an entertaining eight minutes of dancing puppets, on set jokes, and flubbed lines. Eight deleted scenes have some good moments, like a longer version of Walter’s psychedelic dream, but while they’re fun, you understand why they were left out of the final film.

There's also an extended version of Tex Richman’s song. Still cringe inducing, it does provide a deeper look into the character and his motivations, and you walk away with a better understanding of his animosity towards the Muppets.

Leading up to the theatrical release of The Muppets, the marketing team came up with a bunch of trailers that spoofed those of other anticipated movies, and the Blu-ray includes all of them. Seven in all, there are the parodies of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and The Hangover 2, that made the rounds on the internet, as well as others, including a couple that were never released.

Out of all the great extras, the high point has to be the commentary with Segel, Stoller, and Bobin. These are three extremely funny, personable guys who are good friends, and whether they’re talking about the film or have spiraled off on some tangent, you can tell how much fun they had making The Muppets, which is something you definitely recognize watching the movie.

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