Review: 'The Muppets' Brings Magic to the Lovers, the Dreamers & Me
by Jeremy Kirk
November 22, 2011
"It's time to play the music. It's time to light the lights. It's time to meet the Muppets on The Muppet Show tonight." For five years, those lyrics and the theme song they begin played before vast audiences who fell in love with the characters Jim Henson and his crew brought to life on television each week. Then, steadily, from 1979 to 1999, the Muppets played before audiences in a myriad of feature films. For millions of fans, the Muppets represent something more than nostalgia, a fleeting feeling of where we were and what we were consuming in our daily lives. The Muppets were characters who made us laugh, cry, and enjoy life more than most characters we watched when we were younger. For some, that feeling of passing nostalgia would be enough to craft a new feature film featuring these lovable characters.
Thankfully, Jason Segel, who concocted the story behind and co-wrote the screenplay for The Muppets, wasn't interested in simple nostalgia. Instead, he wanted a celebration of these characters, the features that made them so lifelike, and the songs they sang whose lyrics we still remember to this day. With The Muppets, he succeeded in doing just that, recreating a feeling in all of us who loved the Muppets as children and making all the cynicism and negativity brush away with a few animated characters, well-timed laughter, and, yes, even the shedding of a tear or two.
Segel himself plays Gary, a man living in Smalltown with his brother, a doll himself named Walter who is obsessed with the Muppets ever since watching their show as a child. Along with Mary, Gary's long-time girlfriend played by Amy Adams, Gary and Walter travel to Los Angeles where Walter will finally see the Muppets Theater up close and first hand. Once there, though, Walter discovers the Muppets have long since broken apart, the theater and studio are in shambles, and a rich oil tycoon is about to take over possession of it all so he can drill for oil. Walter, Gary, and Mary take it upon themselves to find the Muppets, bring them back together, and put on one final show in an effort to make enough money to save their theater.
Much like the original Muppet Movie from 1979, its this traveling, this going to talk each Muppet one by one back into putting on another show that reintroduces us to each character individually. Meeting their leader, Kermit the Frog, first, we then travel to Los Vegas where we meet Fozzie Bear again, then onto Gonzo and so on and so forth. It's a rather simple way of taking on the introduction of each character one at a time. That is, until someone mentions it would all move along a lot faster with the aid of a montage and "traveling by map", just one of several instances where The Muppets breaks the fourth wall. There's nothing wrong with that. Quite the contrary. For years the Muppets have been aided in their humor by addressing the audience directly, showing us behind the curtain at how certain movie tropes work, and generally thumbing the nose at conventional storytelling.
Here, too, Segel and fellow screenwriter, Nicholas Stoller, take all the greatest things they know and love from the previous Muppet movies, particularly that 1979 original, and meld them into their story without effort. When Kermit and Miss Piggy have their moments of reflection, their conversation about all the years past, you feel the years between them as if they really are aged movie stars who have a real history. When you first see Fozzie Bear, you wonder if his eyebrows have always had that salting of gray in his eyebrows. Segel and Stoller, alone with director James Bobin, treat the Muppets not like character who pop up now and again for another adventure but like real characters in the entertainment industry who have had a long and storied career.
But that isn't to say everything about The Muppets is different from what we've seen before. Just like the other Muppet feature films, this one is loaded with cameo roles and notable actors playing memorable characters. Besides Segel and Adams playing Gary and Mary, two characters who have their own hill to climb over the course of the film, we have Chris Cooper as the evil oil tycoon, Tex Richman. Cooper plays the role with an unabashed joy, even when his character is supposed to be dull yet menacing. With every line he spits playful venom, especially when he gives the stage direction "maniacal laugh", something the character says, not does. It's most noticed during the "rap" moment when all sincerity about the characters flies out the window in rhymed lyrics and funky beat. It's a "what is happening" moment, but one that plays to the character perfectly. Cooper, as with the rest of the film, dives into the moment head first.
And that goes for most of the songs in The Muppets, a staple for most of the Muppet movies throughout the years. While it doesn't seem like there are as many here as what we've seen before - and one song performed by Adams and Miss Piggy almost seems written at the last minute - the songs we do have here are incredibly memorable and all-through enjoyable. Segel's Gary and Walter get most of the new songs to aid in their respective arcs. These are two characters who are trying to find their own places in the world, and while Segel's set-up and Walter's pay-off aren't exactly as well established as they could have been, we still have those songs that are sure to be remembered. Speaking of, when Kermit finally begins singing an old and remembered classic of the Muppet's history, the child in all of us who grew up loving these characters grin through the tears in our eyes. It, along with so many more moments in The Muppets, is truly magical.
That is precisely what The Muppets is able to capture, a magical feeling of learning who these characters are when we were younger, a sense of awe in watching them come to life week after week and in every feature film. But it does more than just capture it, it does that very thing for us once again. The Muppets is a film that creates happiness, a feeling that makes us look away from any technical or logical flaws it might have. It does have them. The humans and Walter's stories aren't as interesting as the Muppets themselves. That "Me Party" song just doesn't seem to fit. But when the highs of a film make you feel as wonderful as the ones in The Muppets do, when you transport back to a younger time and all the warmth and magic you felt comes seeping back in, you can't help but discard all of it. The magic still works, the lights still light, and The Muppets show us how thankful we are that the curtain was raised one more time.
Jeremy's Rating: 9 out of 10