Sunday, November 27, 2011

Play the Music, Light the Lights - "The Muppets" Review

It's hard to escape the alluring grasp of nostalgia no matter how it is targeted.  With all of the remakes and resurgences of franchises over the past decade, audiences have been treated to several different types of nostalgia in film.  The first type tries to get the audience to buy into its marketing by saying, "Do you remember this from when you were a kid?"

Films like Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Smurfs represent the worst of this kind, bringing back a franchise based solely on its name recognition that its intended audience has absolutely no nostalgia or reverence for, in the studios' quest for the elusive dollar.

It's hard to say that the motivations aren't the same for Disney's new film, The Muppets, but it hardly seems to matter.  The Muppets is an exercise in a different type of nostalgia.  It brings back everything anyone ever loved about the Muppets while adding new ideas that allow the franchise to grow in novel and imaginative ways.

The film begins in the unpretentious Smalltown where Gary (Jason Segal) and Walter (performed by Peter Linz) go about their modestly undramatic lives.  The two of them are inseparable and have grown up their entire lives as brothers, despite one being a human and the other being a puppet.

The two live together and sleep in side-by-side twin beds; clearly everything with them is shared.  This poses a bit of a problem to Gary's long-time girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), whose sweet-as-molasses demeanor is beginning to crack as she and Gary make plans for their tenth anniversary.

It turns out that the three are headed to Los Angeles to visit the Muppet Studios; Gary and Walter are more or less obsessed with Kermit and the gang.  When they finally do arrive at the Muppet Studios, what they find is devastating.  The entire lot is nearly vacant, save for a severely lacking tour led by Alan Arkin, and cobwebs hang off of every building face.  It is clear that the Muppets haven't been there in years.

To further complicate things, Walter happens to inadvertently eavesdrop on a secret meeting between several of the more "evil" Muppets and the moneygrubbing, cynical oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper).  Richman plans on demolishing the studios and drilling for oil and the only way to stop him is for the Muppets to raise $10 million in a matter of a few days!

It is now up to Gary, Walter, and Mary to reunite the Muppets and help them put together one last show to raise the money needed to save the iconic theater.  Along the way Gary and Walter both question their values and where they belong in their lives by asking the question, "Am I a man or am I a Muppet?"

What follows is the most exhuberant expression of joy and charm in theaters this year.  It is clear that writer/star Jason Segal absolutely loves every aspect of the Muppets and wants The Muppets to remain incredibly faithful to its origins.

There isn't a wasted second in The Muppets that isn't filled with a joke, musical number, guest star, or tear-jerking confession.  Just as soon as things begin to slow down an inspired musical number, wonderfully written by Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, comes along to pick things up and get the characters moving, dancing, whistling, and even rapping.

The Muppets isn't just content in providing an incredibly faithful reintroduction to the universe of the Muppets, but it also operates as a metatextual commentary on the Muppet franchise and modern comedy.

It has been over ten years since the last Muppet film, Muppets from Space, so it should come to no surprise that the fictional Muppet Studios are dilapidated in the film.  The Muppets' quest to save their theater by making millions of dollars is directly representative of what The Muppets is attempting to prove.  The very existence of the Muppets is contingent on the success of The Muppets, creating an analogy that serves only to heighten the weight of the Muppets' daunting task in the film.

If the fundraising isn't successful, the Moopets, a cynical "bizarro" version of the most famous Muppet characters, will replace the Muppets.  The Muppets have been defined over the years by their upbeat positivity and liberal shattering of the fourth wall.  The Moopets are their modern comedy alternative, a group looking to use comedy to destroy rather than support.  It's a shame that the Moopets are more representative of modern comedy than the Muppets, but this makes the Muppets' plight all the more meaningful.

In the manner of Statler and Waldorf, there are things to complain about in The Muppets, like a few failed jokes (particularly one involving ninjas) and a slower middle act.  However, the film more than makes up for its shortcomings with its expert craftsmanship and pitch perfect tone.  It is hard to think that anything could come any closer to nailing the feeling of joy that the original Muppets films and show provided as The Muppets does.

3.5 / 4 Reels



  1. I concur. Absolutely loved the movie. Impressed it made your 2011 list as well.

  2. A lot of head nods to previous classic Muppet movies. No Muppet fan should miss this movie.