This holiday weekend we welcomed the Muppets back to the silver screen in, uh, The Muppets. It’s been 32 years since their first feature film, The Muppet Movie and 12 years since Muppets from Space. Add in the sensation they stirred up with any of their promotional appearances or parody trailers and it’s clear we’ve been missing the Muppets. And The Muppets, the movie, nails that perfect blend of nostalgia with fantastic fresh material.
Much of The Muppets’ success, of course, goes to the Muppets. These characters are so much larger than the people who bring them to life, and it’s because of this the Muppets will most likely still be making movies long after we’re dead. And this isn’t meant to discredit those who do bring them to life! What they do is incredible. I’ve always been amazed at the amount of emotion and expression a Muppet can show, and in The Muppets, the Muppets deliver some of their best, most genuine performances.
There’s a chance of spoilers ahead, but not an abundance. Too much of the fun is in the surprise, in particular the awesome cameos.
We begin with home movie footage introducing us to Gary and his brother, Walter. The two are as thick as thieves but as we watch them grow up, Walter can’t help but notice he’s different from his brother and everyone else he knows. It’s not until he catches reruns of The Muppet Show does he realize there are others like him. Muppet-Americans, if you will. A disenfranchised population of our great nation to whom the Muppets were role models. Walter’s love of the Muppets reflects our own feelings towards them. The Muppets are a group accepting of all outcasts, freaks and weirdos, and let’s be honest, we’ve all felt excluded and misunderstood before. More importantly, Walter is an extension of Jason Segel, who in addition to playing Gary was also the writer of The Muppets, along with Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), and producer. Basically, Segel hounded the studios to make this picture, and much of the affection for all things Muppet you can feel oozing off the screen comes from Segel and Stoller. And smartly, they know to let the Muppets themselves shine as the real stars. Gary, his girlfriend Mary, and any of the other human characters take a back seat to their furry co-stars.
Amy Adams is a doll as Mary. But really, what else can you expect, the chick is a real life Disney princess. She’s adorable without even trying. And funny! Adams has some really great one-liners, as do many of the cast. Honestly, some of the funniest bits are the simple, throw away lines. Mary joins Gary and Walter, well actually, Walter joins Gary and Mary on a romantic trip to L.A. to see the sights and Mary then spends a good chunk of the movie dealing with being the third wheel in her own relationship. While visiting the original Muppet Theatre, Walter learns oil millionaire, Tex Richman plans to buy the theatre, level it and drill for oil. The only way the theatre can be saved is if the Muppets raise $10 million dollars by, how else, putting on a show. The plot is simple, and the movie is extremely aware of the fact. The fourth wall? What’s that?
Playing villain Tex Richman is Chris Cooper and I’ll just say this, he raps. No joke.
Just about every Muppet you remember makes an appearance, but I’m sure there’s a character you’d wish would have had more screen time (That’s what a television show is for! More on that later). Their newest addition Walter is great as our point of view character and he’s such a relatable guy. His enthusiastic love of the Muppets is not only addicting but familiar. I believe us, as nerds, know exactly what it feels like to be completely obsessed with something and the sheer joy that can come from in anyway being involved with what you love. Seeing Walter interact with his heroes is such a thrill.
Who am I kidding, just seeing Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Rowlf, Gonzo, Scooter, Animal; seeing the whole gang together again is a thrill! Having them back together, singing those fantastic songs we love as well as new classics from Flight of the Conchord’s Bret Mckenzie, it’s almost like they never left. The music in The Muppets is wonderful, my favorite number being a duet between Gary and Walter, “Man or Muppet.” It explores the movie’s main theme, discovering who you are. It also contains what just might be my favorite cameo of the whole flick. And I dare you to not get even a little watery-eyed when Kermit sings “Rainbow Connection.” I dare you. (I’ll also be impressed if you catch the photo of Kermit with Jim Henson in Kermit’s office and not get a little teary.)
The Muppets greatest achievement is making them relevant again without ever having the comedy become too raunchy or slip into “edgy” territory. There’s a great mix of old schtick with newer material. How does the gang all get back together? Road trip montage. But then they’ll sneak in something new, like a call back clip similar to what you’d see on Family Guy. But where that tactic is becoming tedious on Seth MacFarlane’s show it’s just hilarious for the Muppets. Seeing how well the Muppet style of comedy has aged and evolved only fuels the argument for why they need a television show again. I’m really hoping the momentum built from this great, great movie is enough for someone to realize Muppets is exactly what this country needs right now. I beg you, please go out and buy a ticket for The Muppets. These people only listen to money, not glowing reviews, and we need to prove to them the Muppets are marketable. They may not get to host the Oscars but just think how happy you’d be knowing a new season of The Muppet Show was on its way?
Now we wait and see if The Muppets‘ story of a sensational return to the limelight comes true and kicks off a real comeback. Either way I can’t imagine a better way to spend your Thanksgiving weekend. Sure you could sit around the table and visit with family, but I’d think everyone would rather sit in a darkened theatre laughing their asses off with the Muppets.
I missed out on the first Toy Story Short, “Hawaiian Vacation” because it was in front of Cars 2, and sorry Pixar, but I had no interest. Partnering their next short in front of The Muppets was a genius move. There’s a great sense of nostalgia and familiarity with the Muppets and if there’s another group of characters who inspire that same kind of love from kids and adults it’s the Toy Story toys. Seeing them on screen again, it’s joy. And I know I’m late to party for this, ’cause like I said I missed “Hawaiian Vacation,” but I hope we only keep seeing more Toy Story shorts.
This short, “Small Fry” finds Buzz in a case of mistaken identities with his kids meal counterpart. Little Buzz is a display toy and dreams of being played with. Seeing the perfect chance to sneak out with Bonnie, he switches with the real Buzz and goes home with Rex. (Who is none the wiser even though Little Buzz is like three inches tall!) Buzz ends up in a support group for discarded kids meal toys and these guys are the highlight of the short. You’ve already seen awesome characters like the T-bone Transformer, but I think my favorite might be Tae Kwon Doe. She’s a deer, get it!? You’ll be surprised at how many different kids meal toys they cram into one short.
Pixar knows what they’re doing. They know how to deliver top notch comedy rolled into a heartwarming story and even when they’re only allotted a few minutes, they succeed where so many other animated films fail.