by Mel Valentin
Created by Jim Henson as an all-ages answer to "Sesame Street" (another, earlier Henson production), "The Muppet Show" aired 120 episodes between 1976 and 1981. "The Muppet Show’s" social and cultural impact extended, first to a series of big-screen adventures for the Muppets, but more importantly, in syndicated reruns, video (later DVD), and other ancillaries (e.g., books, toys, etc.). The Muppets’ sixth and last big-screen appearance, "Muppets from Space," twelve years ago, failed to attract first-, second-, third-, or fourth-generation Muppet fans. It took actor-writer Jason Segel ("How I Met Your Mother") and his writing partner (and director) Nicholas Stoller ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall"), to convince the Muppets’ current rights-holders, Disney Pictures, to bring the Muppets back for one more (hopefully not last) big-screen adventure.At first, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and the other Muppets are nowhere to be found or, to be more accurate, found only in the faded VHS tapes watched and re-watched by Gary (Jason Segel) and his adopted brother, Walter (Peter Linz), a Muppets super-fan (and a Muppet himself). Years into adulthood, Gary and Walter continue to live together in Smalltown, U.S.A. (literally). Stuck in a state of arrested emotional development, Gary can’t bring himself to take his presumably chaste romantic relationship with his longtime girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), to the next, obvious level. After ten years together, Mary understandably wants more from Gary, coaxing Gary to take her to Los Angeles for their anniversary. Before long, however, Walter's joining Gary and Mary and their LA stops include a visit and tour of the Muppets Studios. In the first of several, self-referential, meta-songs, Gary, Mary, and Walter participate in a song-and-dance number, “Life’s a Happy Song,” that involves the surprisingly diverse town.
"The triumphant big-screen return of Henson's singular creations."
Time, however, has not been kind to the Muppets Studios. Run-down, abandoned, and otherwise neglected, the Muppet Studios face foreclosure. Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), a billionaire oilman, wants to tap the oil reserve he’s discovered under the studios. Walter inadvertently overhears Richman discuss his plans and spurred into action, Walter convinces Gary and Mary to help him find Kermit and save the Muppet Studios. Kermit, a Bel-Air recluse, initially refuses, but a mournful, introspective song, “Pictures in My Head,” ultimately convinces him otherwise. The gang first collects Fozzie Bear (Eric Jacobson) at a seedy Reno casino working as part of the Moopets, a trashy cover band modeled on the Muppets. Gonzo, now a successful plumbing executive, agrees to rejoin the Muppets. In one of many meta-gags, all but Miss Piggy (also voiced by Eric Jacobson) rejoin the Muppet troupe via a time-saving montage (they take a trip to Paris where Miss Piggy edits French Vogue’s plus-size section).
The oft-strained romantic relationship between Kermit and Miss Piggy provides The Muppets with one more, all-important plot complication even casual Muppet fans will recognize and, most likely, approve. It also naturally leads to the “putting on a show” plot, including backstage melodrama that repeatedly threatens to derail the hastily organized telethon to raise the $10 million necessary to keep the Muppet Studios open. As Kermit and the Muppet gang sing-and-dance their way toward the telethon, Richman puts a not-so-nefarious plan into action, accompanied, of course, by a rap of his own (one of two or three missteps in The Muppets). Gary faces a grim future without Mary through the half-plaintive, all-ridiculous, “Man or Muppet?”. Mary and Miss Piggy share a disco-inflected song of their own, “Me Party.”
Fans, casual or otherwise, of The Muppet Show need not fret, however. No Muppets-themed film (or show) is a Muppets film or show without the The Muppet Show’s theme and Segal, Stoller, and their director James Dobin, don’t disappoint. They include The Muppet Show’s original theme, Kermit’s rendition of “Rainbow Connection,” and Piero Umiliani’s super-catchy, nonsensical “Mah Nà Mah Nà,” a song initially heard on The Muppet Show’s premiere episode. It’s to Segal, Stoller, and Dobin’s considerable credit that the new songs, typically expressive of a particular character’s headspace, feel like they could have been written and performed three decades. We can’t, and shouldn’t forget cameos, but the less said, the better for everyone involved, young, old, and middle-aged alike.Thematically, "The Muppets" covers familiar, unobjectionable ground: brotherly bonds (sometimes stifling); maturation (or lack thereof); the inevitable, inexorable passage of time; the loss, and more importantly, the recovery of loss friends (and friendships), respect for the past (and lessons thereof); and community (finding like-minded souls, etc.). That familiarity doesn’t distract from "The Muppets’" appeal, but crosses generations and demographics, making "The Muppets" the perfect family film for this holiday (or any) season.
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originally posted: 11/24/11 13:00:00