Muppets, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 12/03/11 13:08:33
(Worth A Look)
I love the Muppets. Dig through various internet message boards (including this site's) and you'll see that I was pushing for Kermit the Frog to host the Oscars for years before it was a thing. I maintain that their Christmas album with John Denver is the only one that a person needs. So, yes, I was looking forward to this, and I'm pleased at the result, and hope for more now that the comeback is out of the way.The Muppets, at least in the movie, haven't been together in years, to the chagrin of two brothers in Smalltown, USA who are their number one fans. Older brother Gary (Jason Segel) and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) are going to Los Angeles, and little brother Walter (a puppet performed by Peter Linz) is coming along, excited to see Muppet Studios. When they get there, though, not only is the place run down, but Walter overhears tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) going over his plans to buy it, knock it down, and drill for the oil underneath! Gary, Walter, and Mary find the now-reclusive Kermit the Frog (performed by Steve Whitmire) to tell him about this disaster, and they conclude that the only way to raise the ten million dollars necessary to save the theater is to put on a show, which means getting the gang back together.
The Muppets' need to make a comeback is meant to reflect real life, and I take a bit of issue with that: While this is their first theatrical feature since 1999's Muppets From Space, I haven't felt like the characters were missing in the interim; there's been regular TV movies and specials, a great comic book series by Roger Landridge, and more. They could use a push back into the spotlight, sure, but acting like they've been gone for a generation and a half both sells them short and makes the first half of the movie both too melancholy and too focused on the human characters.
And yet, for all that the focus initially seems to be off, co-writers Segel and Nicholas Stoller easily have the best grasp on these characters of anybody since the late Jim Henson (who created them) and Jerry Juhl (their most indispensable writer). Fozzie's need to be loved - nailed. Kermit's essential humility (which contributes to his tendency to get frazzled) - perfect. Miss Piggy's relentless determination to get what she wants and deserves - captured so well that, honestly, I think this is the first time I really liked her. Don't get me wrong, she's always been funny, but Segel and Stoller (and, of course, performer Eric Jacobson, who has taken over most of Frank Oz's characters) find something admirable underneath her abrasive personality without cutting her off at the knees, and the result is that this is one of the few times Kermit and Piggy have worked as a couple (or an ex-couple), as opposed to a one-sided relationship.
And while Gonzo doesn't get a lot to do, he's got the best moment in the first half. It's too good to be spoiled, but this purple weirdo daredevil who hangs out with chickens does something goofy and reckless (really, perfectly Gonzo) and while all the kids and adults who have souls laugh because of the silliness of the gag, it also works because it gets at a truth that only the luckiest grown-ups won't recognize. It's the same thing that makes it okay for the movie to spend so much time with Jason Segel's and Amy Adams's characters - they are, in their way, just as odd as Walter (the only felt and foam boy in a flesh and bone town) or Gonzo, but being strange is okay (wonderful, even) as long as you're good to each other.
As the movie heads toward the end, the Muppets' telethon starts, and things really pick up; sadness and melancholy give way to a surprisingly good approximation of Henson's joyful chaos. In the Muppets' hands/flippers/paws, anthems of anger and disaffection are transformed into slapstick and absurdity. When the filmmakers decide that it is time for the audience to laugh, they more than get the job done, making up for the script's occasional blind alleys and spinning wheels. The original songs (it is, like the other Muppet movies, a musical) are often top-notch, with both "Life's a Happy Song" and "Pictures in My Head" award-worthy standouts.My five-year-old niece is seeing this movie as I write this, and I'm curious to hear how she and her parents like it. The cast and crew have made a movie with a fair amount of silly slapstick for the kids, but it has a big dollop of nostalgia and resonance for adults.
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