This is the first time I’ve been to a multiplex in several months. It’s also the first time I’ve seen a PG movie in the theaters in awhile (though oddly enough I’m seeing Hugo soon, which will entail doing both again). And it’s the first time in long time that I’m watching a kids movie on opening night. But it’s The Muppets.
Whether or not you’ve always been a fan, there’s enough in this new version to please old and new. The opening sequence, where Gary (Jason Siegel) and his muppet-brother Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), is generally hilarious, using a photo montage that shows Walter staying the same size (and material) while Gary grows up. The plot is simple, and the various characters that comment directly on it make no bones of its simplicity: Gary is in love with Mary (Amy Adams). It’s their tenth anniversary. They go to LA and bring Walter along so he can take a look at the now defunct Muppets studio. While on a tour of the remnants Walter overhears a plot by the evil and awesomely named Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to destroy the old studio and drill for oil. Walter convinces Kermit to reunite the gang for a fundraiser with a goal of $10 million so that they can retain the deed to the property. A familiar story, but who goes to see The Muppets for the screenwriting?
The best parts of The Muppets are: the sequence immediately following Walter’s discovery which features a few well-staged handheld shots, and a really funny series of cuts where Walter cannot stop screaming; Fozzie Bear’s newfound (and dangerous) off-shoot act, The Moopets; Gonzo’s current business as wealthy plumbing industrialist; and Jack Black finally being funny in something again.
But really, this is a film for those who grew up with them to revel in The Muppets appearing on the big-screen again, to take in the Kermit/Miss Piggy tumultuous relationship and to laugh at some absurd cameos including James Carville.
The funny thing about The Muppets is that the entire premise hinges on people finding them relevant again. There are multiple lines of dialogue referring directly to this – ‘outdated,’ ‘old news,’ ‘over,’ are tossed about. SPOILER here –
When, at the end, The Muppets emerge triumphant (was that really a spoiler for anyone?), the street outside is packed for miles with fans holding signs and going crazy for The Muppets. This is effectively one entire film about The Muppets saying to the real audience, ‘please like us again.’ The fact that they actually say it, and don’t just rely on the film and plot, weakens it a bit. It’s the equivalent of watching say, a horror film, and at one point having a character remind everyone that now is the moment to be scared. Or watching a romance and having someone tell us who we are supposed to care for. It’s an odd strategy, one that the writers try to offset by having the characters mockingly talk about their awareness of the story (“…important plot point…”) but that still feels kind of contrived.
Luckily, again, it’s The Muppets, so I don’t think anyone really cares about that mainly because they’re right and we do like them again.
There are a few truly unfortunate moments in here – Chris Cooper raps. Amy Adams has an awkward solo dance/song number. Animal isn’t in it enough. But in the end this is vintage, fun Muppets.