- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by David Medsker
od love the movie that flips a giant bird in the face of cynicism. As children’s entertainment is increasingly stuffed with insults, sarcasm and self-entitlement, “The Muppets” is a welcome reminder that it is still possible to entertain the little ones, as well as their parents, without resorting to the sort of behavior that would get a kid sent to the principal’s office in the real world. Yes, it’s a heavy nostalgia trip, and even a little square, but that’s also the point: “The Muppet Show” was a variety show, for crying out loud, and this reboot, the first Muppet movie to hit theaters in 22 years, remains steadfastly loyal to that original vision.
Walter (Peter Linz) and Gary (Jason Segel) are as close as two brothers can be, despite the fact that Walter is a Muppet and Gary is human. (There is no explanation for why Walter is a Muppet. He simply is.) Gary, his longtime girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), and Walter take a trip to Los Angeles, and Walter is very excited to tour the Muppet Studios. When they arrive, though, they are all shocked to discover that the property is in shambles. Walter is walking through the old office of Kermit the Frog when he overhears a conversation between oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) and his Muppet goons, where Tex reveals his plans to take over the property and tap into the oil reserve underneath. Gary, Mary and Walter tell the now-reclusive Kermit about Tex’s plan and inform him that he needs to raise $10 million in order to save the studio. Kermit decides to get the long-disbanded group back together and, with the reluctant help of a jaded TV programmer (Rashida Jones), the reunited Muppets host a telethon.
The story structure is gleefully similar to the stories that drove the earlier Muppet movies. The villainous oil baron is as throwback a character as they come (“There Will Be Blood” excepted), and the soundtrack doesn’t contain a single song released after 1985. Segel, who co-wrote the movie with Nicholas Stoller, is careful to acknowledge the devices of Muppets films past (the montage, traveling by map) without looking down on them, and the actors who provide cameo appearances are as A-list as the Muppets have ever had. The movie isn’t completely trapped in the past, though; When Walter first hears of Richman’s plan, his reaction (using a mounted camera similar to Jonah Hill’s freakout in “Get Him to the Greek”) will have “Simpsons” fans howling with laughter, and while the soundtrack may be stuck in the ‘80s, the Muppets do perform a couple of more recent songs in ways that only the Muppets can. And you’ve seen nothing until you’ve seen Chris Cooper rap. You read that right.
If one were to sift through the plot with a fine-toothed comb, they would find more than a few flaws. Miss Piggy, for example, probably could have raised the money required to save the studio in 10 minutes had she worked her connections in the fashion industry. Gary and Mary’s love story has, by design, no depth, and the ending would only happen in the Muppets universe. None of these things proves to be distracting though, and really, to dwell on them would be missing the point. Segel has written better stories than this (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” for one), but that’s not his endgame here. He’s after the vibe, the purity of heart at the Muppets’ core, and nothing demonstrates that better than the song Segel chose to score the scene where the gang cleans up their old theater. My first involuntary response was, “Is he serious?” Then I realized that is exactly why he chose the song: to show that there isn’t a snarky bone in the Muppets’ bodies. Well played, Jason.
“The Muppets” may not be great storytelling, or acting, and even the new songs written for the movie will never replace “Movin’ Right Along” or “The Rainbow Connection” – truth be told, this is a three-and-a-half-star movie, with an extra half star for heart – but it’s nice to see a studio bank on a property that dares to be high-minded without getting its hands dirty. Welcome back, gang.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Let's cut to the chase – this one's loaded. The Wocka Wocka Value Pack edition of "The Muppets" has an amusing featurette about the film with interviews of both the human actors and the Muppets, a blooper reel, some very entertaining deleted scenes (including two more cameo appearances, one of whom will make Robert Rodriguez fans proud), and all of the parody trailers that Disney released leading up to the movie's release (the "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" one is our favorite). Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin deliver an amusing audio commentary, and there are even bits that take over when you hit pause on the movie. There is also a link to download the movie's soundtrack for free. Like we said, this one's loaded.