Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Crystal, Chris Cooper, Danny Trejo, Emily Blunt, Jack Black, Katy Perry, John Krasinski, Ricky Gervais, Rashida Jones
Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller, Jim Henson
Walt Disney Studios
1999's Muppets From Space didn't exactly kill the Muppet franchise, but it was a sure sign that, just perhaps, the whole Muppet mania had actually run its course. First appearing around 1954-55 and with the "Muppet" tag in 1956, Jim Henson's Muppets have long been a nostalgic staple of childhood for decades parents and children alike. Then, in 1999, the whole Muppet thing started to seem a bit, well, outdated. Technologically, cinema was becoming more advanced and American television and film tastes were becoming decidedly more high-tech, as well. Sure, the Muppets have still been around in occasional specials and in reruns on cable television, but for the first time since the 1950's we have a decade of children who really aren't that familiar with those fuzzy, quirky and strangely human little creatures.
Actor Jason Segel apparently decided enough was enough and committed himself to bringing back The Muppets which, not so coincidentally, also serves as the core storyline for The Muppets, a Jason Segel-led cinematic spectacle that waxes nostalgic while proving technologically advanced enough that this should be a film that leaves both parent and child smiling from beginning to end.
Thank you, Jason Segel.
Segel, a mostly comic actor perhaps most known for his full frontal shot in the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, co-writes the script for The Muppets with Nicholas Stoller (writer/director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall) while also serving as Executive Producer on the film and, of course, as co-star with Amy Adams.
While it's certainly possible to find people who don't love The Muppets, it's virtually impossible to find folks who actually "hate" them. Even if you find the whole Muppet thing a tad derivative and silly, it's hard not to appreciate their overall good-natured humor and, if nothing else, to be absolutely nostalgic about their presence throughout childhood whether that be The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock or any of the Muppet films.
The Muppets may be the perfect holiday choice for parents with children looking for a mutually satisfying movie experience over the extended Thanksgiving weekend. Parents will rejoice at Segel and director James Bobin's (Flight of the Conchords) faithfulness to their source material and ability to weave in just enough for today's children to maintain interest.
The story, as is always true for a Muppet film, is quite simple. The Muppets have all gone their own way ... Miss Piggy is editor of a fashion magazine in Paris while other Muppets can be found all over including Walter, who now shares an apartment with longtime friend Gary (Jason Segel) despite the tension it causes with Gary's girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams). The three take a bus tour to Hollywood and discover that the old Muppet Studio has fallen into disrepair and is at risk of being taken over by a millionaire oil barron, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). You know what happens from here, don't you? The three become determined to save the studio and, after a kick-off by none other than Mickey Rooney, they decide to reunite the gang and put together a benefit.
It's most certainly possible to not enjoy The Muppets or to find it a tad pandering and even a touch pretentious. There are moments in the film when it feels like Segel and Bobin are being so reverential to their source material it lacks the freshness and spontaneity, or faux spontaneity, that made us first fall in love with these life-like muppets with personalities joyously dysfunctional.
But, much like the Muppets themselves, there's such a relentless joyfulness in Segel and Stoller's writing and in Bobin's direction that it's also just as likely that you'll forget the occasional fits of pretentious reverence and simply surrender yourself to once again experiencing Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo and the rest of The Muppets.
Given Disney's unique, inspired and incredibly successful marketing campaign for the film that involved a series of parody trailers both absurd and hilarious, you may very well wonder if the film itself resembles that experience. On a definite level, the answer is "Yes!" The Muppets is quirky, highly musical (including a terrific new version of a certain Kermit song that still gets me weepy-eyed) and filled with celeb cameos and bit players ranging from Zach Galifianakis to Alan Arkin to Emily Blunt to, well, more than I could possibly name. While the whole cameo thing can be a silly gimmick, with The Muppets it feels right and even adds to the whole "You guys still matter" sentimentality that Segel gives the script.
Maybe that's what's greatest about The Muppets. It's obvious that, even with a bit of pandering, that Jason Segel seems to have regarded this project as more than simply another Hollywood goldmine waiting to happen. The Muppets feels like a joy-filled passion project from beginning to end with wonderfully spirited by Segel and Amy Adams, who proved with Enchanted that she could sell ridiculous enthusiasm and innocence like no other actress. The two are delightful together, and they are surrounded by cameo actors and bit players who seem incredibly enthusiastic about getting to be a part of this genuinely fun project. The Muppets, after all, would be a bit like Sesame Street. If you get a chance to do it, then you do it. There is no other choice.
The Muppets is, as one might expect, filled with musical numbers to which Amy Adams surrenders herself with wonderful results. Segel, as well, is clearly enjoying himself with the kind of dancing that should encourage those who can't dance to get up and boogie anyway.
This Thanksgiving weekend may be one of the best for families in recent memory, with The Muppets, Hugo and Arthur Christmas all providing quality entertainment for the family dollar. Of course, Breaking Dawn is still in theatres and likely to top all the newbies at the box-office in its second week. Yet, rejoice that the holidays are kicking off with three films filled with such spirit, inspiration, enthusiasm and joy.
Go. See The Muppets or I'm sending The Moopets after you.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic