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The Muppets (Movie) Review


By Todd Allen

While Twilight-mania lapped it at the box office over the holiday weekend, The Muppets relaunched their film career.  “The Muppets” (As opposed to “The Muppet Movie”) is a little bit of a departure from previous Muppets flicks in a number of ways.  First off, the classic Muppets were not the main characters of the story.  It was a very self-referential film, filled with in-jokes for adults who grew up with the franchise.  It had more political overtones than one would expect from the Muppets.  It also was a lot of fun.

The basic premise is the story of two brothers, one human (star and co-writer Peter Segel) and one Muppet (Walter).  Except Walter isn’t technically a member of the Muppets, who are essentially a theater troupe for purposes of the story.  Walter is however, a huge Muppets geek.  Walter tags along with Segal and his girlfriend (Amy Adams) for their anniversary trip to L.A. (much to the chagrin of Adams), where he stumbles upon a plot by an evil oil company (headed by Chris Cooper’s wonderfully hammy performance) to buy the dilapidated remains of the Muppet Theater and drill for oil underneath it.  To get the money to buy the theater back, the Muppets have to get the gang back together and perform a show.  Yes, there’s a lot of The Blues Brothers in the plot of The Muppets.

The most important thing to know about this, for all the self-referential touches and in-jokes for adults (big oil as the villain, a certain Cee Lo Green song popping up, etc), there’s no cynicism to the remake.  This is the Muppets and it’s still sweet and earnest, with large dashes of naivete from the heroes.  There’s liberal breaking of the 4th wall.  There’s a particularly amusing reoccurring theme where the singing and dancing really does occur and the music gets explained after the sequence (for the film majors, the non-diegetic sound is always made diegetic to comic effect).  There’s also a very strong theme of choosing your identity that plays with a bit more philosophy than you might have expected.  Ambitious intentions?  Not a bad thing at all.

You still have a fist full of the celebrity cameos you’ve come to expect with a Muppets film, Jack Black getting the most screen time.  You have a pretty complete set of the TV cast of Muppets returning.  Miss Piggy beats the hell outta somebody.  Best of all, there’s an actual episode of the Muppet Show in the movie.  Literally, you could cut it out and run it separately.

The stand out performance of the movie is Chris Cooper as the villain.  His over-the top Tex Richman stops just short of a corporate Snidely Whiplash and then extolls his henchmen with demands of “Manical laugh!  Manical laugh!”  to make up for stopping short.  Absolutely brilliant.

Had this film not turned out so well, Segel would have been accused of a vanity project.  It’s a strange thing to see humans quite so front and center for a Muppets movie.  He and Adams pulled it off just fine.  The insertion of Walter into the Muppets universe could also be seen as Segel going out of his way to insert himself into the Muppetverse.  Again, this works and I expect we’ll see Walter in future films.  This is a movie that managed to stop itself before crossing the line into fanboy excess.  That said, when the next Muppet film comes out, and Segel deserves a sequel (he clearly loves the Muppets too much not to be up for another), there should be less humans driving the story.

Highly recommended, especially if you need to take small children to the movies.

  1. Took the kids to see this Sunday. Overall it was great. I have a couple of fusses, mainly about the ending, but it was everything I was hoping it would be. I found myself whistling/humming/singing a number of the songs from the movie for the rest of the day.

  2. As far as people I never knew but had a huge influence on me and how I saw the world as child and shaped me, the two big ones would be Charles Schulz and Jim Henson. No, this was not as good as Henson would have made, but it was still wonderful and very true to the Muppets. The audience actually applauded at the end. And quite a few, including me, couldn’t keep a dry eye when they sang “Rainbow Connection”. I feel like I need to write Jason Segel a Thank You note.

  3. This was one of my favorite movies of the year. I love The Muppets and even teared up a bit watching this. In fact while this may be close to heresy this is probably my third favorite Muppets film right after The Muppets Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan.

  4. It will be interesting to see how the Henson folks react to the movie’s success, as they were supposedly not entirely on board with Segal’s take on the franchise.

  5. The movie as a whole is great, which is amazing because it does a lot of things that I would put on the list of Things Not To Do, not the least of which is that the movie is a big ol’ Mary Sue, a fanfic in which the author inserts himself as a character who impresses everyone and saves the day… and to be clear, the Mary Sue here is not the character that co-writer of the movie plays, but rather the character who serves as his stand-in: Walter.

    They’d be foolish not to bring the writing team back for a sequel… but if so, they should not bring back these particular human characters. Let the Muppets take the lead.

    (By the way, there is much to be said for the writing team’s previous film, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It’s NSFW – not that you should be watching movies at work, mind you – but very, very human.)

  6. Fully agreed. It was a nice return to the muppet roots made with a lot of love for the concept and just a touch of vanity. The jokes hit the right note of original muppet humor with enough of a modern spin. My three year old daughter was enthralled throughout, which was the true test for our family.

    …and I’ll admit, big man that I am, there are two things that will get me misty in the movies: the end of Iron Giant and the banjo at the start of Rainbow Connection. Thankfully my wife was too busy wiping away the tears to notice me taking my glasses off.

  7. LOVED the Pixar short before the movie , “Small Fry”. That was the first time movie credits had me laughing out loud.

    The Muppets was enjoyable, even if it was really “The Muppet Show Movie”. The original songs were excellent, but the celebrity cameos were a bit weak. (Most were of the “meta” variety, like Neil Patrick Harris, and less like Sarah Silverman.) Chekhov’s gun was quite obvious, and I was disappointed that the Muppet Theater is located on Hollywood Boulevard.

    Finally, I was a bit shocked by Kermit’s cameo on Weekend Update the Saturday before, where he sounded quite snarky. (Really?) That tone is better suited to Statler and Waldorf.

    Of course, now they have to make another one.

    Hmmm…. Has Marvel flooded the comics shelves with Muppet comics, the same way they flooded the market when Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man hit the big screen?

  8. When they enter Kermit’s office and there’s a wall with signed photos of him and all the celebrity’s he’s performed with, dead centre is a picture of Kermit sitting on Jim Henson’s lap. That got me.

  9. Just to give credit where credit is due, a lot of the original songs was by Brett McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords. You could really hear McKenzie’s unique “voice” in those songs (and I mean that in a good way), though cleaned up a bit of course for the Muppets. (The director is credited for co-creating the Flight of the Conchords HBO series.)

  10. im sorry but this movie really wasn’t that good at all the muppets should have been the main stars and they def r not …rizzzzzooooo the rat M.I.A

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