By Don Simpson | November 22, 2011
Director: James Bobin
Writers: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller, Jim Henson (characters)
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz, Zach Galifianakis, Alan Arkin, Ken Jeong, Jim Parsons, Kristen Schaal, Sarah Silverman, Donald Glover, Emily Blunt, Neil Patrick Harris, Selena Gomez
Sometimes I need a palate cleanser, something to lighten up my mood after reviewing a long string of moody and broody indie fare (you know, like Melancholia and Martha Marcy May Marlene). I could think of no better film than James Bobin’s The Muppets to do just that. I convinced myself to enter the theater with low expectations, but I figured that Disney’s reboot of the Muppets franchise would at least provide me with a few giggles and a healthy dose of childhood nostalgia. My 7 out of 10 rating of the The Muppets means that the film truly exceeded those expectations.
Jason Segel co-writes, co-executive produces and stars in a feature film that never even tries to attempt to conceal its purpose: to make the Muppets relevant again. Heck, with its uncanny knack for self-referential humor, The Muppets does not hide anything from its audience. The fourth wall is reduced to a pile of rubble, as we are constantly reminded by the film’s characters that we are indeed watching a film (as if the walking and talking puppets are not enough of a clue).
Gary (Jason Segel) and Mary (Amy Adams) have been dating — celibately, we can only assume since this is a Disney film — for nearly ten years. They live — separately, we can only assume since this is a Disney film — in Smalltown, U.S.A. Gary resides with his muppety brother, Walter (voice: Peter Linz), who senses a unique kinship with the Muppets and is their number one fan.
The threesome embark upon a bus trip to Los Angeles; their first stop, The Muppet Studios. After sneaking away from a lackluster tour, Walter overhears an evil oil tycoon (Chris Cooper) discussing a dastardly plan with his muppety henchmen — Uncle Deadly (voice: Matt Vogel) and Bobo (voice: Bill Barretta) — to turn the Muppets’ property into an oil field (maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh); that is unless $10 million can be raised to retain Muppet ownership of the land. Walter can only think of one logical solution, for the Muppets to reunite and put on a show (of course!). The threesome proceed to travel the world by map (literally) with Kermit the Frog (voice: Steve Whitmire) in a car driven by 80’s Robot (voice: Matt Vogel), picking up a menagerie of Muppets along the way. Oh, and to appease the CDE televsion executive (Rashida Jones) who will be airing their show, the Muppets must find a celebrity host.
Together again, the Muppets — with the assistance of Walter, Gary and Mary — work together as a team to get their old theater back into working order. Mary begins to feel neglected and pouts over having her dreamy romantic vacation hijacked by Walter and the Muppets. Gary is therefore thrust into an existential quagmire, forced to choose between being a man or a Muppet — as expressed in the best song of the film, “Am I a man or a Muppet?” Yes, for all intents and purposes, The Muppets is a musical. (What else would you expect?) In addition to dusting off some old classics (“Rainbow Connection”) and adding some new material (written by Bret McKenzie of The Flight of the Conchords), pop songs such as Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Cee-Lo Green’s “Fuck You” get cleverly Muppetized.
Debuting on the silver screen in 1979 with The Muppets Movie Jim Henson’s fuzzy little franchise produced six features in the span of 20 years, concluding (or so it seemed) with Muppets from Space in 1999. Frank Oz publicly lampooned the script for The Muppets — the first theatrically-released Muppet film not to include Oz or Jerry Nelson as Muppeteers — and I can kind of see why. Segel and Nicholas Stoller opt to spend far too much time focusing on Mary and Gary in a shoddy attempt at spoofing the rated-G rom-com sub-genre (if such a sub-genre even exists). Mary and Gary’s white bread dialog lacks the luster of the writing for the Muppet characters [and 80’s Robot]. That is not to say that Segel and Adams do not give commendable performances, specifically in their musical scenes. In fact, the overall strength of The Muppets can be found in the musical scenes — which exceed the production quality of any other Muppets movie to date. I will even go out on the limb and say that the songwriting, choreography, set design and cinematography of the musical sequences are all pitch-perfect.
With The Muppets, we get exactly what us long-time fans have come to expect from the Muppets: fun songs and choreography, great cameos, corny jokes, and strong moral lessons. Unexpectedly, we also get some brilliantly absurd comedy which seems to be handcrafted for the stoner demographic. We could do without, however, the slow and tedious rom-com scenes without any Muppets in sight and Fozzie Bear’s (Eric Jacobson) fart jokes.