As a diehard Henson fan (starting with my first favorite movie, Follow That Bird), I couldn’t help but be excited when I first heard they were making a new Muppet movie. Of course, as a diehard Henson fan, I was also worried. No need to fear, guys … The Muppets is great.
While on the outside the main plot looks cliché (evil oil tycoon gets control of the old Muppet theater unless the gang can put on a big show and raise $10,000,000, Blues Brothers-style), The Muppets makes sure to let us know they know this is pretty cheesy. For instance, Chris Cooper‘s Tex Richman laughs by saying “menacing laugh!” in a sinister fashion … also, come on, his name is Tex Richman. In proper Muppet fashion, a number of movie tropes get used and then blatantly pointed out — conveniently placed montages, Indiana Jones-eque map transitions, fixing up the theater via musical number, etc. There’s also a Robby the Robot-style robot named 80s Robot — I love that his existence is never explained and that he serves Tab and New Coke to anyone within arms-reach.
It does take a while to get to the Muppets because we are introduced to Gary (Jason Segel, who also co-wrote the script), his brother Walter (voiced by Henson regular Peter Linz), who is the world’s biggest Muppet fan, and Gary’s longtime girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams). Even before the Muppets get into the picture, it still feels like a Muppet movie thanks to the hugely choreographed opening number with a super catchy song. It is very reminiscent of the opening scene from The Great Muppet Caper, which happens to feature my favorite Muppet song of all time.
While framing the film with two human characters (and a new Muppet who doesn’t know he’s a Muppet) might have been a controversial move, the trio work well as a catalyst to get the gang back together after years apart. They also make the most of these characters by giving them very specific development through the movie — Mary learning to stand up for herself (ultimately ask Gary to put their relationship first) and each brother learning that becoming his own man (or Muppet) is all a part of growing up. Most importantly, Adams and Segel have just the right comedic timing to fit in with the Muppets. Plus, the two of them seemed to be having just so much fun with the roles, and that’s half the battle right there.
Speaking of humans, can we just talk about the cameos for a minute? Talk about doing the older films proud — The Muppets had a whole slew of great cameos. While there were certainly some notables the kids might recognize (Selena Gomez and Jack Black, for instance), we also got to see Mickey Rooney prove that he’s still willing to take on any role. The Neil Patrick Harris bit killed me. A few of the actors felt underused, but it was still cool to see them all be a part of the Muppet legacy.
While not all of the characters got their own storyline, the movie does a commendable job of ensuring practically every character from the television series and movies got a moment or two. I found myself audibly cheering every time we saw a familiar face introduced. I especially like that they allowed Rowlf to have a few lines, since the character had been mostly retired since Jim Henson’s death. Even with new-er Muppeteers providing the voices, these still feel like the characters we grew up loving.
Miss Piggy has always had a soft spot in my heart (my favorite doll when I was very young was a stuffed animal of her ala Muppet Babies), and I was thrilled to see she got such a good storyline. While she still has an ego as big as her wardrobe, Miss Piggy is an intricate part to the Muppets getting back together … even if that includes committing some felonies. When Kermit is about to give up, she’s the one who rallies the team to make things happen. She’s still the ball-buster she’s always been, but the gang still appreciates that she’s there.
Now, the movie isn’t perfect — the one real stumble is the bad guy song. The rest of the songs are so wonderfully catchy and fit so well with the classic Muppet tunes (many of which are included in The Muppets), but this one song just tries far too hard to be cool and … urban. Chris Cooper does his best to pull it off and I have a feeling they were going for an “ironically bad” song, but it was a disaster of a minute or so.
The spirit of The Muppets ties directly to the classic movies and the original TV show. While I enjoyed Muppets from Space and the late 90s TV show Muppets Tonight, those last Muppet endeavors suffered from trying far too hard to be hip and trendy. The Muppets, on the other hand, doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. In the film, all of the TV channels that the gang meets with to pitch the telethon tell them that they aren’t popular, hip or even famous anymore. So what do the Muppets do? They just keep being themselves. The telethon that comprises the last 30 or so minutes of the movie is really just a new episode of The Muppet Show, including a full recreation of the opening credits. And I loved every second of it, even tearing up when they performed one of their most beloved songs.
In a super cynical world, The Muppets is a celebration of what Jim Henson’s work has always been about — following your dreams and making people happy. It’s a near perfect family film, a joy to experience and a great addition to the Muppet legacy. Go see this movie and who knows … maybe we’ll get the Muppets back on television after all.