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The Muppets – Review

The Muppets Review (2011)
Director: James Bobin
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones
Release Date: US – Wednesday / UK – 17th February

It’s time to meet the Muppets. Again.

While it’s been almost thirty years since the last Muppet film with the original puppeteers (1984’s The Muppets Take Manhattan), nineteen years since the last Muppet endeavor worth noting (1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol), and a mere six years since the wince-inducing direct to DVD offering The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (Quentin Tarantino cameo, anyone?), when Jason Segel found himself at a meeting with Disney in the wake of his huge box office success with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Muppets were the farthest thing from dead. When asked what properties he would like to pursue, Segel was quick to proclaim his love for Jim Henson’s legacy.

The Muppets Review (2011)
Amy met them at her audition. It didn’t go well.

Over the next four years, he and co-writer Nicholas Stoller (click here for our interview) dove headlong into the Muppet universe of their collective childhood. The result is The Muppets, a delightful yet generically named felt vehicle which opens this weekend around the U.S.

With a plot vaguely reminiscent of Take Manhattan, the Muppets have long since broken up and their old stomping grounds, The Muppet Studios, are in danger of being bulldozed. Enter Gary (Jason Segel), Mary (Amy Adams), and Walter (a new Muppet performed by Peter Linz), a sight-seeing trio from Smallsville, USA, who stumble upon the sinister plot to drill for oil beneath the studio and prod the reclusive Kermit (Steve Whitmire) to gather the old gang for a charity telethon to save the studio.

As the plot progresses, the storyline of Walter, Gary, and Mary competes with the storyline for Kermit and the gang. And while both are great on paper, with not enough time to do justice to the ideas, both storylines feel surface-level and rushed.

The Muppets Review (2011)
Being a method actor, Segel needed to know everything about being a puppet. Everything.

The movie starts with a lot of voice-over and exposition in an attempt to get modern children up to speed with how important The Muppets are (were?). It then jumps right into the first of a series of wonderful song and dance numbers, which in the end are the saving grace of the film. With songs from Bret Mackenzie (Flight of the Conchords), presumably brought in by director James Bobin, every time the music starts the movie truly comes to life. The lyrics are clever, the music is incessantly memorable (both myself and my wife have woken up in the morning humming the tunes over a week later), and the choreography and directing generate some huge laughs.

However, the interstitial scenes often grow tedious with underwritten dialog, static direction, and a few lame duck jokes. Particularly bad is the villain Tex Richman (played with wonderful sincerity by Chris Cooper).

The Muppets Review (2011)
Pictured here, relaxing at home.

Richman is relegated to the timeworn gag of forced maniacal laughter in two of his three main scenes. But, as always, the song swoops in to save the day, delivering a spontaneous rap number which Cooper sang himself. Seeing this highly respected actor decked out in cheesy bling while rhyming such lyrics as “I have so much gold, I gold-plate my gold” and “I even make the baker bake my bread out of ‘dough.’ No no, don’t eat it though, it’ll make ya ill, there ain’t no flour in a hundred dollar bill.”

To borrow a metaphor from one of my favorite Muppet characters, the final product is a lot like a meal from The Swedish Chef: it’s made with love, contains lots of great ingredients, but in the end it’s a big sloppy mess. If you’re looking the tight scripting of The Muppet Movie and the sizzling wit and class of The Great Muppet Caper you will likely be disappointed. But neither is The Muppets a failure. It is a HUGE improvement on any Muppet showcase since the 1990s and despite its shortcomings, the performances, songs, and charm will have you smiling as you leave the theater and, in my experience, trying hard not to be a 30-year-old man skipping on his way out of a children’s movie.

Our Grade: B-

Also See: Immortals Review, Ides Of March Review, Johnny English Reborn Review

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