Title: The Muppets
Directed By: James Bobin
Written By: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones
Screened at: Beverly Hills, NYC, 9/5/11
Opens: November 23rd, 2011
Growing up, The Muppets were an integral part of my life. Their humor, fun loving nature and positivity were infectious and pure. It pains me to think that only a few years ago, they had been all but forgotten, but their brand of quirky, unique humor had a lasting effect on those–including myself–who grew up with them. Now, Jason Segel is attempting to bring them out of the shadows and into the spotlight, where they belong. I’m sure many of us are relieved to see them back in full form, but the movie doesn’t necessarily do them the justice they deserve; rather, it brings them along as a backdrop to Jason and Amy Adams. Director James Bobin and writer/director Nick Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) bring us a colorful and fun reunion–but with a very underdeveloped script.
Walter has a tough life. He’s the only muppet in his small town; even his brother, Gary (Segel), is a human. There’s no real explanation as to why they’re brothers–they just are (they coexist with the rest of society, like in the first films). Walter grows up feeling sadly alienated, until he discovers The Muppets on TV. Gary, on the other hand, is living the life: he has a beautiful girlfriend by the name of Mary (Amy Adams) and looks to take her on a vacation to Los Angeles. Being the good natured person Gary is, he decides to bring Walter along and surprises him with a trip to the old Muppet studio. The plot really gets rolling here.
Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), an evil oil tycoon, is seeking to destroy the old Muppet studio in order to dig for oil–not exactly the most inventive villain they could have come up with. After overhearing this, Walter is determined to bring them back for one last show in order to buy back their studio. There are some hilarious references to the older films, as well as a robot-helper, owned by Kermit, named “80’s Robot”. And yes, there’s a montage here. The whole gang (and then some) are all pursuing other careers in life, such as Gonzo, who’s a high class plumber. Of course, there’s the reuniting of Miss Piggy and Kermit, which is very funny as Kermit begrudgingly meets up with her.
Music has always been a big part of The Muppets. This film shares that same quality, but in such an uneven way it’s difficult to compare. Bret McKenzie, once part of the comedy folk duo Flight of the Conchords, has lent a hand with his musical prowess. People who loved the show will certainly love the music here. It’s joyful, fun and large, but it also handles the emotional numbers wonderfully (like the great “Rainbow Connection” with Miss Piggy and Kermit). But it’s not all magical, as there’s one performance in the film that–I hate to sound harsh–should never have found its way onto the final cut. It made me cringe. Too bad, too, because the great actor Chris Cooper is involved. If you can get past that, the music is as always a treat.
The Muppets teeters between self-reflexive humor and quirky, goofy humor, such as Fozzie Bear’s classic whoopee cushion gag, which is still entertaining to this day– though they somehow managed to ignore the ever-present onslaught of projectile tomatoes. James Bobin and Jason Segel did many things right, such as keeping The Muppet sensibility intact. Segel and Adams are particularly noteworthy, as they’re energetic and fun, and hold their own. But they unfortunately ignored the script and injected it with tiring self-reflexive jokes, and relentlessly bombarded the film with so many stars that it turned into a “who-can-I-spot-next” game. They almost seem to say, even in the opening minutes, “we couldn’t think of anything better as a villain, so we’ll make fun of it”. Not taking the work seriously is one thing, but disregarding it is quite another (for instance, Walter’s magical whistling talent blindsides us). Let’s just hope that if they decided on a sequel (which Muppet fans such as myself will be hoping for), they ease up a bit and spend more time on the fundamentals.
Rated PG. 98 mins.
By Justin Webb