This is a really special post for me because this is the first time I am privileged to bring you, my handful of loyal readers, an advance review of a brand new film. As you may or may not know, I am a HUGE Muppet fan. I grew up watching the films as a child in the 1980s and 90s and then I became a fan of "The Muppet Show" when it was being played on Nick at Nite back when I was in elementary school so I was cautiously optimistic when Disney announced they would be making a new Muppet film that was co-written by Jason Segal. I say "cautiously" because I had only seen two of Segal's films up to that point, I Love You, Man (which I thought was delightful) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (after which I wished I could forget the image of Segal's penis) and so I didn't know if he was the best one suited for a revival of Kermit and Co. However, after reading how Segal was an even bigger Muppet fan from me and after seeing the first trailer for the film which was a delightful fake-out (leading to one of the best advertising campaigns for a film in recent memory), I was hooked. So imagine my surprise and excitement when I was granted a free ticket to see a sneak preview of the new film this weekend? I couldn't wait and I promised myself that I would share my thoughts and feelings on the new film with you, my readers. So let's have no more delay...ladies and gentlemen, The Muppets.
Gary (Jason Segal) and Walter (Peter Linz) are two brothers living in Smalltown, USA who have been virtually inseparable since they were children despite the fact that Gary has grown up as a perfectly normal looking human being and Walter looks more like a fuzzy yellow puppet. Because of his small size and odd texture, Walter has never fit in with the other people in Smalltown and so Gary has always taken it upon himself to take care of him. One fateful night, when Walter is rather down, Gary shows him a video of "The Muppet Show", and suddenly Walter sees a place where he belongs. He becomes the world's biggest Muppet fan and when Gary decides to take his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to visit L.A., Walter tags along so he can finally see Muppet Studios. What Gary, Mary, and Walter find however, is that a crooked oil company executive, Tex Richmond (Chris Cooper), is planning to tear down the studios and the Muppet Theater so he can drill for oil. The trio decides to go see Kermit the Frog, now in retirement, to see if he can stop this sale. Together with Kermit, they set about reuniting the estranged Muppets so that they can put on a show to raise the money needed to save the property from destruction.
I never imagined that anyone would ever make a decent reboot of the Muppet film franchise, much less make a great one. However, Segal and co-writer Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and director James Bobin (Flight of the Conchords) seem to have done the impossible. They have created a Muppet movie that is reverent and respectful of what has come before (with corny jokes and squeaky clean wit) while also being relevant (providing the kids of self-referential jokes and pop culture references that the Muppets became famous for on their television show). One of the biggest running gags in the film is how out-of-touch and behind-the-times the Muppets seem in this day and age. Rashida Jones as a television network executive bluntly states this several times to our intrepid heroes and they look on completely uncomprehending. It is the same kind of comment that cynical internet site commentators and teenagers made when the film was first announced and the fact that Segal and Co. understand this and write it into the script for the film only strengthens the concept of underdogs fighting to get to the top. We may think that the Muppets are old news and out of style now in 2011, but that doesn't stop us from desperately wanting to see them succeed. The performers, both puppet and human, are all perfectly placed and suited for the film. Amy Adams and Jason Segal are just cute and odd enough to fit right in with the crew of Muppets without sticking out as "those humans who are in scene with the Muppets". Peter Linz has created a new Muppet character who is worthy of the weight that the film puts on his shoulders. Essentially, Walter has to carry the movie by being sympathetic and relatable and without being annoying (as new characters invented to drive a sequel/reboot tend to be). I can imagine seeing him again in the future, and hopefully there is a future. Chris Cooper is also a delight to see as he gleefully chews the scenery as the villain who cannot laugh maniacally. You can tell that Cooper is having a great time letting his hair down and slumming it with the Muppets. Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) is also a delight as the executive who's heart is also eventually won over by the Muppets. To round it all out, as is true with other Muppet films there are a slew of cameos from old favorites like Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Arkin, and Mickey Rooney along with newer sensations such as Selena Gomez, Zach Galifianackis, and Neil Patrick Harris. There are many more cameos for those with a keen eye for spotting them, which will promote this film's re-play value.
Also on display is some excellent music (music so wonderful that I simply had to buy the CD) that is a combination of old-favorites from the Muppet cannon as well as new songs specially created for the film. Songs that fans will remember fondly include "The Rainbow Connection" (which is the subject of it's own send up early in the movie and then is treated reverently near the finale) "Mahna Mahna", "Together Again" (in an improvised and short state), and "The Muppet Show Theme". Each song is used absolutely perfectly, and in ways I shant spoil here, you do need to actually go and see the movie you know. The new songs are also infectious and should become classics in their own right if the film and soundtrack prove to be hits. The opening number in particular, "Life's a Happy Song", has been stuck in my head since leaving the theater yesterday and I've played it twice on my iPod since. It is an excellent introduction to the tone of the film. It is whimsical, has a great beat, is full of corny jokes and has a bit of a chance to make fun of itself in every verse. Another great new song is "Pictures in My Head", which is sung by Kermit the Frog shortly after he comes into the film. In it, he sings of how he and the other Muppets have lost track of each other and how he regrets their parting of ways. The Muppets are no longer friends he sees or hears from and are now just images in his mind. I'll admit, the scene was handled so well that I teared up just a bit. Other new songs include "Me Party", sung by Mary and Miss Piggy and "Man or Muppet", which is a hilarious and touching moment for Gary and Walter. Also on display are some wonderful old and new hits you've heard on the radio including "Me and Julio Down By the School Yard", "We Built this City", and Cee Lo Green's "Forget You" (which is hilariously performed by chickens, and which I think should have been called "Cluck You" on the album). All of the music combines together marvelously to create a rich tapestry reminiscent of the smattering of styles seen on "The Muppet Show".
To wrap things up, The Muppets is a fun, funny, and touching film that is like a love letter to fans of the troupe as well as an invitation to those outside of Muppet fandom to come and see what they've been missing. It is one of those rare musical comedies that is just right for every age and I truly believe that it will be THE family film to see this holiday season because it has been made with everyone in mind. Adults will laugh at the wit and sly humor while the kids will marvel at the songs and the slapstick. At our screening yesterday the audience applauded not once but twice at the end of the picture and it was quite a grab-bag of personalities and backgrounds. I can't believe I'm saying this about The Muppets, but I really think that this is going to be on many "Best films of 2011" lists and will be a must own when it is released on DVD and Blu-ray. You owe it to yourself to go with your family or friends to see The Muppets this holiday season and enjoy one of the best times you will have at the cinema this year. (****)