Are the Muppets still relevant?
That’s the central question behind both the idea of a Muppets movie, and, it turns out, the movie itself. The Muppets is a return to form for Jim Henson’s felt creations, who have been out of the pop culture lexicon for the better part of two decades now.
Their reappearance is in an extremely meta film, as you might expect from the gang, but the central ideas of relevancy and a comeback speaks to both the challenges of the characters in the film, and of the film itself, desperate to find an audience amidst children wowed by CGI every other week.
The fact is, they don’t make them like this anymore, and The Muppets manages to exist as an entertaining feature without much to compare it to. It’s a success because those of us who grew up with The Muppets will love it out of pure nostalgia, and the new generation of kids whose attention its trying to capture will love it because well, I mean kids love most movies, and that’s only amplified when things like “fart shoes” are involved.
I’m just glad they didn’t do any Miss Piggy/Lady Gaga jokes.
But the original cast aren’t the only stars of the show, and their original group isn’t even assembled until about midway through the film. Rather, plot duties fall to Jason Segel’s Gary and his longtime girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) with a spotlight on his little brother Walter, who is himself made of felt and finds a kinship with the Muppets when he discovers their show as a child.
As he grows up, he becomes their biggest fan, and is enthused beyond belief when Gary and Mary invite him on an LA vacation where he’ll get to see the original Muppet studios. But once he arrives, the place is in shambles, and after getting separated from his tour group, he learns that evil businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, who eventually does a full-on gangster rap number) plans to buy the studio and tear it to the ground in order to drill for oil. As an over the top purposeful parody, it works, trust me.
The rest of the film unfolds as Walter, Gary and Mary attempt to reunite the Muppets and put on a live telethon to raise the money to buy the studio back from the greedy Richman. Hijinks ensue.
Jason Segel, in heaven.
The idea that the Muppets are no longer cool or famous is the central thread of the film, and the meta plotline works for the film which loves to break the fourth wall. They talk about inserting montages to move things along, they travel instantaneously by superimposed map, and poke fun at a whole host of typical film conventions.
Once the original Muppets show up, Segel, Adams and Walter take a back seat to them, as they should. Adams and Segel both look like they’re having a blast, and Jason Segel’s real-life obsession with the Muppets is seen on the blissful expression on his face in every scene.
Additional humans populate the film when needed, and nearly all of them are recognizable celebrities doing their part to make the Muppets cool again. It can be a bit extreme at times, like say when the Muppets go to a diner where Sarah Silverman is their hostess, only to then attend a meeting hosted by studio exec Rashida Jones showing them a popular program on TV hosted by Ken Jeong when they’re suddenly interrupted by her assistant Donald Glover. It borders on overkill sometimes, but isn’t enough to truly be obnoxious.
I could see Zooey Deschanel and Paul Rudd being understudies to these two.
Above all, are the Muppets still funny? It’s a tough question. You’re not really going to laugh at the same jokes you did when you were ten, as the Muppets have usually favored slapstick and puns to an extreme degree. You’ll probably have a smile on your face throughout, but I’d say there are few actual laugh out loud moments, with one exception being an all-chicken rendition of Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You” that made me spit my popcorn out.
For fans, it’s just nice to see them back .To hear that theme song play, to see Kermit pick up his banjo. Kids will love the puppetry and visual gags, while the uninitiated? Few as there may be, I would think there might be a chance they may not “get it.”
But for those of us that do, The Muppets is a great time and a film that stands alone in its unique sense of humor, even after all these years.
3.5 out of 5 stars