Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Muppets - Theatrical Review


Release Date: November 23, 2011

I never realized how much I missed the muppets until this past week. Just like the rest of the world I had written them off, not so much out of spite but simply because they sort of disappeared. Well, I am happy to say that the muppets are back and the world is a much better place for it. 

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: El Captian Hollywood
Time: 7:15 pm November 26, 2011
Projector Type: Digital 2D

Loves: The Muppets, Amy Adams, musicals
Likes: Jason Segel, self aware comedies
Neutral: People that think this is a film only for kids
Hates: People that don't go see it because of that
Fact: This really is a movie for the whole family

I have a deep seeded fondness for the muppets. I have never outright loved the muppets (appreciated would be a better word) but with most of my childhood filled with all sorts of muppetmania (The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, etc.) they had become a a permanent fixture in my life. I and just about every other kid from the late 70s to the late 80s owe most of their adolescent education to the muppets. Alas, just like everything from ones childhood though the muppets began a steep decline in popularity (save for a couple shows) and after a generation of television and film filled with Jim Henson's creations they all but faded from popular culture. Sure, they had the odd television special pop up now and then as well as a couple feature films in the mid to late 90s but those were just sad attempts to hold on to something that was already gone. As it turns out though they were never truly gone, more like biding their time until the right moment (and right people) was at hand to make their triumphant comeback and thanks to Hollywood's recent fascination with rebooting old franchises to make a quick buck we now have our muppets back! That's not even the best part though, the best part is that unlike all those other franchise reboots (I'm looking at you Chipmunks) the new muppet movie isn't just trying to feed off our nostalgia, it is an honest to goodness great film that will have old and new fans alike leaving the theater with big stupid satisfied grins on their faces.

The Muppets are back!, but they have been out of the spotlight for over a decade now, despite their popularity a generation ago, they had seemingly vanished from the entertainment world altogether. That is until long time fans and brothers Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) decide to take a trip to Hollywood California for Gary and his (very) long time girlfriend Mary's (Amy Adams) 10th anniversary. While there the trio discover a plot by oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to undermine the muppets legacy and before they know it get wrapped up in a crazy adventure where they must reunite all the muppets once again in order to save not only the Muppets legacy but also discover who they are and what they all truly want in the process.

Smalltown is such a happy place.

This film is just such a simple joy to behold. No other film this year has had me grinned from cheek to cheek quite like this did. It took a little while for me to fully reflect on just what it was that had me so giddy after my screening but I think I finally nailed it. Everyone in this movie just seems like they are all having the time of their lives. The performances by everyone, human and muppet alike, were just so infectious with a heartfelt desire to make the audience laugh while also giving us a series of romantic entanglements we could actually care about (Kermit and Miss Piggy are much more believable than Bella and Edward ever were), and it shows. From the nostalgia filled opening where we first meet Gary and Walter in their quaint and oh so wholesome town of Smalltown to the extravagant and hilarious events leading up to (and including) the muppet telethon, I was in complete entertainment bliss from beginning to end.

Much of the films success comes from the wit filled script by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. Being self aware and self referential is a tricky thing to pull off for even the best filmmakers out there but these guys along with first time feature film director James Bobin make the process look easy. I knew from those crazy trailers released last summer that there was going to be quite a few gags revolving around the fact that the muppets went MIA all those years ago and their subsequent return to former glory but I can't rightly say that I was expecting everything else the film pokes fun at. Now I am not exactly a student of muppetology, I remember their feature films more than the television show, and can't say for sure how often they lampooned pop culture but I still wasn't quite expecting the onslaught of muppetized humor that was on display.

Kermit attempts to reunite the muppets.

The beautiful thing about this new muppet movie (and the muppets in general) is that they don't go for the easy joke (unlike a lot of other popular franchises including one featuring another green protagonist). Many of the films greatest laughs come from poking fun at itself (characters not only break into song but comment on it after the fact), making obscure references (if you live in Hollywood you are in for a treat), its use of movie logic (gotta love how they travel from one place to another so fast) and life in general (are you a muppet or a man?). Even with the many different layers of humor present in the film it still manages to keep a coherent and enjoyable (albeit cliche) story along the way that helps keep you invested in the characters as we move from one gag to the next. There wasn't one moment during the hour and forty minute runtime where I wanted it to end.

Did I mention this is a musical? I don't think that is a secret really but the reason I mention it is because not only is the muppets one of the best franchise reboots to come along (ever) but it stands tall as one of the best musicals I have seen in some time as well. Most or all the songs are a mixture of that trademark muppet sense of humor and a surprising amount of heartfelt sentiment. Each song comes at just the right time and never overstays its welcome and while the lyrics offer up a good serving of word play, "Got more cash than Robert's got De-Niros" it is the actors ability to pull off their delivery that sells them every time.

Gary, Mary and Walter prepare to meet an icon.

Amy Adams has proven her vocal talents a number of times in the past, so I wasn't really that surprised when she hit every one of her ballads out of the park. Her musical talents combined with that very sweet and innocent small town girl vibe she exudes just helps make her even more radiant every time she breaks out into song. Jason Segel on the other hand isn't quite as practiced as Mrs. Adams in the world of song and dance but after a dry run in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (he performed a musical puppet show in that films finale) he was able to slip right into the role of the leading man in a musical with little to no hassle. I was actually shocked at just how well he fit into the muppetverse, so much in fact that I believe his duet with Walter for the fantastic song "Man or Muppet" NEEDS to be nominated for an Academy Award this year, it would be a crime if it weren't. There is another actor that also finds his musical roots later in the film that I dare not spoil but trust me, it is amazing!

Then you have the muppets themselves. Now I know I haven't been spending much time talking about any of them directly but there is a reason for that...a couple now that I think about it. Let's face it, if you are reading this review then you are at the very least familiar with the muppets. So would it make any difference if I started going on about how great Kermit is or how funny Fozzy is? The only thing that needs to be said about the muppets is just how wonderful it was seeing them again. Seriously, I got the warm fuzzies as soon as the movie started and it felt as though I was hanging out with some long time friends I hadn't seen in years. I know I said that I never really loved the muppets but I can't lie...I got a little misty eyed as soon as Kermit appeared on screen.

Miss Piggy is ready to do some kung fu chopping!

Seeing the gang all together again was a real treat but I have to make a special mention for the new muppet on the block, Walter. The inclusion of Walter in this movie is what makes everything work in my humble opinion. He is the piece that bridges the gap, the one new element that both the old and the new fans alike are able to discover together. His love for the muppets as well as his want or need to not only find them but also become part of them almost felt like it was replicating my exact same feelings. I'm not saying I want to be a muppet (or do I...) but I definitely could relate to his passion and ambition as will many other muppet faithful I wager. I also thought making him and Gary brothers was a master stroke and helped hammer home not only the absurdity we are about to partake in but also give the proceedings a nice anchor for the emotional hurdles that both characters must overcome.

I have always loved how simple the muppets are from a technical standpoint as well, even though they are simple hand puppets with very few individual moving parts (their eyes don't blink for instance) I still find myself amazed at how much emotion they can convey through simple gestures. I only mention this because Walter, being the lead character for all intents and purposes, is front and center for most of the action and I just fell in love with the little guy because of how real he felt. Whenever he would get scared I would find myself giggling and not because I am cold hearted (well..., maybe) but because of how simple of a trick it was for the filmmakers to convey that emotion to me simply by making him shake and curl his mouth and nose downward. I love that about the muppets, their simplicity and lack of special effects makes them more real than any 3D animated cartoon ever could. This movie is a jab in the eye to all those animation houses out there that think the bigger the computer the better the movie, all it takes is a personal touch and I'm sold.

The Muppets are back and I couldn't be happier.

So, as you can tell I loved this film quite a lot but you might be asking yourself another question. How will kids of this new generation view this new muppet movie? I already mentioned that there is a good amount of nostalgia at work throughout the entire film that will hook any longtime fans of the muppets but what I haven't mentioned is how well this new film works for anyone unfamiliar with the franchise or the characters. That self referential nature I mentioned comes into the forefront concerning how the plot takes the real world fate of the muppets and uses it as the driving force to propel a story about the muppets bringing themselves out of entertainment hell and back into the spotlight once again. It is yet another example of just how darn clever the script that Segel and Stoller wrote because when it comes down to it the story serves a triple purpose by introducing the muppets to a whole new audience while also rebooting the franchise for the muppet faithful AND making fun of the fact that they are doing it. This is quite honestly the best blend of ushering in the new while not forgetting to the old I have ever seen and I firmly believe that both kids and adults will find themselves head over heels for the loveable fuzzballs when it is all over.

As much as I would love to see a resurgence of the muppets as a result of this films success I also can't say I would honestly be upset if this is all we get. It is the perfect muppet movie, it embodies everything we know and love about the muppets and gives us whole new reasons to love them in the process. I said at the beginning of this review that I never outright loved the muppets but now I have an unabashed love affair with them. I think Jim Henson would be proud to know his muppets have not been forgotten. The man was responsible for an entire generation of kids growing up to the likes of Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Kermit, Fozzy, Scooter and my personal favorite, Animal among many others. Now a whole new generation of kids will be able to fall in love with his creations while the rest of us just sit back and recall what made them so great in the first place. The question you should be asking yourself at this point isn't whether or not you should go see The Muppets. No, what you should be asking yourself is are you a man or a muppet? A man would not fear going to see a kids film in theaters, he would mock any who challenged his masculinity as he howled in laughter. A muppet however wouldn't even care what anyone thought at all, they would be content enough with the fact that the muppets are back and that would be enough. I guess that means I'm a muppet...or does that make me a muppet of a man? Find out which you are and go...


Don't miss our latest episode of The LRA Show where we discuss The Muppets in much greater detail. The episode can be downloaded or streamed at the following link:



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