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The Muppets (2011)

November 28, 2011

8/10 Rainbow Connections

Saving childhood memories and bringing people together, one rubber chicken at a time.

The Muppets is about two brothers: one flesh, one felt, both lifelong fans of The Muppet Show. One day, the human brother takes his girlfriend to LA to celebrate their 10th anniversary of going steady and brings his fuzzy brother along for the ride to see the old Muppets studios. When they finally get there, they discover the studios left in shambles and the Muppets long-since disbanded. In a desperate effort to meet his heroes and rescue the studios from falling into the hands of an evil oil baron, the trio from Smalltown, USA recruit Kermit himself to try and get the band back together for one last show to save their legacy.

I don’t know where I was when The Muppet Show was at its prime, probably watching Ninja Turtles re-runs in my Ninja Turtles underwear, but I missed the boat. Despite what my peers have always told me, I’ve always been under the impression that it was a funnier version of Sesame Street. Even though Sesame Street rocks, that’s never been much of an endorsement to for me to give it a fair shot. Shows what I know.

Just like everyone’s been telling me for Godknowshowlong, The Muppets are actually hilarious, and just like I’ve known since Freaks and Geeks entered into my life, so is Jason Segel. From what I’ve heard, the guy’s as much a fan of The Muppets in real life as the character he’s playing, and not to sell the many talents of The Muppets short, but that does make all the difference. In a nutshell, the whole movie is one big excuse for him to give the world a brand new episode of The Muppet Show, and even though that might not sound like much of a draw for the unconverted, the trip that he and frequent co-writer Nicholas Stoller take to get us there is a friggin’ riot that’s tailor-made get you on board.

The thing is, this plot’s been done a million times before and a lot of the gags will sound pretty familiar at first. What makes this different is how brilliantly self-aware, tongue-in-cheek, and endlessly ridiculous it is. When Kermit says he won’t get The Muppets back together for a telethon, Amy Adams chimes in with, “This is going to be a really short movie.” When they realize they can’t drive across the Atlantic to reach Miss Piggy in Paris, Fozzie Bear remembers that they can “travel by map,” at which point he hits a “TRAVEL BY MAP” button on the dashboard that cuts to a segue right out of Raiders, getting them to France in record time. I’ll leave the minor spoilers at that ’cause if I started listing all the fun-fueled craziness that happens in this movie, you’d be reading a crap translation of the whole damn script right now. It plays to the strengths of everything that made The Muppet Show a hit in the first place, updates it for a new generation of people who don’t remember New Coke, and adds a whole lot of heart that makes it so much more than just a reunion tour for the fans. Doesn’t matter who you are or how old you are, everyone needs a reason to believe in themselves every once in a while.

On top of all that, Segel and Adams are just awesome as Gary and Mary, although the downside is that their story winds up taking a big backseat to the struggles of The Muppets. It’s a bummer since I found myself caring less and less about whether they’d work things out as things kept getting astronomically worse for Kermit and the gang, but by the same token, this isn’t their movie anyway and it’s nice to see Segel and Stoller recognize that rather than try to steal the spotlight. Adding to the human contingent is also a totally against-type and out-of-sight performance from a rapping Chris Cooper as Tex Richman, the maniacal jerk who’s trying to ruin The Muppets’ good name. And no, that’s not a typo, Chris Cooper does have a rap solo. That alone is a pretty solid barometer of where this movie’s coming from. And then in true Muppet Show form, there are about three dozen cameos or so from all your favorite A-listers, and while I’m not gonna ruin the surprise, I assure you they’re all great.

So the script, the cast, and the original songs from Flight of the Conchords‘ Bret McKenzie are all tip-top, but that’s not where the love for this movie began. During the endless string of previews I had to sit through before this started up, I had the complete displeasure of sitting through the first trailer for everything that’s wrong with this world, or as the studios are calling it, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked. When I was a kid, I loved watching Alvin and the Chipmunks in my Alvin and the Chipmunks underwear, so when I’m forced to watch on as Hollywood ralphs all over one of little Aiden’s favorite shows with a movie about sexy female chipmunks who sing a remix of “Whip My Hair,” (a song that already deserved a long, gruesome death,) grown-up Aiden dies a little on the inside. At this point, the same tragic fate has been sealed for nearly every show that I or anyone else once worshiped, so the fact that The Muppets is such a glaring exception to the rule in this regard just makes the final package that much more impressive.

I saw this over the weekend with my good buddy Fred and my three cousins – the youngest having just turned eight, the oldest on his way to college – in a packed theater filled with fogies and youngsters alike. Over the course of 98 minutes, I got choked up more times than I was prepared for, Fred was full-out waterworks, and all five of us laughed our butts off at all the same parts. It’s not easy to make a PG movie that has that kind of universal appeal regardless of age, and up until now, I thought it was nearly impossible to make a movie that doesn’t shamelessly bastardize everything that was loved about the TV show being adapted. I’m not saying that there’s no way you won’t go ape over The Muppets, but when you compare it to The Smurfs, there’s no way you won’t recognize this as nothing short of a revelation.

You know that scene in (500) Days of Summer where Joseph Gordon-Levitt has the best walk of shame ever filled with cartoon bluebirds, personal parades, and game-winning home runs? That’s what The Muppets is like the whole darn time. It’s always good to see a movie that succeeds in all the ways where the imitators fail, but it’s nothing short of great to see a movie that makes you feel this swell about being alive. Bring the kids, brings the parents, bring the homeys, bring the drifters huffing glue in the parking lot out back; you’ll all be better off for it.

Man, there shouldn’t have been a doubt in my mind about the movie that was responsible for this trailer:

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Stewart permalink
    November 28, 2011 12:05 am

    I am not a huge Muppet fan, should I still see it? I like the Muppets but nothing more then that! Either way, 98% on Rotten Tomatoes is hard to pass up lol.

    Nice review!

    • November 28, 2011 8:11 am

      Thanks! I wasn’t a fan either, but you should absolutely see it regardless. And I know, 98s are hard to come by these days and this one’s no fluke. Hope you dig it and thanks for stopping by!

  2. November 28, 2011 10:34 am

    Good write-up, amazing to see this getting universally positive reviews, ioved the muppets when i was younger (Muppet Christmas Carol was my favourite film as a kid). I was excited to learn that the Hip-hopapotamus (Bret Mckenzie) is involved too. Have to wait till February to see it over here in the UK though!

    • November 29, 2011 11:48 am

      Thanks! I was pretty surprised by the praise it was getting too, but it’s totally deserved. Wasn’t until after the fact that I heard about McKenzie’s involvement, was an awesome bonus nonetheless. So lame about February though. HORSESHIT!

  3. November 29, 2011 7:02 am

    Saw this the other day, and being a Muppets fan like I’am, I had a ball the whole time and would probably rate this my favorite comedy of the year. It’s funny without ever being mean or offensive and I think that’s really something to appreciate, especially in today’s day and age. Good review my dude.

    • December 1, 2011 10:37 am

      Thanks! Totally agree with all your points, movies like The Muppets are hard to come by these days, and that’s a damn shame for a lot of reasons.

  4. November 30, 2011 5:09 pm

    Frankly, I think we need the Muppets. I think we live in a world where a majority of comedy is inclined toward the cynical at best and the outright cruel at worst, which is well and good on its own if somewhat exhausting. (I mean, I love It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but watching a show whose main characters are all Chaotic Evil drains you after a while). Seeing The Muppets mine humor out of ruthless absurdity and marry it with positivism and love and lessons about confronting the bad things in life with a happy song in your heart, well, it’s invigorating.

    But more than that I think The Muppets is about why we need the Muppets in our homes. Henson’s creations have lent themselves to some great films, but even though I love them all I can only really call a few of them necessary (the original Muppet film, Caper, and now this). More than anything this movie reminds us why they were so important as a television establishment, as in the scene where the Muppets climb out of the TV and into Walter’s living room and also in the clips of families gathering around their TVs during the telethon. This is about the joy of being brought together by the Muppets.

    It’s not a nostalgia exercise, either. Rather than call back to happier times, Segel and Stoller (sorry Bobin, you may be the director, but this is their film– the former’s more than the latter’s) are just calling us to happiness. The Muppets in their fashion are eternal; they’ll always have the opportunity to be relevant.

    Best gags: the Tex Richman rap and Rowlf’s montage moment. Amazing.

    • December 1, 2011 10:55 am

      Dude, Rowlf’s flashback was “classic.” Definitely felt like a familiar gag, but The Muppets and Segel just made it feel new.

      And I completely agree with your freaking brilliant comments. I feel like people feed on cynicism and negativity as a source of humor and news today, so when The Muppets comes along and stands so proudly and successfully as the antithesis, it sure makes an impression. I think Segel should just go ahead and bring the show back while he’s at it. Might have to start a petition…


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