For the first time in six years, it’s time to play the music and light the lights, time to put on makeup and dress up right. For the first time in seemingly forever, it’s time to raise the curtain and get things started.
I met news of Disney’s latest reboot of the “Muppet” franchise with admittedly low expectations; after so many other reboots had tried and failed to reinvent shows and movies from my childhood, I’ll confess that I’ve grown jaded.
As a fan of the Muppets, I have to admit that it’s been difficult to see them fall from grace as hard as they did. When I found out they were going to make another movie, I breathed my usual disappointed sigh, ready to relegate the Muppets to the heaping pile of childhood memories decimated by today’s film industry.
That said, when I found out that Jason Segel of “How I Met Your Mother” and “I Love You, Man” fame was not only starring, but also co-writing the script, I began to see a glimmer of hope. How this came about is actually pretty logical. Anyone who’s seen “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” will remember the offbeat musical numbers for Pete’s elaborate puppet rock opera. Nicholas Stoller, the director of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” co-wrote the new “Muppets” script with Segel. It seems that the taste of puppet-based production near the conclusion of “Sarah Marshall” was only a trial run.
Now realized into an entire movie, this latest “Muppets” reincarnation pulls out all of the stops in an effort to truly bring these Muppets back to life –– and it delivers.
Brothers Gary (Segel) and Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) are a bit odd –– something is off about them, and though they don’t quite realize what that is, it’s pretty apparent to the audience: Walter is a puppet, and Gary is not. Walter thus does not grow like Gary, he and instead chooses to embrace the Muppet Show in lieu of making actual friends or meeting girls. Fast-forward to their adult lives, and Gary has a girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams). They decide to take a trip to Los Angeles for their 10th anniversary, and Gary decides to surprise Walter by bringing him along. Though Mary is unsettled by the couple’s lack of time alone, they decide to go anyway.
On a tour at the Muppet Theater, Walter sneaks into Kermit’s abandoned office and discovers that oil mogul Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is planning on buying the Theater and tearing it down to harvest the oil deposit it stands on. Horrified, Walter makes it his mission to try to prevent this from happening. They gather up Kermit and the rest of the Muppets gang and get to work to try and raise the $10 million necessary to keep the studio from Richman.
The plot is one that, though drawn out, remains simple enough to follow for children yet not too dumb for adults to enjoy as well. Jokes and musical numbers are strung throughout, and almost constant breaks in the fourth wall keep perspective fresh. Nothing is safe from a gag in the har-har dry humor the Muppets are famous for.
Though much of the movie’s humor occupies this style of inducing a facepalm chuckle, it doesn’t get old. Segel and Stoller stick to their guns and maintain an unabashed Muppets spirit, not withholding any possible gag or quip. In this way, the movie succeeds because it never shies away from what the Muppets are all about. It’s dry, nerdy, self-deprecating, self-aware, simple and fun –– it’s the Muppets, just how I remember them.
Celebrity cameos line this movie top to bottom. The list includes Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Patrick Harris, John Krasinski, Sarah Silverman, Emily Blunt and Zach Galifianakis, to name just a portion of the celebrities who pop up in this movie. That’s on top of Segel and Adams, who are both rising stars in their own right, as well as Rashida Jones (as Veronica Martin, the TV executive who reluctantly allows the Muppets to put on one last show) and Jack Black (as himself, the reluctant host of said last show).
The cameos are distracting, but welcome –– the movie at some points seemed like too much of a celebrity who’s who. That said, though, I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw Dave Grohl wide-eyed and dressed up as the Moopet (a group of Muppet impersonators) equivalent of Animal.
Musical numbers were wittily written, and that’s no surprise: Bret McKenzie of cult favorite HBO series “Flight of the Conchords” was the music supervisor and wrote most of the major musical numbers in the movie. Just like his work for “The Conchords,” McKenzie’s songwriting lends itself well to fitting into narratives, matching the lyrics with visual cues in often hilarious ways.
Besides the broader plot of the Muppets’ struggle to reclaim their studio, individual characters have their own plotlines: Fozzie’s downcast involvement and eventual conflict with the Moopets, Animal’s anger management training him to not play the drums and (of course) Kermit and Miss Piggy embroiled in romantic conflict. Most of these are genuine, heartfelt and funny, though some of them fall flat; Walter’s is set up from the beginning and gets the audience rooting for him to find his way, but Gonzo’s short scene as the head of a plumbing company seems odd and out of place (though I did enjoy the explosion).
The message of the movie (or at least, of a few of the major plot strains) is to believe, whether in yourself or in a larger cause. At its core, “The Muppets” is still a silly kid’s movie filled to the brim with gags, puns and glaring humor. Still, this is when Kermit and the rest of the Muppets are at their best, with humor so sincerely innocent that it becomes heartfelt. In this way, Segel, Stoller and the rest do absolute justice to the Muppets legacy, and they have made a believer out of me; not all is lost in the realm of childhood franchise reboots.
Rating: 5 out of 5