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The Muppets Review

muppets-2011-movie-jason-segel
RATING:
(3 STARS)

It’s hard to make the argument that The Muppets is a kids movie. It’s certainly family-friendly, but the film will work best for those, like me, who grew up loving Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, and the rest of the gang. It’s like a reunion of old friends, and though you don’t have to know everyone to go to and enjoy the party, the best time will be had by those with lots of fond memories.

That’s because this is a somewhat problematic film. It’s clear now that one of the strengths of the older Muppets movies is that the focus is squarely on the Muppets themselves. In the 2011 film, we spend too much time with Jason Segel and Amy Adams, who are fine actors and perfectly adequate here, but I felt like a child ready to throw a temper tantrum: “I want Kermit and I want him NOW!”

Segel and Adams play Gary and Mary, two incomprehensibly happy individuals from Smalltown, USA. Gary’s brother is Walter, who’s the world’s biggest Muppets fan, perhaps because he’s, in fact, made of felt himself. Gary and Mary are planning a trip to Los Angeles for their tenth anniversary, and Gary decides to bring Walter along so he can finally see the old Muppet Theater. Unfortunately, it’s in a state of total disrepair when they get there, and Walter accidentally overhears billionaire Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) discuss his plans to destroy the grounds and drill for oil. As a last-ditch effort to save the place that brought him so much laughter and joy, he tracks down Kermit who agrees to try to put together a reunion telethon that just might raise the $10 million needed to save the theater. But will his old friends be onboard?

Like all Muppets entities, this film is very meta. As Kermit, Gary, and company hit the road to pick up the other Muppets, someone remarks, “This would go a lot faster if we did it by montage.” When they need to cover an unrealistic distance in a short about of time, they opt to “travel by map.” And when Gary has to explain why the flowers he picked up for Mary got squashed, he blames it on the dance number he was just in. Stuff like this is a riot. It’s when the issues of the Gary/Mary/Walter triangle come up that the film loses some of its spark.

The actual Muppets stuff, of course, is all gold. After Kermit agrees to attempt Walter’s plan, they travel to Reno to get Fozzie, who’s doing a show with a group called the Moopets—essentially a Bizarro World-version of the Muppets headed by a really gruff Miss Piggy lookalike. Then, there’s Gonzo, who runs his own plumbing empire. Animal is in a celebrity anger management center along with his sponsor, Jack Black (who has a much larger and hilarious role later in the film). And my man Rowlf is just chilling on a hammock, ready as always to tickle the ivories.

Black, unsurprisingly, isn’t the only cameo. Chris Cooper is perhaps larger than a cameo, but he’s hilarious as the villain. He also has the best new musical number in the film, a rap about how great and rich he is. Neil Patrick Harris gets a funny line, as does Whoopi Goldberg. Alan Arkin plays the groundskeeper at the Muppet Theater early in the film to great effect. Each and every star that pops up is clearly having fun, and Segel and director James Bobin are clearly more than happy to integrate them all in somehow.

Muppets fans will likely shed a few tears over the gang’s finale to the telethon, as well as during Kermit’s lovely motivational speech to rally his troops. Those involved with this film clearly have a great deal of respect for both Jim Henson’s legacy and the audience who adored these characters for decades. They also manage to make a film that’s more modern and clever. So despite it’s flaws, I’ll treasure The Muppets, because it was a blast spending 90 new minutes with old friends.

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