WordPress is telling me that no one clicked the link I made to my The Dome UA blog post dealing with the review of this film… and I once again was unable to write out something BEFORE I went to work… so I’ve decided to make my inaugural “Big Screen Ballyhoo” post and give you all the review of “The Muppets” here. Also, I remind you, if you have a suggestion for a movie or series of movies for me to watch, Christmas themed or otherwise, let me know. Right now, the vote is for every Woody Allen film in chronological order.
…you can save me from that fate and change it to ANYTHING ELSE.
Anyway… the review.
When I was first informed of a possible new Muppets film coming out, I was decently excited. I heard about the endeavor around a year ago, when the title was supposedly going to be “The Greatest Muppet Film Of All Time.” Kanye West references aside… I can’t say that’s terribly inaccurate.
The Muppets, as a group, have a long, storied history. Jim Henson started creating the new style of puppetry and revealing it at large in the mid-1950s. Jim Henson’s creations could be seen in the early days of “Saturday Night Live” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Since then, his creations and genius have travelled across many media.
I grew up with Jim Henson’s creations. While Henson died only two years after I was born, I still watched “Sesame Street” often. I had VHS tapes of the TV shows “Fraggle Rock” and “Dinosaurs” and watched them often. I also had “The Muppet Movie,” “The Great Muppet Caper,” “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” “Follow That Bird,” “The Dark Crystal” and the three live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films, all of which were touched by Jim Henson’s creations. Not to mention Yoda, the only little green Muppet that could possible give a certain other little green Muppet a run for his money in a contest of “most recognizable Muppet.”
Recently, around the time of taking up the endeavor to watch the six theatrically released Muppet feature films for this blog, I started to watch “The Muppet Show,” which my sister had purchased recently on a whim. And it confirmed to me that the Muppets have always been genius.
Muppets in their many-fold forms have been a constant, formative part of my childhood and even my adult life. The music, the humor, the emotion, the teaching… the entire Muppety package. And “The Muppets” delivers it all.
Not to say the film didn’t run into problems initially. When word got out that one of the last still living original Muppeteers Frank Oz, the voice of Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy, would not be part of the project because he disagreed with the characterizations of the Muppets, worry seeped in. Oz had been around from the beginning. His approval carries weight, and his disapproval carries with it a sense of dread.
Add in that the film was being co-written and starred in by somewhat crass funny-man Jason Segel, known best for going full monty in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” which he also wrote and starred in, co-written by Nicholas Stoller, who directed “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and directed by James Bobin, who helped create the Sasha Baron Cohen characters Borat, Bruno and Ali G, people were worried about whether or not the film could keep the Muppets close to their gentler, purer, but still pointed and aware, humor.
But these are men that grew up with “The Muppet Show” and other Muppet adventures, just as I did. And they treated the first Muppet theatrical release in 12 years with the respect and care it deserved.
The voices are different, sure. They would be, considering the only original Muppeteer in the movie is Gonzo’s David Goelz. But if you look through the original material, you’ll find that almost all of the Muppets went through some major changes in voice. While the differences may seem odd, the voices aren’t what keeps the Muppets pure. The characters are all exactly what you know and love.
But “The Muppets” takes an interesting step away from the traditional Muppet style. As the poster should indicate, the story is actually taking its focus away from the Muppets as a group and putting it on the newest Muppet Walter, his brother Gary (Segel) and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams). Humans have been villains and supporting characters for most of the films. Even where humans took the forefront, such as in literary interpretations “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Muppet Treasure Island,” somehow the story still seemed to be about the Muppets putting on a show.
But this movie is like a love letter written to the Muppets by fans, a movie in which the two biggest Muppet fans seek out the Muppets to encourage them to return to glory and save their history. You don’t even see one of the original Muppets until probably about 15 minutes and a long, introductory musical number (or three, depending on how you split it up) in.
The movie is very self-aware, as the best Muppet films (“The Muppet Movie,” “The Great Muppet Caper” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol” if you were wondering) are. It is self-aware in how it breaks the fourth wall, but even the premise is aware of exactly how long we have been without a strong Muppet presence.
But even if humans are at the front of the story, we still don’t lose the Muppets’ charm, humor and, at times, emotional depth. The movie bucks tradition once more by actually presenting both original musical numbers, written by “Flight of the Conchords” member Bret McKenzie, and, when by itself in “Muppets From Space” was something I thought was a mistake, covers and “unoriginal” music. But McKenzie’s music stands out to be at times just as heartfelt and touching as “The Rainbow Connection,” and at other times just as gaspingly hilarious as any Muppets endeavor tends to be.
While the movie strongly references “The Muppet Show,” meaning some nuances might be lost on a younger audience, the movie does not lean on them. It leans on the power of the Muppets as a group and their ability to bring both laughter and tears over and over again in the same event.
I really want to just burst out and tell you all the wonderful juicy details, all of the jokes and cameos and songs… but not only would that cheapen the experience, I would also be wholly unable to repeat the glorious performances from both human and Muppet present in this film. This movie is, by far, my favorite movie in years. Perhaps not as poignant and gripping as something like “The Social Network” or “The King’s Speech,” but it still stands out to me as a champion of comedy and cinematic greatness. I watched it twice in theaters, and I would watch it again. (Also, there’s this really cute/funny “Toy Story” based short at the beginning that’s worth seeing.)
This is my favorite Muppet movie. And it well deserves the title. Fans and non-fans alike will fall in love with this film. Families will laugh together. Some moments will touch your heart, others will have you on the floor. I feel like I’m repeating myself, but it cannot be said enough how delightful and amazing this movie is.
Watch this movie. Watch it now. And be amazed by the way you will feel during and after the film.