How do I start this review? The Muppets is a wonderful movie. There; that’s my start. Not only is it a wonderful movie, but it is an important movie. Pop Culture of late has reinforced the idea that the only comedy is cynical comedy. Many TV shows and movies fall in line with this, and in turn we as viewers follow suit. The Muppets acknowledges the change in the times, questioning its own relevance in a world where kids would rather watch a show called “Punch Teacher” (A fictional TV show in the movie that is exactly what it sounds like) than spend some earnest time with our family of felt friends. The film succeeds at doing what the franchise has always been good at: singing and joking its way to its audience’s heart. The opening number with newcomer Muppet Walter and Gary (played by Jason Segel) is as good as any Muppet musical score that has come before this point. It put a whimsical smile on my face in a way that I couldn’t recall since Amy Adams (also in The Muppets) did in Disney’s Enchanted back in 2007.
The plot of the movie is fairly standard. Walter is somewhat of an outcast, a Muppet living in a human world. He is also the biggest fan of the Muppets, and jumps at the chance to travel to The Muppet Studios in California with brother Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams.) Upon arriving however, we see that the studio and theater are run down and about to fall into the hands of Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who much to Fox News’ dismay is an evil oil baron. What follows is the go-for-broke plan of getting the band back together to save the theater. This being of course because The Muppets have all gone their separate ways in the past decade or so; (In my opinion because they were all ashamed of 1999’s Muppets From Space, but I digress.) Throw in a few different set locations and classic Henson-esque meta-textual self-awareness, and you’ve got the latest great Muppet movie.
The critical success of the film is in no small part due to star Jason Segel, who co-wrote the film’s script himself. What I realized early on into viewing was that the movie was so enjoyable because it was a Muppet movie made for Muppet fans BY a Muppet fan; and a skilled fan at that, which is the key ingredient. The great part of new Muppet Walter, Segel’s own creation, is that he fits right in with the rest of the Muppet cast. I kept waiting for him to “Jar Jar Binks it” but he never did. New Muppets have been introduced before, to a far less successful extent. For example, 1996 Muppets Tonight creations Pepe the Prawn and Bobo the Bear are only used sparingly in The Muppets, while fellow Muppets Tonight regular Clifford (who I think was a Muppet version of a squid/Bob Marley lovechild?) is nowhere to be seen. Another endearing aspect of the film is its musical numbers. The show’s opener and theme “Life’s A Happy Song” is a catchy tune written by Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKinzie, while Jason Segel and Walter delve into existential waters with “Man or Muppet” and a song that seems to have been written merely for Amy Adams to showcase her talent (alongside Miss Piggy) is “Me Party.”
Does The Muppets prove that Kermit and his pals are still relevant? The humor of the Muppets has always bordered on the self-deprecating, but never crosses the line into self-destruction. Can “Laugh With” mentality overcome the ever popular “Laugh At” mentality? I suppose the film believes so, but ultimately Disney will have the answer to that particular question; meaning if we will see future Muppet adventures or not. With a wide cast of characters of varying levels of zaniness and mania, the Muppets have always embraced and celebrated diversity. As long as there are weirdos like Gonzo and people that can find their own brand of “It’s not easy being green,” I don’t think it will be that hard to sing along with “Life’s (a) Happy Song.”
Final Grade: A