If it's crap ... We'll tell you
It has been just over a decade since The Muppets last hit the silver screen. In fact, the last time the "mop-puppets" portmanteau were together in a new project was the 2005 tv movie The Muppets' Wizard of Oz starring Ashanti. I'd like you all to absorb that for a moment. Needless to say, I'm what one would call a muppets fan and was excited to attend an early screening of the film at Henson's alma mater, the University of Maryland, and very much enjoyed the experience.
The presentation began with the Pixar short "Small Fry" featuring the characters from the Toy Story series. The plot here is the same as the other: toy gets lost; must get back home. Bonnie from Toy Story 3 has accidentally left Buzz in a ball pit of a fast food restaurant and an imposter, in the form of an overzealous Buzz Lightyear meal toy, takes his place. Along the way, the real Buzz has a run-in with a support group of discarded meal toys made of characters like Neptuna, Tae-Kwon Doe [deer pun], a T-Bone (a steak transformer), Blue Jay DJ [scratch-scratch] and many more. It's a 10 minute short that had more heart and genuine laughs than all of Cars 2. Even the credits, containing ridiculous combo meals like a chicken mace, put me in a good mood to see the feature presentation. In fact, that "good mood" is the best way to describe my overall experience that night.
The Muppets is a crowd-pleasing time that accomplishes what should be expected. It's an ode to that twilight between Vaudeville and the variety show era that the Muppets established so many decades ago. The plot is simple and follows Gary (Jason Segel), Mary (Amy Adams) and Gary's brother Walt (a muppet). Walt always struggled with finding his place as he grew up and idolized The Muppets as child and into adulthood. Gary and Mary have been dating for 10 years and decide to spend their anniversary in Hollywood. Gary invites his brother along so that Walt can have the chance to visit the Muppet Studios which they discover has seen better days. Sneaking away fro the tour, Walt discovers that Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is buying the property and plans to rip the building down in an oil-drilling scheme. Gary, Walt and Mary find Kermit and tell him that the only way to save the studio is to raise $10 million to buy the property. Of course, the only way to do this is to get the band back together and put on a show.
Yes, it's a cliched "save the rec center" type of story and it works. It just feels right. The simplicity here is something that must be accepted in order to enjoy this experience. Those who expect depth here likely have never seen a Muppets movie before and are entitled to be dismissive here. But, give it a chance and you'll find a semblance of the same satisfied pleasure from watching cartoons as a kid. It's a different kind of joy to derive than watching cartoons today. There is a B-story involving Mary feeling like an afterthought in Gary's relationship with his brother, but you figured that out from the synopsis alone, didn't you?
"How are the Muppets?", you may ask. They are all there, in felt and wiring, with only a little bit of CG. Kermity, Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, the Electric Mayhem, Beaker and Honeydew, Sweedish Chef and all the others show up. Though, and this is a personal gripe, Rizzo needs more love. The main cast does get the necessary back-story for what they've been doing over the years. Fozzy is in a Muppets cover band in Reno called the Moopets, Gonzo is "powerful plumbing magnate" and Piggy is an editor for Vogue magazine in Paris. Now, why Kermit, Gonzo and Piggy can't just sell some stuff to buy back the studio is an oversight, but that's me being anal about things like plot.
As expected, the movie is wrought with musical numbers and cameo appearances. Most of them are actually clever, well-choreographed and funny. There is one rap sequence that left incapable of movement for a few moments out of sheer discomfort, but that was the joke. It is a mercifully short song though and the reactions to it by the other characters matched my own for added hilarity. The opening number "Life's a Happy Song" and "Man or Muppet" are highlights As for the cameos, they are aplenty but many of them are so brief that they're gone by the time you've recalled their names. They may not add anything to get celebrities to do walk-on roles but it does add to the atmosphere for this era of entertainment. At any moment, I would not have been surprised if Bob Hope rose from the dead to deliver milk or something.
I make it a rule of thumb to judge a film for what it is. I would not judge what what makes a cat, or a dog or an elephant a good pet by their ability to climb a tree. The same goes for movies. A comedy should not be held to the same rubric as drama or a horror film. The Muppets make for a strange animal though. It is, in a sense its own thing (as much of a cop-out as that sounds). Ultimately though, the movie gave me the third greatest gift that there is: laughter. You'll have to see the movie to get the first two (or ask. Even parts that I would not like got pulled off better than I expected while watching them. For instance, there is a search for a celebrity host that made me audibly groan when they chose the "star" to do it (you would agree with me) that turned out okay because the host in question got tortured I'd like to believe that the writers, Segal and Nicholas Stoller were thinking about me here.
Despite some gratuitous Car 2 advertising (we get it, Disney owns Pixar, Muppets and baby tears), I got what I wanted from a movie I expected to be passable. The Muppets is like an old warm blanket that just got thoroughly washed, but has not lost its shape comfort. If you're a muppets fan, it's a must-see if only to either behold or complain. To non-fans, give it a shot. It does not offend and has a charm about it that is virtually inescapable. "Life's a filet of fish" and can't wait for this one to go wide so I can share the wealth of jokes that no else will get. It's time to punch...teacher! See? Nothing.