The Muppets keeps it old-school, bringing back the clever self-referential humor and endearing moments that made the fuzzy friends a beloved institution, as the old gang re-unites to save their studio from a rich oil tycoon. Synchronized dancing and catchy tunes carry audiences through one and half hours of pure family entertainment, a slew of fun celebrity cameos, and cinematic proof that the muppets are still relevant in today’s modern world.
Funnyman Jason Segel and his muppet pals stay true to their past, peppering in as many inside jokes and dated pop culture references as a child of the ’80s could wish for. Things might have changed in the world since the muppets had their heyday, but The Muppets is a reminder that old fashioned laughs never go out of style.
The iconic Kermit is back, along with his porcine love Miss Piggy, and the rest of the gang. Only they, like the rest of the world, have all moved on from the nostalgic moments of the original The Muppets Show. Kermit lives alone in a grand Hollywood mansion, and Miss Piggy is working in Paris for Vogue magazine.
Gonzo has traded the cape and the crazy stunts for a suit and his own plumbing company. Worse than anything, joke-cracking Fozzie Bear has joined a band called The Moopets, which features some alter egos in place of the original muppets, like a chain-smoking black-haired Piggy.
A new character enters the halls of muppet mythology, an average joe every-puppet named Walter. Walter and Gary (Segel) are brothers and best buds, only Walter is different than everyone else; he’s a living puppet. Gary and Walter are inseparable growing up, and The Muppets opens with a colorful montage of cute family moments between the two brothers.
Now the two brothers are all grown up; Gary has a long-term relationship with his innocent sweetheart Mary, though he still lives with Walter. As Gary and Mary’s 10-year anniversary approaches, the two plan a trip to Hollywood; and of course Walter is invited.
Walter’s dream for years and years has been to see the muppets in person. He’s their number one fan, and when Gary tells him of their trip to Hollywood and the chance to visit the original The Muppets Studio, Walter is beside himself with excitement.
But the reality is a little shabbier than the dream, and Walter finds a dilapidated studio that is a sad semi-deserted tour destination without any actual muppets anymore. As he tours the grounds, he overhears the devious plans of wealthy oil tycoon Tex Richman, who plans on buying the studio and destroying it to drill for the oil beneath.
Walter decides to appeal to Kermit the Frog himself, and once Kermie knows of the plan, he decides to get the gang back together to save the muppets’ legacy. It’s harder than anyone suspects to round everyone up, but through another colorful and sing-songy montage, the muppets re-group and decide to put on a telethon to raise the money to buy the studio back and save their name.
Segel co-wrote The Muppets with long-time collaborator Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek), so one might assume a silly and bawdy R-rated take on the classic characters. Fortunately, Segel’s admitted love for the muppets allowed him to put aside sick jokes and bathroom humor for a funny yet innocent screenplay reminiscent of earlier muppets’ movies. Segel’s reverence for the muppets kept the film authentic and true to the characters.
This film is not so much an updating of the muppets, but an homage to the classics. We do get a brand new muppet in Walter, but his character is like the culmination of all things muppet instead of a new take on them. Walter is a little different, like all the muppets, and just looking for a place to belong.
The Muppets is delightfully self-referential and meta, and when the muppets aren’t cracking jokes at their own expense, then they’re making fun of the movie itself. This self-referential shtick isn’t quite refreshing (given that self-awareness is a muppets institution), but it does add an inviting whimsy.
Flight of the Conchords composer Bret McKenzie worked as the music supervisor, so the song and dance numbers have a clever catchiness reminiscent of some of the witty tunes featured on that TV series. Some songs strayed a little too far into campy territory, but given the sometimes silly whimsy of the film, this campiness was not a detractor.
James Bobin, who was the writer/director of Flight of the Conchords, helmed The Muppets. If you are a fan of that quirky comedy TV series, you’ll probably appreciate The Muppets‘ zany musicality. He brought a sort of purposeful amateurism to the film too, a style that works brilliantly when half the cast is cloth puppets.
Then there was the great cast of cameo and celebrity guest stars. They popped up as regularly as Fozzie’s terrible jokes. From Sarah Silverman to Jack Black to Zach Galifianakis, the comedy celeb sightings augmented a great core cast.
Segel stars, with Amy Adams playing the innocent girlfriend and Chris Cooper stealing the show as the fabulously funny oil tycoon. Not only does Cooper deliver an over-the-top villain, but he is uber hip as he nails an impromptu rapping session while verbally torturing his two muppet henchman.
And of course we can’t forget the voice talents that brought the muppets to life just like we all remember. Steve Whitmire, who has been the familiar voice of the honest green frog Kermit for 20 years, returns to do the honors. He also covered Beaker and Rizzo. Eric Jacobson does a flawless Miss Piggy (yes, for those that didn’t know it, she is voiced by a male actor), as well as Fozzie, Animal, and a few others. Peter Linz voices the newest muppet, Walter. Bill Barretta (another long term muppets voice actor) played Swedish Chef, the Latino lothario Pepe the Prawn, and Rowlf.
The Muppets brings back the old magic, and I found this installment in the franchise one of the best I’ve seen. It’s updated, but not modernized (a refreshing outcome given the Segel-Stoller partnership and the propensity to “modernize” iconic institutions to death). If you see any movie this holiday break, make it a whimsical visit with the muppets.