Back in Green

The Muppets (January 20, 2012 – Lyric Screening in Blacksburg, VA)     4/5

Directed by James Bobin (Walt Disney Pictures)

It may not be easy being green, or human, for that matter, but damned if The Muppets doesn’t abide by the title of one of its several, newly written songs. Co-writer and star Jason Segel, director James Bobin, and over a dozen furry friends try more than their best to convince us that “Life’s a Happy Song,” while still drawing tears from life-long fans and inductees alike. The first Muppet film in 12 years, this Disney-distributed comedy-musical extravaganza is nearly as punny as the material was in the 70s and 80s, in addition to a compelling theme that not only pays tribute to the Jim Henson days, but is also hip enough for kids and parents to get in on the joke together.

Walter, a new Muppet, is the brother and best friend of flesh-and-bone Gary (Segel), as well as an avid fan of The Muppet Show since its humble origins. It is not until Walter accompanies Gary and his girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), to visit L.A. that he discovers how broken and unloved The Muppets have become. In fact, a ruthless millionaire, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), plans on tearing down Muppet Studios and digging for valuable oil underneath. The only solution is to raise $10 million via a Muppets reunion show. But first, Walter must convince his idol, Kermit the Frog, to reunite the whole gang – including Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, and his star-crossed lover, Miss Piggy. Meanwhile, Mary becomes jealous of Gary’s firm brotherhood with Walter, complicated by Walter’s desire to join the puppets who have always inspired him.

The self-reflective jokes are abundant, as is the irony that allows young children to develop a sense of humor. This I know firsthand. The Muppets obviously references several classic pieces of the Henson-era (and whips out a few side-splitting 70s jokes), but does attempt to freshen them up for a new audience. After all, there are cameos by the likes of Jack Black, Jim Parsons, and several others, as well as hilariously twisted covers of songs in the realm of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You.” But don’t worry grown-ups, Kermit does reprise that beautiful song of the movies, “The Rainbow Connection,” bringing tears to our eyes, once again. Meanwhile, the original songs, written by Flight of the Conchords‘ Brett McKenzie, are also terrifically witty, his ironic, reflective style of ballad-writing coming forth most clearly in “Man or Muppet,” nominated for an Oscar that it will likely win.

The Muppets is nostalgic, no doubt, but the desire to also be grounded in the 21st century, however necessary, could have been even better executed. Jack Black is surely a figure of modern pop culture, but has he really been relevant in the last few years? But I am grateful for the clever, heartfelt writing of Segel, who also provides laughs with his joyous overacting. Adams and Cooper are hilarious as well, but of course, the show belongs to Kermit and his cast of misfits. Walter may not be the most interesting Muppet in the world, but hey, he’s supposed to be your average, 3-foot bundle of fur. Yet the most successful component of The Muppets, which is utilized better than in all the other films, is the way it structurally provides each main character a challenge to overcome, intertwined with the general narrative.

Even more surprising, despite the self-consciously obvious humor, the film actually has quite a mature outlook on relationships, reminiscent of the work Segel did on his Judd Apatow-produced breakup comedy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Just as Gary must learn to accept love and let go of his brother, Walter must face the prospect of his dream and discover inner-talent. Kermit also faces the chance to heal his relationship with Piggy, simultaneous with the troupe’s comeback. Themes of belief and the power of togetherness actually hit home, as does the idea that the way you touch those around you is more important than the way you are viewed by “everybody.” If only Disney didn’t so avidly contradict itself, not afraid to prominently display a Cars 2 poster on the film’s visualization of the Sunset Strip. Some things never get old.

I’ve been a fan of Henson’s loveable creations from a very early age, and I find it fair to say that they helped define the way I laugh, something I can’t claim for several cartoons that were fervently watched by my 90s age group. Here, as 2011 has passed us by, The Muppets delivers that same intelligence and genuine love of life. Kids will be charmed by the songs, jokes, and energy because they are children. Adults will be moved because they feel like children once again. These are not happy times. In fact, they rarely are. That is why The Muppets will never disappear. In the case of their latest endeavor, these fuzzy creatures will put a smile on your face that is hard to remove. When you buy a ticket, you simply guarantee yourself a greater level of happiness than when you walked in. That is why, over 25 years ago, Henson created something both universal and eternal. His characters provide something we all want and will always need. As Kermit and Walter agree, (at a close third behind children and ice cream) laughter is truly the world’s greatest gift. For young and old, man or muppet.

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2 Comments

  1. It’s still not out in The Netherlands, but think it will be next week. Can’t wait to see it. Saw the commercial for it on TV this week and it brought a smile to my face.

    • It’s a lot of fun … hope you enjoy it!


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