If you are of a certain age… specifically mine (around 40-ish)… the words “it’s time to play the music… it’s time to light the lights…” will inevitably bring a smile to your face… your mind will instantaneously fill in the rest of the song “… it’s time to meet the Muppets, on the Muppet Show tonight!”… and your memories will dart back to watching the original Muppet Show and their original film The Muppet Movie in the late 70’s. As Jim Henson’s adult puppet outreach project, The Muppets were his offshoots from Sesame Street and the prime time answer for parents and their children. Today, after Henson’s death and The Muppets acquisition by Disney, their fate looked consigned to the dust bin of childhood laughter and quaint artifacts of our “wonder years”.
When I first heard of Jason Segel’s plan to revive the franchise with a new movie, I was terrified. Yes, I allowed myself to utter the phrase, “please don’t ruin my childhood memories” when my memories are perfectly fine and not in any danger of being erased due to a crappy movie. Lord knows, the Muppets put out quite a bit of crap throughout the 80’s and 90’s, but this felt different… knowing Disney could really tamper with something as wonderful as the Muppets without Jim Henson’s direction and guidance seemed dirty in some way… wrong. Jason Segel? The dude who bared his wang in Forgetting Sarah Marshall? The Muppets? Really?
Then, I heard Amy Adams was attached. I felt better immediately.
Then, I heard they were introducing a new Muppet… Walter. Terrified again.
Then, I saw the teaser trailer. I was happy again.
Then, there was a flood of funny cross-over posters and trailers for films like Twilight and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo… and although hilarious… made me nervous. See, I have this little theory about how much pre-release promotional material (featurettes, making of’s, interviews with cast, mulitple appearances on multiple shows, and most telling… any new material filmed for the trailer specifically) comes out and the ratio between that amount and the crapitude of said movie. For instance, how many featurettes and interviews did you see for Super 8? None. How many for The Last Airbender? A constant stream. Case closed.
It was this flood, coupled with the idea of a new Muppet that had me concerned… it was finally watching The Muppets that put my mind at ease. From the moment it begins to its final frame, I was wrapped in a warm Snuggieof unadulterated joy and emotion. It wasn’t quite the Muppets of my childhood… but it was the Muppets of now, and the Muppets for my kids. Fortunately, I had already steeped their impressionable little minds in countless episodes of the TV show on DVD and of course the original Muppet Movie, so the number of 70’s and early 80’s cultural references weren’t completely wasted on them. They may not know Dom DeLuise by name, but they certainly know him appearance, thanks to a fateful encounter with a particular little banjo playing frog.
Walter, the newest Muppet, is Gary’s (Jason Segel) brother. An opening montage shows us their lives together; bonding over the Muppets, going to see the movie, and ultimately, Gary getting bigger and Walter always staying the same size. Fortunately, we never have to deal with any quibbles regarding fraternal possibilities with one human brother and the other felt… but sadly, Walter isn’t really moving on. He and Gary are inseparable… which may be a problem for Gary’s love interest, Mary (the always lovely and beautiful Amy Adams), the high school shop teacher with a knack for the mechanical. When it comes time for Gary and Mary to go to L.A. for their 10th anniversary, Gary can’t leave Walter behind, and they head from Smalltown to the big city with plans to visit the Muppet Studios and take the tour.
It’s at this point when we are treated to the first of many new songs created for the movie, as well as a number of cameos that are either blink or you miss them type of cameos (Leslie Feist and Mickey Rooney early on) or stretched out in key scenes as is the Muppet way. Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords supervised the music for the film and if you are a fan, you can recognize all sorts of musical beats and cues that are pure Conchords, especially a brief rap later in the film that almost made me bust out my best Hiphopopotomus. All of the music feels perfectly placed and never forced. There may not be any certifiable hits such as The Rainbow Connection (which makes an appearance) or Moving Right Along, but each new song adds something to the forward momentum of the story and brings on that stupid grin I get when tapping into my joy gland (it’s a real thing… seriously… located inside your pituitary gland… really*). My only complaint would be that I would have enjoyed seeing more from the cameos than most got, but hey… can’t please everyone.
Upon arrival at the Muppet Studios, Walter discovers the plot… errr… plan by Mr. Richman of Richman Oil (subtle) to take over the Studios and drill for newfound oil!!! Cue maniacal laughter (as stated by Mr. Richman himself for an ongoing gag)! Walter fills Gary and Mary in on what he has discovered and the hunt is on for the hermit-like Kermit the Frog.
This is where things get interesting. The reality of now is imbedded in every frame of this movie. The fact that the Muppets are artifacts is essential to the story… the Show hasn’t happened in thirty years… Kermit and the gang haven’t seen each other in all that time… and something sad has happened to the Frog… where is Miss Piggy? But the Studios will be lost forever unless Kermit can get the Muppets back together for one last telethon to raise ten million dollars… and after some soul searching and ridiculously touching musical numbers, Kermit gets his mojo back and together with 80’s Robot (another fantastic running gag), they head out to put on the Show!
Going any further into the plot would be criminal of me (although I am craving one of those ‘and do you remember this… and that… and what about that’ session with someone who has seen it)… needless to say at this point, the film is a resounding success. Full of happiness, great wit and humor, a nod to the more adult nature of the original program and an embrace of the youngest… The Muppets pulls off on of the greatest comebacks imaginable. Not only was I laughing at so many points (a family behind ours felt the need to laugh at every 42nd frame or so… laughing at undeserved moments lessens the great ones), I found myself welling up and allowing a tear or two to roll down my face in at least two scenes. Hits the funny bone and the soft tender emotional spots and leaves you whistling out the theater.
If there is any part of you that is still nine years old, treat yourself to The Muppets. You know you want to…
It’s time to put on make-up…
Cornelius J. Blahg
* For the record, no, that is not real.