[Review] - The Muppets

Photos courtesy Disney, via The Muppet Wiki.

Lets get something straight. The Muppets never went away. Despite what the PR campaign for the latest Muppet movie may have suggested, Kermit and Co. have been around since 1976 and have never been far. Certainly, since their purchase by Disney in the early days of the millennium, they've been relegated to B-star status, appearing in a seemingly endless string of half-assed made-for-TV specials, and appearances on Hollywood Squares. But they were there, all the same, just waiting for the right kind of magic to come alone.

Long breaks between Muppet films isn't anything new either. Certainly, at 12 years, this break has been the longest. But, like good comedy and celebrity deaths, the Muppets tend to come in threes. 79, 81 and 84 were the originals, what you might call the Henson Trilogy, made when the man himself was still alive, and the Muppets were at their peak. Fast forward to 92, 96, and 99, and the rebirth of the Muppets. This era saw the Muppets adapt classic works, a logical career move in what we must remember are theatre performers. This period also saw their (brief) return to TV with Muppets Tonight. And then, as Disney took over, and uncertainty loomed, they faded into the memories of those of us who still get teary-eyed when we hear those first couple notes of Rainbow Connection. Kids, at best, might have caught Muppets From Space, easily the weakest of the films, on cable on a lazy Sunday, but have no emotional connection to these frogs, and bears, and chickens and things (these children also have terrible parents, who clearly have not been teaching them the important things in life). And clearly, some people forgot about them.

But not Walter. Read the full review, after the jump.

Walter is the first brilliant thing about The Muppets, a movie filled with brilliant things. Jason Segal and Nick Stoller keep it simple, taking the Muppets back to their roots, being just nostalgic enough to keep those of us in the audience who do remember, teary eyed, but not so much to alienate all the new viewers, who have never met these characters.

And that is the brilliance of Walter. He's the audience surrogate, someone who has spent his life loving the Muppets on TV and in film, collecting the memorabilia and (exquisite) Palisades action figures, and lamenting that they are gone. Difference being, he's a Muppet himself, one we've never met before, so he's also the best way to introduce the universe to anyone new. And, assuming he sticks around, he's the tether that new viewers can follow, until they don't need a guide anymore.

The story, as I said, keeps it simple, borrowing from across the Muppets' career, but most heavily from the original series, and the Henson Trilogy, since those are the heart and soul of the Muppets. Gary wants to meet the Muppets, but is disturbed to discover that they have broken up and drifted away. So, Gary (Jason Segal) and Mary (Amy Adams) in tow, he and Kermit seek to reunite the gang. The villain, like in the original, is an evil industrialist (Chris Cooper), because the Muppets like their bad guys with about as much complexity as a Bond villain. See something, want it, destroy those who get in the way.

The weakest point of the movie is the over reliance on human characters, which is odd, because they're the most underdeveloped. Amy Adams, clearly chosen for her singing ability rather than the ability to inhabit the character, is wasted, disappearing for huge chunks of the film, and not really being there when she is on screen. And every moment Jason Segal is around, in largely Muppetless scenes, I couldn't help but feel that it was time that should have been spent on the main characters.

It's not to say that the Muppets aren't the focus. Despite it being some time into the movie before Kermit shows up, once he does, it's all on him. Each Muppet gets their fair share of time, though I think the lessening of Gonzo and Piggy and the substantial upgrades to The Swedish Chef and Animal might have been the subtle hand of the Disney marketing department at work. Almost completely gone too are any Muppets that weren't part of the original core cast. Rizzo the Rat, who found his greatest success paired with Gonzo (and whom I believe is one of the best Muppet pairings, up there with Bert and Ernie, and Bunsen and Beaker) in the adaptations, has only a single cameo appearance, and not a single line, a slap in the face to a wonderful character. Even Pepe, the loved and loathed refugee from the Tonight show, gets a cameo. All the Muppets are back though, in one way or another. Characters that had been retired (Scooter, Rowlf, etc.) because of the passing of their originators return, and gods, you never realized how much they were missed. Rowlf gets the best line of the movie, as far as I'm concerned, during the hilarious "Gathering Montage".

The movie leaves its mark on the Muppets franchise. Add "Life's a Happy Song" to the list of great Muppet music (and all the music hear is classic, thanks to Flight of the Concords, and Academy Award winner Bret McKenzie). Add '80s Robot to fantastic minor Muppet characters. From a business point of view, add profit and critical success to a cast of characters that many probably thought ancient history. Enough to get us the first Muppets trilogy of the new millennium? Considering that a sequel is already in the works, I think it's probably likely. Personally, I'd like to see the "Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made" get put into production, if only because it was the last script Jim Henson had a hand in, and to see his name on the screen with the Muppets again is only good, and right and decent.

And then there is 'the feeling'. The feeling of sitting back and watching them do it all again. The Muppet Show theme, in its entirety, completely re staged. Rainbow Connection, with backing vocals. Even 'Pictures in my Head', a new song, easily could have been called 'Kermit's Lament', taking the viewer on a painful walk down a literal memory lane, calling back every pratfall and bad pun, every heckle and dance number. Every special guest star and celebrity cameo. For the new viewer, the poignancy is lost. For those of us who love them, it is beautiful.

Gee, it's just good to be together again.

The Muppets is available today on DVD, and other formats, at many fine retailers. Do yourself a favour and go get it.

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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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