There are few things I love in this world more than The Muppets. Friends and family excluded, I rank the creations of Jim Henson up there with pretty much all of the greatest things in life. So it always saddened me a little when the property fell into disrepair and disuse for the better part of the last two decades. I've been hoping for a revitalization for, well, maybe half my life. I am proud to announce that Muppets are once again vital.
Writers Nick Stoller and Jason Segel, and director James Bobin bring a lifetime of love, passion, and enthusiasm to The Muppets. From the moment the first musical number begins, you can tell that Jason Segel (in the lead human role) is living a dream come true. Everyone involved in the movie appears to be having a blast, and giving it their all, and their joy is infectious.
The Muppets follows Gary (Segel) and his brother Walter. Walter has always been different. He stopped growing at age 7, he's small and fuzzy. He never knew how to relate to his world. That is, until the day he saw The Muppets on TV. From that day forth, he was The Muppets' biggest fan. When Gary and his girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams) are planning a trip to Hollywood for their 10th anniversary, they invite Walter along, so he can visit Muppet Studios.
Unfortunately, when they get there, the once glorious studio is now abandoned and decrepit, all of the locations in the tour are closed "for repair". Sneaking off into Kermit's old office, Walter overhears an evil oil millionaire (Chris Cooper) plans to tear down the studios and dig for oil there. Walter, Gary, and Mary decide that the only way they can save the studio is to reunite the Muppets and have them put on one last show.
What follows is what you would hope for in a Muppet movie. Endless gags and vaudevillian banter, big, moving musical numbers, celebrity cameos, and a hilarious and disarming self awareness that tells you that even the characters are aware that they are in a movie and that the narrative is bound by certain rules.
I loved the musical numbers. The new songs were written by Bret McKenzie of the musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords (whose show was co-created by Muppets director Bobin). They're clever, catchy, and silly in much the same fashion as the Conchords songs are. And the old songs are, well, there are a few old Muppet favorites in there, and I have to say, I teared up when they came on. Sorry I'm such a dork. I teared up a lot during the movie.
Bobin, Segel, and Stoller's love for the characters comes through, too. They give everybody a moment, including many of the more obscure characters that only geeks like me know the names of. They bumped up the role of Uncle Deadly, the cool looking dragon character usually only seen in brief Muppet Show gags, and gave him a little dimension for the first time. While Segel and Adams were welcome additions, I hope that now that we've been reintroduced to the Muppets, any possible future Muppet movies will be able to shift attention away from the human leads and back onto the Muppets where they belong. In the old movies, the humans were reserved for villain roles and cameos.
I enjoyed the movie a great deal, but it wasn't quite the same as Henson's Muppet movies. The energy was different. The difference was especially noticeable with Kermit. Steve Whitmire, the performer who operates Kermit, doesn't have Henson's distinctive hand acting. Obviously, he has his own. Kermit is still endlessly earnest and hopeful, but I kept waiting for him to have the frantic, frazzled energy that Kermit gets when he is trying to run his show, and keep everything from falling apart at any given moment while he's surrounded by so many loose cannons (figurative and literal cannons when Gonzo is around). That Kermit never arrives. Still, he was a good Kermit, it's just got to be tough under the shadow of Henson.
I am so happy that this group got The Muppets right. I want a whole new generation of children to see this movie for the first time and react to it the same way Walter and I did when we first encountered Kermit and the gang. There's still a month to go, but when all is said and done, I'm fairly positive The Muppets is going to be my favorite movie of the year. There just aren't enough movies with such unabashed joy and positivity out there anymore.