I think it’s important to begin this review by letting everyone know that, when it comes to the Muppets, I’m a little biased. I grew up in a Muppet household, where the centerpiece of my family room is an autographed picture of Jim Henson and most shelves are lined with Rowlf the Dog mugs and Gonzo statuettes. Years later, my commentary has occasionally appeared on a Muppets fan site. Suffice it to say that, for my whole life, The Muppet Show has been my not-very-secret guilty pleasure, the show that’s the dominant cause of my quirky sense of humor and bizarre style. So it stands to reason that The Muppets was basically a movie made with me in mind. I’ll open this review by saying that I really loved it. Really. And I want to stress that, unless you hate fun, you’ll love it as well.
This film, written by Jason Segel and directed by James Bobin of Flight of the Conchords, tells the story of three Muppet fans who, in order to save the Muppet Theater, have to get Kermit and the gang back together so they can put on a show.
You remember Kermit’s friends, right? Fozzie! Gonzo! Piggy! Man, just typing those names makes me excited! Okay. No fanboying. I told myself not to fanboy here. But seriously! Beaker! Rowlf! Scooter! These guys are like my best friends! But if you don’t have this reaction, that’s okay. The Muppets knows that you probably won’t, and does a fairly good job of reintroducing these characters. Don’t worry if, unlike me, you don’t know Behemoth or Thog. You’ll still enjoy yourself.
Of course, when written out like this, The Muppets appears a little generic, dangerously so. The film has the same plot as The Blues Brothers, and in even bigger ways, the same plot as 2002’s box office flop The Country Bears. And, let’s face it: typing “Beary Bearington” doesn’t make anyone happy. The difference is that The Muppets plays up these clichés to the best effect possible, and as a result it is a genuinely clever movie. The film embraces the adorable kitsch of old 1970s and 1980s comedies, a loving tribute to the musicals we all grew up with. Unlike other childhood reboots, like The Smurfs or Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Muppets isn’t trying to be hip or modern. Rap music, pop culture references, and unnecessary violence are not the tools used by the Muppets, but by the villains. Instead, the movie is full of silly, elaborate dance routines and corny puns. It’s impossible to stop smiling, and seriously, I’m pretty sure that no one in my theater did. Everyone was laughing, not just the Muppet fans in the audience.
The puppetry is, as expected, phenomenal. It was a good decision to avoid using computers, because the physical presence of the puppets makes them easier to connect to than, say, a CGI Garfield was. You don’t have to be a puppetry buff to appreciate some of the cool tricks the film uses to keep the Muppets interacting in the real world. And the acting, by both the humans and the puppeteers, is very strong. Amy Adams and Jason Segel are particularly amazing, and getting the chance to see Academy Award-winning actor Chris Cooper play a villainous, over-the-top, rapping businessman is worth the price of admission alone. Plus, some of the celebrity cameos are completely hilarious. Watch for Jack Black, being funnier than he has been since School of Rock.
Really, The Muppets is just a chance to feel incredibly happy. It’s silly and touching at the same time, and proof that not all 80s franchise reboots have to be awful. It’s a good time to be a Muppet fan. And if you’re not, it’s certainly not too late to start. Go see it. You’ll be glad you did.