The Muppets (2011) [Review]

Ever since I was a kid, there have been three main major pop culture constants in my life: Adam West's Batman, the musical styling of Weird Al Yankovic, and the Muppets. Sure, as I grew older, other facets of geekdom crept in and molded me into the fully-functioning manchild that I am today... HOWEVER- Adam West, Weird Al, and Muppets have been there since the beginning. When it comes to the Muppets, I have bared witness to the veritable roller coaster of quality that the franchise has gone through, from the good (the first two movies, Muppet Christmas Carol, and even the short-lived Muppets Tonight!) to the bad (Muppet Treasure Island, Muppet Wizard of Oz, Muppets from Space... pretty much anything after 1999). And then, save for a few brief appearances, Kermit and the gang disappeared from the public eye.

And sadly, I went on with my life, resigned to the reality that the Muppets were old news. And then, around a year and a half or so ago, I read a brief article stating that someone, namely that guy from How I Met Your Mother that's not NPH, had written a script that would, hopefully, invigorate the Muppet franchise... and I couldn't be happier. I waited for the film to be released, sometimes literally on the edge of my seat. I finally got a chance to check out The Muppets last week, and I'm here to tell you, it was worth the wait.

The Muppets is the story of Walter, a small nose-less Muppet, his human brother Gary (Jason Segel), Gary's girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), and their attempt to save the run-down Muppets Theater from being demolished by an evil oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). Well, I guess it's less of a story, and more of a general framework so that Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Miss Piggy, and the rest to sing, dance, and get into various forms of mayhem. There was also a secondary plot involving Gary and Mary's troubled relationship, but I'll get into that a little later.

First off, the writers and director really nailed the right tone for the film. I was a bit worried that because the Muppets are currently property of the House of Mouse the film would come off a bit too sweet and “kiddie-fied,” and while it had its moments, it balanced out the humor for kids and adults nicely. I will say that there were a few downright depressing moments as well, especially a scene early on which involves Kermit singing about how he will probably never see his friends again to a hallway filled with paintings for said friends, all who sing back to them. This reviewer may have shed a man-tear at that moment and is not ashamed to say it.

It wouldn't be a Muppet movie without the myriad of celebrity guest stars, and The Muppets does not disappoint. While I'm not going to spoil all of them for you (there are Wikipedia and IMDB for that), I will say that my favorite celebrity appearance was by Zach Galafanakis near the end of the film. His part was very, very small and completely non sequitur, but struck me as incredibly funny. The songs were catchy and well done and added to the nostalgic feel of the flick.

The movie isn't perfect, though. The newest character, Walter, is pretty bland, both in personality and looks. He is very clearly the “Mary Sue,” the writer's way of inserting him/herself into the story, which is odd because Segel already wrote himself into it! Also, the Muppets themselves don't entirely sound the way they used to, however, this is both well established from other pop culture references and completely understandable. The biggest problem I had with this film was not with the Muppets, but with the human character side story. In a nutshell, it revolves around Mary general disdain for Gary's fascination/obsession with the Muppets and his inability to grow up and marry her. While I understand that there's a time and place to act like a kid, and a time and place to act like an adult, there is no reason why Gary should be forced to choose between the two. I mean, I have a job (or two), I have bills to pay, but that doesn't mean I have to give up any of the things that I am interested in, and neither should Gary. Finally, the fact that Walter the Muppet came from two human parents raises some very weird questions, but I've decided to let that one go because, hey, it's just a movie.

All in all, The Muppets is a fun, nostalgia-filled romp that will delight audiences both young and old, and worth of 4 out of 5 stars. I for one look forward to where the franchise will go from here, whether it be in the form of another film or (fingers crossed) a revival of the weeknight TV show. Only time will tell.

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