“The Muppets” is a return to form for the Muppets brand (4.25/5)


The Muppets’ relevance died somewhere in the late 90’s. Despite strong critical support for their film adventures, the Muppets became archaic when CGI and special effects were evolving the medium.  Much like how sock puppets hide in the shadow of moving pictures, the Muppets couldn’t hold a candle to progressing technology. Outside of a few lackluster television specials; the Muppets were barely registering a pulse.  But with Hollywood resurrecting television shows and putting emphasis on remakes, it was only a matter of time before the Muppets were given a shot to be famous again. To be honest, if there was ever a selection of characters that deserved more screen time, it would be the Muppets. The A-Team? Who gives a shit? Karate Kid? Keep it in the 80’s. The Muppets have been synonymous with charming fun for nearly three decades. After their newest effort, simply titled The Muppets, these old rags are prepared to deliver enough earnest, cheesy jokes for a fourth decade.  Knowing that the Muppets have become an irrelevant troupe of puppets, the screenplay, which was written by lead Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, uses the Muppets’ fall into oblivion as a meta-starting block.

Our reintroduction to the Muppets begins when  we’re dropped into the lives of Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter, two inseparable brothers. Acting as a bond that holds them together, outside of their brotherhood of course, is the Muppets very own television show from the late 70’s. To put it lightly, Gary and Walter are Muppet aficionados. Furthermore, despite his bloodline to Gary, Walter is physically akin to the Muppets. Fabric based hands, bulbous eyes and silly hair, Walter’s physical presence has left him feeling inadequate despite his brother’s unwavering support . But things change dramatically for Walter when he visits Los Angeles with Gary.  There, along with Gary’s bubbly girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), the two brothers make a trip to the famed Muppet Studios. Much to Walter’s dismay, the studio is a place where time has eroded fame. Run down and facing certain destruction by oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), the Muppets last visage of their act inspires our protagonists to hunt down the nutty gang to preserve history. So, it is through fantastic musical numbers and traveling by map that Gary, Walter, Mary and Kermit the Frog assemble the Muppets for one last show. What’s their goal? Buy back the Muppets brand by raising $10 million.

As you can probably assume, and in spite of my ability to write a paragraph about the plot of The Muppets, the film is as light as air. Featuring sight gags and slapstick comedy that will entertain young and old, The Muppets never takes itself too seriously. The film’s performances makes this notion all the more true. Jason Segel is in full ham mode. He stacks the screen with gee-whiz acting and cheesy smiles. If it was anyone else, annoyance would supersede the endearing presence of Gary. Amy Adams matches Segel’s childlike enthusiasm with a bubbly performance that echoes her princess routine from Enchanted. Adorable and energetic, Adams demonstrates the uncanny versatility she possesses. Normally performances like these would be seen as aloof, but they’re right at home amidst the colorful collection of wise-cracking Muppets. Speaking of which, all are practically accounted for with their comedic indulges intact.

Oh, and did I mention that there are a plethora of wildly amusing cameos? Jack Black, Dave Grohl, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Neil Patrick Harris and whole shit load more, stop by and play along in the sandbox.  Yet, I admit that neither the Muppets themselves nor the actors are the film’s brightest spot. That distinction belongs to Bret McKenzie. McKenzie, best known for his work on Flight of the Conchords, is the man behind the film’s original music. McKenzie’s lyrics and melodies are terrific compliments to Christophe Beck’s fuzzy score.  Whether it’s the catchy opener, an enthusiastic song that is required for every musical, or a playful ballad about identity, McKenzie makes the film’s brisk plot resonate far more with songs that are witty, heartfelt and memorable. It’s his work that helps transition the Muppets from a dead act to one that will likely lead to a sequel. Considering the universal appeal of the Muppets and this film’s wonderful execution, the beloved Muppets will no longer be seen as a piece of nostalgia. They’re here and now.

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