Friday, December 02, 2011

the muppets — a little bit of felt goes a long way

The movie The Muppets may be the goofiest movie of the year, as well as one of the most heartfelt and entertaining. The Muppets' gags are as silly as ever. The film's plot is very similar to 2002's It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, in which Kermit and friends also had to save their beloved theater from a cruel villain (substitute Chris Cooper here for Joan Cusack). But that's O.K., because what star and writer Jason Segel (with Nicholas Stoller) has done is save the Muppets from obscurity and remind folks young and old how wonderful they are and always have been.

The movie runs from beginning to end as a Valentine to the Muppets, both as a group and as individuals. It's fun to be reminded how these bits of felt have such unique and specific personalities. For the grown-ups in the audience who grew up watching The Muppet Show, seeing Kermit and Miss Piggy act out their on-again, off-again romance is a blast from the past, as are Fozzie's stale jokes and Gonzo's death-defying stunts. It's impossible not to smile through most of the movie, watching Segel and his costar Amy Adams in fun and elaborate musical numbers. Kermit even sings The Rainbow Connection, paying homage to his song from The (first) Muppet Movie.

Segel must be a closet puppeteer. His Dracula puppet musical (puppets created by Henson puppeteers) in Forgetting Sarah Marshall was one of the film's highlights, and provided the spur to try to write a movie for the legendary Muppets. The Muppets also introduces a new Muppet, Walter, who plays Jason Segel's brother. It's crazy, but it works, and the two share the best and most hysterical musical number in the movie, "Man or Muppet":
Am I a man or am I a Muppet
If I'm a Muppet then I'm a very manly Muppet
Am I a Muppet or am I a man
If I'm a man that makes me a Muppet of a man
We seem to live in a world that has forgotten the Muppets, what with all the Kardashians, Snookis and the rest eating up so much of the television and pop culture scene and filling it with empty space. The Muppets reminds us that there is still room for sweet and silly comedy. The script even has a character that echoes this cynicism in television executive Veronica Martin (Rashida Jones), “In this market, you guys are no longer relevant.” How wrong she is and how happy Segel & Co. are to remind her. The Muppets is a feature-length reminder of how fun these felt puppets can be.

It's as much of a blast seeing and naming old Muppet friends like Janice, Rizzo, Beaker, and Animal as it is seeing human stars Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Arkin and Mickey Rooney. Segel and director James Bobin (Da Ali G Show, Flight Of The Conchords) wisely fill the film with cameos by contemporary comic actors like Zach Galifianakis, Jim Parsons, Emily Blunt, Neil Patrick Harris, and Sarah Silverman, just to name a few. And Jack Black, in an uncredited part, has a role that may have started as just a cameo, but soon becomes much more. The film is full of fun nostalgia, not just Muppet-centered, but with Kermit having an '80s robot that acts as chauffeur, butler, and comic relief.

As the film ends and The Muppets Show theme song begins to play, it may even be impossible for viewers not to get choked up. I know I got a little misty, sitting next to my young daughter and watching characters I grew up with putting on one more show. I'm hoping now that Kermit and friends have saved their theater we will be seeing much more of them in the future. Hey Segel, how about reviving The Muppet Show next?
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