REVIEW: ‘The Muppets’ are back and better than ever

'The Muppets' — Photo courtesy of Andrew Macpherson / Disney

The world needs more Muppets.

Let’s be honest, there has been something lacking for the past few years — something we couldn’t quite put our finger on. Unrest in the Middle East, religious strife, rising unemployment rates, corrupt Wall Street cronies, crime, deprivation. The Muppets can somehow solve any and all problems. Just give me the endearing wisdom of Kermit the Frog, in his calming Mr. Rogers-style line delivery, and throw in some fart shoes and I’m set for life. The world just isn’t the same without these fuzzy friends.

Thankfully, the 2011 cinematic reboot, starring an enjoyable Amy Adams and Jason Segel, captures the magic and wonder of Jim Henson’s perpetually entertaining creations. All the greats are there: Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Animal. Even the lesser known characters are present: Sam Eagle, Waldorf and Statler, among others.

The new addition is Walter (Peter Linz), a puppet boy with dreams of one day visiting the legendary Muppet Studio in Los Angeles. Helping him along the way is Gary (Segel) and Mary (Adams), two lovebirds who live in Smalltown, USA. They all board a cross-country bus and travel to Hollywood for some sightseeing and song-and-dance numbers.

What they find is dispiriting and deflating: The Muppet Studio is in a dire state of disrepair. Worse yet, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, in a very funny role) is planning to tear down the old Muppet Show theater once and for all. The only way to save the day is for the Muppets to get back together and put on a show. Their mission: Raise $10 million through a telethon and circumvent Richman’s diabolical plans.

Walter and company convince Kermit to track down the old gang. Fozzie is working in a rundown casino in Reno, while Miss Piggy has become the editor of French Vogue. Animal is in anger-management classes, while Gonzo sells toilets. These are the Muppets, after all. Would you expect anything different?

Of course, it should come as no surprise that Kermit is able to convince everyone to rejoin for one last show. Along the way, the movie is hilariously self-conscious of its plot and characters. Almost every actor breaks from the story to address the audience. This keeps everything light and enjoyable. The Muppets were never about grand schemes and convoluted plot points. Just put them all in a room together and the laughs start to come.

The musical numbers are all well-staged and will remind viewers of the old movie musicals of Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly.

Luckily, the chemistry has not waned in the years since Kermit and his pals were last seen on the screen (1999’s forgettable Muppets from Space). These characters have become iconic and they instantly draw smiles from both children and adults. Piggy is still the fussy drama queen. Kermit is still the reluctant leader. Fozzie still tells bad jokes, and Animal can’t keep from drumming.

Segel and Adams, although enjoyable and definitely playing their parts to maximum hilarity, never quite fit in with the crowd. Their side storyline about Gary’s inability to pop the question is never fully developed and feels like the definition of extraneous. In any Muppet movie, I’m much more interested in the fuzzy-wuzzys than the human beings.

Unlike Sesame Street, which stresses lessons over humor, the Muppets look to have a good time and offer a few educational tidbits along the way. Their message of friendship and finding one’s strengths is still inspiring. Children experiencing this crazy gang for the first time will become new converts, while adults will rekindle those old memories when Kermit appeared on screen to welcome the TV audience to The Muppet Show (“It’s time to play the music / It’s time to light the lights”).

The cameos are too numerous to count. I spotted Mickey Rooney, Jack Black, Zach Galifianakis, Alan Arkin, Whoopi Goldberg, Ken Jeong and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. Again, it’s great to see everyone having fun, but the main stars are the Muppets themselves. They are gloriously back in the spotlight and deserve to stay there for years to come.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
  • The Muppets

  • 2011

  • Directed by James Bobin

  • Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller; based on characters by Jim Henson

  • Starring Segel, Amy Adams, Rashida Jones and Chris Cooper

  • Running time: 98 minutes

  • Rated PG for some mild rude humor

  • Rating: ★★★☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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