Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars
As someone born in 1960, I grew up with the Muppets. From “Sesame Street” to their appearances on “Saturday Night Live” to their own television show and films, if the stars of the show were made of felt I made sure I saw it. One of my prize possessions is a photograph of Jim Henson and Kermit that Jim Henson signed for me in 1983. It would be fair to say that I’m a devoted Muppet-arian. In fact, my son and I were once asked to leave the gift shop at the Disney/MGM Studios because we loudly protested that Elmo is not a Muppet. This began a long running feud with Elmo that was patched up last year in New York City. But I digress.
It’s been twelve years since the gang have been on the big screen. An absence noticed by Gary (Segel) and his younger brother, Walter (voiced by Peter Linz). They have loved the Muppets since they were little. But no one loves them more than Walter. He has collected every toy, DVD and knick knack relating to the group and dreams only of one day taking a tour of Muppet Studios. When Gary and his girlfriend of 10 years, Mary (Adams), take a trip to Los Angeles they take Walter along. His wish of seeing Muppet Studios is about to come true. But some wishes may be better off un-granted.
Capturing the flavor of the old television series while featuring guest stars more popular with today’s younger generation, “The Muppets” is a fun ride down the nostalgia highway. When they arrive in California the trio learn that Muppet Studios is about to be purchased by rich oil baron Tex Richman (Cooper), who has promised to use the land to build a Muppet Museum. But there’s oil under them there buildings and Richman’s real plan is to drill for it. When Walter finds this out, and discovers that for $10 million the studio can be saved, he tracks down Kermit the Frog (voiced by Steve Whitmire) in the hopes of convincing him to put on a show to raise the money. Kermit is up for it but has lost contact with the gang. Fozzie Bear (Eric Jacobson) is now performing in a tribute review called “The Moopets.” Gonzo (Dave Goelz) is a plumbing magnate. And Miss Piggy is in Paris overseeing the plus-size edition of Vogue magazine. Eventually everyone agrees to come together for one last gig. But will it be enough?
You have to give credit to Disney for attempting any Muppet project. Long time Muppet-eers Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson declined to be a part of the project. But they pushed forward and have done the Muppets, and the memory of Jim Henson, justice. Much of the credit has to go to Segel, a long time Muppet fan who also co-wrote the screenplay. His Gary is so bright and full of light, it’s easy to see how Segel himself can easily get lost in this fantasy world. Adams, whose done her share of singing as the princess in “Enchanted,” is so wide eyed sometimes that you’d think she’d never seen the Muppets before they came on set. And young Walter is a fine edition to the Muppet family. Credit too must go to the Muppet-eers, who eschewed using CGI to give the characters legs, allowing them to walk down the street or participate in a musical number without the help of a computer. Speaking of music, if there’s a drawback to the film it’s the original songs. With the exception of “Life’s a Happy Song” the songs are pretty much undistinguishable. This fact is hammered home when Kermit reprises “The Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie.” Granted, Paul Williams is one of the great lyricists of the 20th Century but the producers of the new film could have tried harder. Muppet takes on contemporary hits come off better, including a barbershop quartet rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” And any film that allows Chris Cooper to rap can’t be all bad.
I would also urge you to get to the theatre early to catch the new PIXAR “Toy Story” short film that precedes the film.