Review: The Muppets (2011)

The Muppets

Rating

Director
James Bobin
Screenplay
Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller (characters: Jim Henson)
Length
98 min.
Starring
Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Peter Linz, Rashinda Jones, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Alan Arkin, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Jim Parsons, Kristen Schaal, Sarah Silverman, Emily Blunt
MPAA Rating
PG for some mild rude humor

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Review
Since Jim Henson created his fabled Muppets more than two decades ago, few realized just what type of phenomenon they would be. After nearly a decade of decline for the storied puppets, an attempt to revitalize the franchise has been launched hoping to entice a whole new generation of filmgoers. The Muppets will have everything its legion of fans desire, but its familiarity should not mean the film gets a free pass in assessing its quality.

It’s too often true that nostalgia is best left in the past. Although The Muppets has a lot of great memory-inducing moments, gone are the days of Henson’s Muppets. The film focuses on Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), himself a puppet, longs to be a part of the Muppets, not feeling he fits in adequately with the world of humans, including his brother Gary (Jason Segel). Gary has plans to take his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to Los Angeles and drags Walter along frustrating Mary in the process. These three small town folk arrive in L.A. to discover that the fabled Muppets Studios has been left to ruin and making the plot more complicated, Walter overhears a sinister oil barron (Chris Cooper) plotting to demolish the theater and adjoining studios in order to drill for precious crude.

To save the lot, Walter, Gary and Mary locate Kermit the Frog and convince him to help save the landmark. He hatches a plan to launch a telethon to raise the $10 million they will need to stave off the money-hungry developer.

Peppered with a suitable number of musical productions, the film doesn’t create any new classic songs. They are pleasant tunes that don’t offend the ears, but don’t catch in the mind as easily. I couldn’t even tell you the names of them without looking them up again. Yet, there is one particular song, one you’d be better affected by not to know the name, that audiences of older generations will remember fondly and may well bring them to tears. It’s an affecting number, but it only serves to remind you of how sloppy the rest of the film was. There’s a lot of joy in a lot of movie like this and that’s certainly a noble accomplishment, but if you’ve seen any of the original films, it’s hard not to find some measure of disappointment in this reboot.

One of the hallmarks of those original films and the television variety show from the 1970’s, was the plethora of big name celebrities who made guest appearances. There’s a reference in the film to Bob Hope, which only showcases how that the only great old time name in the guest roster is Mickey Rooney who’s 35 years older than the next “notable” celebrity, Whoopi Goldberg who herself is significantly older than the likes of Selena Gomez, Jack Black and a small host of other names. And at least Rooney got a snippet of a song, the rest of the guest cast is given few and unmemorable moments to present themselves.

One of the big disappointments for me was the absence of legendary vocal master Frank Oz who opted out of the film, having long ago moved on from the Muppets. Listening to Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and Animal in discernably different voices is frustrating. While I know that Kermit and others once voiced by the late Jim Henson, are housing new voices, those changes have been in evidence far longer and are perhaps a bit less shocking.

The complexities of plot frequently on display in the TV show suggest that any subsequent production, especially one seemingly set so slavishly in the studio set they once made famous, would be filled with interesting plot developments and bountiful amounts of humor. Unfortunately, The Muppets’ plot is paper thin and utterly conventional (do we need yet another movie about discovering and being yourself?). And the humor, although nicely peppered throughout, is a pale comparison to those glory days.

As with any film that hits on a cultural touchstone like this, there’s bound to be disappintment, but my concern is that nostalgia for the characters and the films and television shows may cloud the minds of those wanting to revive their long lost treasure. They may reflect on The Muppets and think they’ve seen another in a great series of films, but it isn’t. The film is as hopelessly watered down as any minor kid-friendly feature in the ceneplex today. The only thing that elevates it beyond that is an attachment to a time-tested property with a legion of fans who’ll take any jolt of energy as a cause for celebration.
Oscar Prospects
Guarantees: None
Probables: Original Song (Any of the songs)
Potentials: Sound Mixing
Unlikelies: None
Review Written
December 7, 2011

1 Comment

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  1. I think the lack of celebrity names is more of a sign of the actors of today as opposed to the 70s & 80s. Also think of who were the guest stars in The Muppets Take Manhattan.

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