What It Is
Walter loves his brother Gary. As you see in the early montage moments of The Muppets, they grow up in a suburban idyll, all wide smiles and freckles, backyard pools and chocolate-covered Oreos in front of the TV. But as the boys grow up, Walter discovers they’re growing apart, literally. Gary grows up tall and strapping, like a human boy (the tall version played by Jason Segel), while Walter stays short and fuzzy, like a Muppet (voiced by Peter Linz).
At once silly and sentimental, this story of two brothers forms the ground for The Muppets. Neither brother can quite negotiate growing up, and so they keep turning back to their childhoods, when the Muppets were on TV. This even as Gary is trying to define his relationship with an adorable schoolteacher named Mary (Amy Adams): after dating for 10 years, she’s hoping to be married, he’s a little slow on that uptake. The film comes up with a device to send all three into the maturity they’re resisting, a journey from their home in Smalltown to Hollywood.
Here they visit the Muppets Theater, which they discover to be in desperate disarray, dusty and cobwebby and strewn with broken furnishings. When they learn that the evil businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) means to take over the site because it’s sitting on an oil reserve, they decide there’s only one answer: the Muppets have to put on a show to raise the money they need to save the theater.
To that end, the trio tracks down Kermit (Steve Whitmire, doing an serviceable Jim Henson), now living alone in the Beverly Hills manse he was supposed to share with Miss Piggy (Eric Jacobson). Now he’s not a little sad and lonely, and so not so difficult to convince to round up the old gang, including Fozzie Bear, Scooter, Rowlf, Gonzo, and Animal (currently ensconced at an anger management retreat, being counseled by Jack Black). Even Chef agrees to participate, his chickens in tow. They even fly to Paris, where they convince Miss Piggy to come along, even though now, after all the drama with Kermie, she “has a life!” that is, she’s designing women’s clothing and eating frosted donuts while her busy-busy schedule is organized by Emily Blunt (inside joke: she played the same part opposite Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada). “Just remember, Kermit,” she warns, “I cannot be replaced.”
Back in LA, the Muppets set to putting on a telethon, even though they’re turned down by a series of network execs at first. “In this market,” explains one such suit, Veronica (Rashida Jones), “You guys are no longer relevant.” To illustrate, she takes a moment off her BlackBerry and turns on a TV, tuned to an egregious humiliation-reality show (this one called Punch Teacher). The Muppets are too cute, too clever, too nice.
Of course, the show’s a hit, people filling the theater and calls coming in to phones manned by Whoopi Goldberg, James Carville, and Selena Gomez (“I don’t know who you are,” she says, “My agent told me to come”). Gary and Walter sort out who they are (in a heartfelt, crosscutting duet, “Man or Muppet”), and Mary gets the ring she so desires.
Why It’s Fun
The first bit of fun is the Toy Story short that precedes the film proper, “Small Fry.” Here a Mini-Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Teddy Newton) breaks free of his Fun Meal Toys display case at the Poultry Palace and arrives at Bonnie’s house, leaving Buzz (Tim Allen) with a crew of abandoned happy meal minis (including some very funny concepts, from a Condorman, a T-bone, a Pizzabot, and a Mini-Invisible Man. Here Buzz grudgingly takes part in a group therapy led by Neptuna (Jane Lynch), while Woody (Tom Hanks) and the gang fret about what to do. The short film cuts between the two group dynamics, both smart and hilarious.
The Muppets itself is also smart, using the same sorts of stage revue conventions that energized the ’70s TV series. This means big song-and dance numbers: Gary and Mary dance with neighbors and local workers, from the mailman to the gardener to a pair of butchers, all integrated into the lyrics (“Life’s a Happy Song”) or Mary’s stoic when left on her own in LA (“Party of One”), as well as fabulous spoofs. The best of these are the Muppets Barbershop Quartet massacring “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (while Jack Black winces) and the chickens clucking their way through Cee-Lo’s “Forget You,” thus removing concerns about the song’s language.
Who’s Going To Love It
Muppets fans, rejoice. The movie does right by those who remember the Muppets as well as those who might be coming to them for a first time.
What To Be Aware Of
As always, the Muppets make clean, keen jokes. Even Fozzie Bear’s silly “fart-shoes” are dismissed by Kermit and the others as the bad gags they are.
Chris Cooper does a funny rap spoof (“Let’s Talk About Me”), attended by busty (and bored) dancing girls.
9 out of 10
Director: James Bobin
Cast: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Peter Linz
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
US Premiere: November 23, 2011
UK Premiere: February 10, 2012