Published on December 8th, 2011 | by Jordan Petersen0
REVIEW: The Muppets
In a cinematic atmosphere rife with sequels, restarts, reboots (which come after failed restarts) and remakes, the aggressively self-hyped Muppets was a surprisingly refreshing breath of what could have been — but thankfully wasn’t — more of the same stale air. Infectiously endearing and unrelentingly self-aware, the very familiar albeit dated band of Henson’s brain creatures effectively “travelled by map” into what may be exactly the right spot in our public consciousness. And in so doing, they fill a hole that we’ve all had for quite some time — and have since forgotten.
Movies this innocent and good-spirited are rarely, if ever, so dazzlingly funny. Pixar has been delivering kids’ movies that successfully entertain that audience’s older counterpart, but I can’t remember having laughed so constantly and so sincerely and so appreciatively, for a long, long time. Written by Jason Segel and directed by James Bobin (who previously directed Flight of the Concords), this adoring tribute to Jim Henson’s genius is almost miraculously successful. These are talented comedians who know how to write and deliver layered jokes, which are at once completely accessible and smartly satisfying.
From the beginning, the audience will find themselves in a world that literally bends itself to the charming naïveté of its main characters. As per usual, I won’t give anything away by attempting to summarize the plot, but it suffices to say that the story of the film probably closely mirrors the story of its development. This is but one of the ways its core sensibility drives a delightfully complex cocktail of meta references and brazenly enthusiastic moments of absurdity. The writing is at once feverishly clever and shockingly open-hearted. The result is a cast of characters and situations that are, I would wager, impossible not to like.
The mantle of protagonist rests upon a new muppet, Walter, who is one of Segel’s personal creations. As his human comrades, Amy Adams and Jason Segel himself perfectly complete the tone of this story. I’m not sure there’s another human who can play sweet like Adams. And Segel, actually visibly (hilariously, endearingly), comes to terms with his own muppet nature in one of the more quietly wonderful musical numbers (yes, this is very much a musical), in which he considers the question, “am I a man, or a muppet?” and eventually concludes that he is a “muppet of a man.” It’s hard to understand how a scene can be so ridiculous and honestly searching simultaneously until you see it, but there it is.
The muppets themselves are treated like old school celebrities. The process of resurrection seems to have been lossless. There are no wrong notes, so to speak. Kermit is still the sage and gentle frog, a bit wearied with time, and Miss Piggy is — dare I say it — actually less annoying than any of her previous iterations. Segel captured the best of that awkward pig-frog dynamic and floated it like a pro. That he and his crew successfully acknowledge each muppet’s most dangerously antiquated attributes is impressive in itself, but they also manage to forge a stronger story and characters with those very liabilities.
The Muppets currently stands alone in a class of movies that manage to be both profoundly entertaining and broadly palatable. This really is a movie for everyone — from kid to grown-up; from popcorn-fister to jaded critic. That’s the kind of film that classically made the Muppets so enduringly endearing — and no one since has quite been able to fill the hole Jim left when he died. Consider it a happy miracle that his Muppet family seems to have survived him. ♦ ♦ ♦
Jordan Petersen is SOUND’s resident sensei of all things movie-related. Recently graduated from Brigham Young University, he is now working towards a Master’s degree in film at Boston University. Check out Jordan’s filmmaking blog at twentyoneninety.blogspot.com.