I was expecting the worst. And why not? Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Karate Kid: The titles of beloved films that have been defecated upon by the Hollywood sequel/remake machine are too many to list. Why should The Muppets be any different? And the fact that Frank Oz was boycotting the project for various reasons, including the inclusion of fart jokes, seemed to confirm my fears.
Fart jokes? What is this, Phantom Menace?
But thankful, I was completely and unequivocally wrong. The Muppets was an enjoyable film on every level. Somehow, over 30 years after its premiere, Jason Segel and director James Bobin managed to capture the spirit of the original film and still appeal to a modern audience. It’s funny without being crude, earnest without being sappy, and self-referential without being smug. But most of all, unlike other attempts to recreate nostalgia, The Muppets is fun to watch because it feels like the old gang is really back together. I suppose the fact that Muppets don’t age probably helped, but it’s more than that. I could tell that the filmmakers were as excited to make this film as I was to watch it.
The movie begins in Small Town, U.S.A., where a very Muppet-esque character named Walter is living with his brother Gary (Segel). All his life, Walter has been obsessed with The Muppets, so he’s overjoyed to learn that Gary and his longtime-girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) have arranged for a trip to Los Angeles and a tour of The Muppet Studios. However, his joy is short-lived.
Upon reaching Los Angeles, the three quickly realize that The Muppets are no longer the draw they once were. The Muppet Theater is in complete disrepair, and The Muppet Studios are a shell of their former glory. The highlight of the tour is the door of Kermit’s old office, followed by a trip to the room where industrial cables are stored.
Bored with the official tour, Walter sneaks away from the group, and while hiding under Kermit’s old desk, he overhears the fiendish plot of Tex Richman (played perfectly by Chris Cooper), a billionaire who wants to tear down the studio and drill for more oil. But of course, there’s a catch. If the Muppets can raise $10 million, the studio will remain under their control.
And we’re off. Harry, Gary and Mary set out to warn Kermit of the impending danger, and from there Kermit must track down his old friends. It’s not a groundbreaking plot, but it works, and it gives us the perfect opportunity to see what’s become of our old friends. Fozzie is working a sad lounge act in Reno with a knock-off group known as “The Moopets,” Gonzo is running a pluming corporation, and Ms. Piggy is a designer in Paris. There is never any doubt that they’ll all agree to reunite, but the filmmakers manage to spin the predictability to their advantage, making light of the contrived plot twists rather than trying to mask them.
Despite the fact that I knew what was coming at every turn, I was still constantly surprised. Rather than simply rehashing what made the previous Muppet movies work, the film managed to tweak things just enough to keep it fresh without straying too far from what the audience expected. This includes the ending, which takes us exactly where we know we’re going, but by a slightly different route. Even the celebrity cameos set the right tone. The big names were there, but they weren’t the focus. Somehow, Jack Black managed to tone it down and let the Muppets be the center of attention. And the notable absence of Lady Gaga, who was previously rumored to be in the film, was a welcome treat.
Even the musical numbers, which usually lend themselves to cringe-worth moments, somehow kept me laughing. Yesterday, if you had told me the film included a rap number by Chris Cooper, it would have made me nauseous. But as much as I wanted to hate the scene, I just couldn’t. The movie was impervious to my cynicism. And considering I’m a cynical prick who works on the goddamn Internet, I think that says a lot. Hack writers like myself love to accuse movies of “raping” their childhood. Well, the only thing this movie raped was my bad attitude.
Go and see the Muppets, and if you don’t like it, go straight to hell.