The Muppets were last seen on the big screen in Muppets from Space – a commercial flop in 1999 that meant the popular puppets were downgraded to TV movies until now. A revival of Jim Henson’s creations was hardly demanded by eager fans and might have been seen as a mis-step by Disney with 3-D CGI animation all the rage for children’s movies. Could anyone make a Muppet film that re-created the original television show’s charm while also providing a spin on the characters that got people paying to see Kermit, Miss Piggy and the crew? Thankfully yes – How I Met You Mother’s Jason Segel co-writes and stars in this fresh, vibrant and remarkably poignant resurrection of the family favourites.
It’s a resurrection steeped in Muppet history too. The Muppets begins by echoing the status of the puppet gang before the release of this film: consigned to the history books and kept alive by avid fans who continue to enjoy their shows in the privacy of their own home. Gary (Segel) and his brother Walter (a Muppet-like character who has grown up as part of a human family) still love the show, and Walter’s hero is Kermit the Frog who he sees as a role model. Gary’s got a trip to Los Angeles planned with his sweet girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) for their tenth anniversary, and he offers to take Walter too so they can go on The Muppets Studio Tour. When they arrive on the neglected lot, Walter sneaks into Kermit’s office and learns the megabucks businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) has his eye on levelling the site to dig for oil. Cue Gary and Walter’s quest to get the Muppet gang back together for one last show to raise the $10 million they need to buy back their studio.
So much care has gone into making The Muppets a film for all, it’s impossible not to fall for its fun and laughter whatever your age.
Their first stop is Kermit the Frog’s house mansion and, on the way to re-assembling the team to foil Richman, Gary and Walter will discover that, eventually, best friends need to pursue their dreams individually. It’s a classic family film plot with lessons to be learned and plenty of entertainment: the beauty is The Muppets pays homage to the old series, the status of the Muppets in popular culture now and has a heart of gold. Writers Stoller and Segel, who jointly scripted Forgetting Sarah Marshall, have obviously spent a lot of time examining what made the Muppets so loved in the first place in order to please those familiar with the show while also making it easy for the next generation to warm to them. Throughout we are shown clips from the original series, hear about the famed guest appearances and see a lot of banter revisited – particularly in the form of Kermit and Miss Piggy’s continuing relationship stresses.
The Muppets also has a post-modern, self-referential element to the script which parodies itself with the same goofy humour as that of Fozzie’s bad jokes and Gonzo’s botched stunts. All of the humans play up to their characters in a knowing way, though they never make the mistake of mugging or winking at the camera – even Cooper’s evil rap number is carefully managed to parody commercial hip hop chat hits without outstaying its welcome. In fact all the music is handled well – largely down to the glaze of The Flight of the Conchords writer/director James Bobin who keeps them spritely and fun. There are guest star aplenty – all of whom play on their real celebrity personas – with Jack Black, Whoopi Goldberg and Segel’s How I Met Your Mother co-star Neil Patrick Harris particularly game for a laugh. But it’s the care and attention that has gone into reliving and recreating the Muppet history that has to be most applauded.
Before seeing the movie I was unsure whether I’d missed The Muppets, but within minutes I was a beaming child again, rooting for their quirky quest and relishing the nostalgia factor. Kids will love The Muppets clowning around again while jokes such as travelling by map or doing things quicker in a montage are well handled in the spirit of the movie. So much care has gone into making The Muppets a film for all, it’s impossible not to fall for its fun and laughter whatever your age. It’s time to play the music!