Thanks to Jason Segel and lovable puppets, audiences are sweet on sugarcoated ‘Muppets’
Movie Review | 3 out of 5 stars
Published: Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 00:11
Like a former Hollywood heavyweight who finds himself typecast in made-for-TV movies, the Muppets believed they had lost all relevancy. Miss Piggy found herself working long hours for French Vogue in Paris, Gonzo gave up his stuntman gig for a corporate office at a plumbing company and Fozzie Bear took his stand-up act to a downtrodden casino in Reno, Nev. But with a little help from funnyman Jason Segel, the Muppets have made a triumphant homecoming to cinema and the public eye.
Returning to the silver screen for the first time since "Muppets from Space" (1999), the Muppets franchise — which dates back to the original Jim Henson years in the mid-1950s — is revamped and reinvigorated, while still preserving the syrupy sweetness that originally made its characters so endearing.
Co-writer and star Segel creates an engaging testament to Henson's brainchild, properly initiating the Muppets — whom he worshipped as a kid — into the new world of children's entertainment. Acute fans should have foreseen Segel's attempts to insert himself into the storied Muppets franchise after his screenwriting debut, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" (2008), where he starred as an aspiring puppeteer interested in creating a Dracula rock opera on Broadway.
In "The Muppets," however, Segel plays Gary, the human brother of the Muppet idolizer, Walter, who is a puppet himself. During a Los Angeles escapade away from their home in Smalltown, USA, the brothers and Gary's girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) discover The Muppet Theater deserted and dilapidated. After uncovering the sinister plot of oilman Tex Richman (artfully acted by the always impressive Chris Cooper), Walter, Gary and Mary ask Kermit the Frog to catalyze the reunion of the Muppets for a $10 million telethon to save the theater.
Along the way, however, the Muppets have trouble procuring a celebrity guest to host the telethon, Walter battles with stage fright, Gary risks losing Mary and Richman continues to threaten the Muppets' operations. Infused with catchy, original musical numbers and amusing montages, "The Muppets" is always exciting to watch.
Unfortunately, "The Muppets" fails in its triteness; the hackneyed plot forces the film to rely solely on slapstick humor and saccharine one-liners, many of which reflect the characters' self-awareness. For example, jokes regarding the sum of the movie's budget and perplexed reactions of average pedestrians who encounter live dance numbers inundate the script.
One thing the Muppets franchise is known for is its extensive use of celebrities. Interacting with legendary characters like Kermit and Miss Piggy is a right reserved for the cream of the Hollywood crop, and "The Muppets" is no exception. The film is peppered with hysterical cameos from a range of stars, including Sarah Silverman, Emily Blunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Arkin, Donald Glover and Dave Grohl, to name a few. These cameos serve as stimulants of laughter and sources of familiarity, juxtaposing America's favorite puppets with some of America's most-celebrated personalities.
Yet, the film is oversaturated with these stars and puppets, forming a bloated ensemble that is difficult to monitor and balance. By reuniting the entirety of the Muppets, director James Bobin attempts to account for too many characters and, thus, neglects some beloved Muppets — such as Pepe the King Prawn and Rizzo the Rat — while overemphasizing the importance of others, such as Camilla the Chicken.
In the end, though, the heartfelt tone and the message of the film overcome any nitpicky, negative aspects. "The Muppets" preaches happiness and clean fun in a world overrun by disturbing humor and valueless children's programming. The happy-go-lucky feel of the film can be disorienting, but it must be embraced and enjoyed.
Ultimately, the Muppets simply want to spread joy and acceptance into the hearts and minds of the young. For nostalgic, reflective students who yearn to relive their carefree youths, "The Muppets" is a welcome change of pace from the dark, ominous realities seen on the evening news and the front page.