Director: James Bobin
Writers: Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller
Gary: Jason Segel
Mary: Amy Adams
Tex Richman: Chris Cooper
Hobo Joe: Zach Galifianakis
Executive: Rashida Jones
Walt Disney Studios presents a film directed by James Bobin. Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, based on Jim Henson's Muppet characters. Running time: 98 minutes. Rated PG (for some mild rude humor).
I don’t want to sound too melodramatic about this, but writing a review of the new film The Muppets feels a little like airing dirty laundry in public. There was a holy (or unholy depending on how you look at it) trinity of formative influences on my childhood: my crazy parents, The Beatles and Jim Henson. I learned to read watching Sesame Street (it was born in 1969 the same year that I was). And the Muppet Show was more than my favorite show as a child; it was a way of life. Jim Henson and John Lennon were my ur-philosophers and their vision of the world shaped my worldview with a sledgehammer. I’m still getting over it. So to say that I was eagerly anticipating this new film after I heard the rumors that it was in production would be an understatement, but also not entirely true. I was also a tad envious that I was not a part of the production, and more than a little anxious that Jason Segel and James Bobin might screw the whole thing up.
The good news is they did not. Being a child of the post-modern world, I am a total sucker for metafiction and ironical self awareness in the arts and there is a smorgasbord here for those who like that sort of thing. And for those who think this was a new convention for the Muppets, please get a copy of a Monster at the End of this Book featuring Grover and a whole lot of second person references. There is much to be applauded in this new installment of the Muppets. We all know the voices are going to be a bit different, but for the most part the more important characterization was fairly spot on. Miss Piggy didn’t abuse the other muppets as much as she used to, and Fozzie was a little less obnoxious than he should be, but that might be a little nit-picky. Perhaps Fozzie has been cowed by all those years being abused by the Moopets, perhaps that’s why although his fur looks a little less matted in this new version his eyebrows have turned slate-gray. All the others seem to have found their characters and voices well enough. Even Kermit, who is always the greatest concern since he always seemed to be the alter-ego for Jim Henson was acceptable enough to suspend disbelief.
The plot about a muppettish man and mannish muppet trying to find themselves in this crazy world provided enough of a playground for the stars of the film to play, and Chris Cooper fit right in as the evil villain - a rapping oil tycoon. Jason Segal and Amy Adams play the innocent lovers almost a little too well. So well in fact that I am concerned they might be Duggars. Some of the best moments of the film were exceptional. Jack Black’s captivating performace as a hostage and Camilla and the chickens’ version of CeeLo Green’s “Forget You” were both inspired and brilliant. Most of the rest of the film was well…serviceable. There was a surprising amount of rehash of old material. For example, I was saddened that Statler and Waldorf, the old codgers that heckled us through the first run of the Muppet Show and the successive films, had hardly any new material. C’mon guys, it’s been how many years that you have had off and no new jokes? I’ve seen better comebacks from a broken boomerang. Much of the more cerebral humor of the original movies was replaced with physical humor, and yes, fart jokes. And the very bad news is there was at least one moment that had me squirming and groaning in my seat desperate for justice against the crime committed against human and muppet-kind.
The use of the song, “We Built This City” by Starship, even ironically, should be banned universally. This song has been proven to cause intestinal distress to the least sensitive of gastrointestinal tracts. I believe I speak for most of the world on this. Unfortunately, I have to say most because there is some crank on the inter-webs that is positing the theory that the entire movie was based on this excruciatingly execrable excuse for a song. (to see the crank: http://blogtown.portlandmercury.com/BlogtownPDX/archives/2011/11/25/a-grand-unified-theory-of-the-muppets-and-starships-we-built-this-city)
The use of this song in the Muppets made me want to strap the person responsible to a gurney, pour honey on their ears, and open up several lab vats full of fire ants over their skull…for a starter.
There were, as with anything that’s affiliated with the clogged conglomerate that is the Disney corporation these days, overt product placements within the film. It infuriated me to see the Mickey-head trademark in the firework explosions in the film’s final minutes. There was also a shameless plug for the newest Cars film on a billboard that seemed to be in the center of a shot for far too long. It’s a shame that I have to think “well that’s to be expected” as I am writing this, as if that shameless self promotion that we vilify in athletes and politicians is anticipated and even admired in children’s films run by rodents. But all in all, I found this film to be very enjoyable and even in some moments outstanding. Because I am an English teacher in a school that uses the letter-grading system, I guess I will use this for my film system as well. I award the film a B-, mostly due to the use of Starship and shameless Disney plugs. But if that song opportunity had instead been taken by a musical interlude for Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem, I am sure this film would have made the A range.
Make sure to do your homework.