The Muppets

Finding one’s place in the world isn’t always easy.  Not all of us are born into a family job like princes and princesses in a royal court.  I’m sure even some of them have felt out of place and lost at times.  Being surrounded by love and support from family and friends certainly helps; but what if that foundation is slowly taken away by time and obligations.  We believe we’ve found our life’s calling and it suddenly isn’t there.  What then?  If you’re a Muppet, you put on a show.
 
Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (performed by Gary Linz) are brothers and best friends.  Walter is an obsessed Muppets fan who discovered their show during a particularly difficult time in his childhood.  Now all grown up (sort of), Gary is dating Mary (Amy Adams).  The pair is heading off to Los Angeles to celebrate their tenth dating anniversary and bringing Walter along (much to Mary’s regret).  Walter is thrilled at seeing the Muppets Studio and taking the tour; but the old buildings are neglected and in disrepair.  Breaking away from the tour, Walter goes to Kermit’s office and is in awe.  That is interrupted when Texas oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) enters with Statler and Waldorf along with a couple of his hench-Muppets, Bobo the Bear and Uncle Deadly.  Walter hides and overhears their conversation.  The Muppets are selling their theatre to Richman with the understanding he will turn it into a museum honoring their past.  When Statler and Waldorf leave, Richman’s real scheme is revealed:  He plans on tearing down the theatre and drilling for oil that is supposed to be under the site.  Shocked at this plan, Walter goes on a mission to reunite the Muppets who are now scattered all over the world and put together a huge show with a celebrity host as a telethon.  If the gang can raise $10-million, the theatre can be saved.
 
How can you not love “The Muppets?”  In my case, the answer is, you can’t.  For someone my age, the Muppet Show was a weekly ritual.  Seeing all those puppets interacting with big name celebrity guest stars, telling very bad jokes and performing silly sketches was a surreal treat.  Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and all the rest (the Swedish Chef was a personal fave) were obviously felt, foam and sticks, but their personalities were as real and vivid as any living person.  They were welcome guests in my home each week.  I’m quite a bit older now but the familiar fond feelings quickly returned as each character was reintroduced.
 
“The Muppets” moves along at a break-neck pace that matches the old show.  One moment we’re on the streets of Los Angeles and the next we’re in Paris, France.  The movie is filled with silly self references and inside jokes that will likely go over the head of most children but please the parents.  “The Muppets” manages to pull off the rare feat of being both for kids and adults with a mixture of humor.  Sometimes it’s a joke every age will find funny which is even rarer.  There are times where the music and songs are obviously aimed at the youngest viewers and those moments can drag for the old folks.  Fortunately, those instances are rare.
 
Jason Segel (who co-wrote the script) and Amy Adams are in “1940’s Musical” mode.  They are innocents, fresh from the small town of Smalltown and in awe of the big city.  The sweet looks and hidden disappointments between the two feel forced and phony.  I didn’t for a second buy them as a couple which, for a criticism, is fairly unimportant.  The real people in the movie are merely a way to give the film a tentative anchor in reality.  The Muppets are the real stars of the show and they shine…mostly.
 
Perhaps I’m being too critical but the newer voices, replacing the late Muppet creator Jim Henson, and Frank Oz to name a few, just don’t quite match up with my memories.  At one point, I thought they had dubbed the wrong voice on Fozzie because it briefly sounded so different.  While no one could consistently recreated the voices of my youth, it seems the Walt Disney Company, who bought the Muppets in 2004, needs to conduct more auditions and watch more old episodes to find better voice talent.
 
All of these are minor quibbles with a movie that has a sweet, goofy spirit and tells a story of how hard work, dedication and friendship can overcome time, distance and hurt feelings.  It also packs a surprisingly emotional punch that nearly caused me to roll a tear near the end.
 
“The Muppets” is rated PG for some mild rude humor.  The words “butt” and “fart” are heard a time or two.  Also, Fozzie wears shoes with whoopee cushions tied to the bottoms so every time he steps, we hear the noise.
 
While some of the songs are for very young children, the relationship between the two main human characters is nearly non-existent and some of the voice work of well-known characters is lacking, “The Muppets” succeeds in reintroducing the beloved family of entertainers back to an audience who didn’t know how much they missed them.  With enough box office, we won’t have to wait another 12 years for the next Muppet feature to arrive in theatres.
 
“The Muppets” gets four guitars out of five.
 
I’m not sure why, but every film listed to be coming out this week is in limited release.  That usually means it won’t open in my town for a few weeks.  That’s why I’m listing some currently playing art house movies that may have flown under your radar.  I feel certain a couple of these will be mentioned at the Academy Awards.  Vote for the film you’d like me to review.
 
My Week with Marilyn— Michelle Williams stars as screen icon Marilyn Monroe, who shares a brief but unforgettable romance with a young director.
 
The Descendants—George Clooney is an indifferent husband who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident off of Waikiki.
 
The Skin I Live In—A plastic surgeon takes revenge on his daughter's rapist by giving him a forced homemade sex change operation. The surgeon then falls in love with the "new woman."
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
If you have a question or comment, send it to stanthemovieman@att.net.  You can follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.