Movies: "The Muppets" (PG)
December 9th 2011 · 0 Comments
BY DEMIAN MORRISROE
There are a half-dozen children’s movies cluttering theaters at the moment, with another bunch on the way in the coming weeks. As is always true of the holiday season, viewers are presented with an array of entertainment to choose from.While kids’ movies are as consistently well-crafted these days, there are some lemons worth avoiding. Enter the blandly-titled “The Muppets,” the latest vehicle for the venerable Jim Henson’s celebrated creations. While the premise initially shows promise and many of the classic characters have retained their charm, an accumulation of missteps makes this film tough to recommend to all but the most ardent Muppet fans.
The film opens with brothers Walter and Gary. Like most siblings, they don’t always see eye-to-eye–but in this case, that’s because Walter is a Muppet. Gary, played by Jason Segel (who also co-wrote the film with Nicolas Stoller) is human. Those who are hoping for some revelation about the nature of Muppet ancestry (or perhaps a hint as to why the Swedish Chef has human hands) will be disappointed; no explanation is offered.
Fans of “The Muppet Show” growing up, the brothers plan a trip to Hollywood to see the Muppet’s’ theater. Gary’s girlfriend of 10 years, Mary (Amy Adams) accompanies them, though she begrudges having to share Gary with Walter.
Segel and Adams look puffy, bloated, and decidedly Muppet-like themselves, breaking into song as they move about their home, Smalltown. The opening scenes have an odd tone, somewhat reminiscent of “Pleasantville” (1998), as if there was some strain of satire on 1950s Americana that was almost written out of the script. Their acting, and that of many of the other human characters in the film, is curiously unnatural. It’s a dubious achievement that the Muppets themselves offer greater human pathos and verisimilitude than the non-puppet actors.
Upon arriving in Hollywood, they discover that the Muppets’ theater is condemned and the property about to be torn down by evil oil magnate, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper). The Muppets have just a few days to make ten million dollars to preserve their legacy, so Walter and the others track down Kermit the Frog to warn him. Kermit hasn’t seen the other Muppets in years, and doubts that he can get them back together in time to produce a fundraising telethon, but Walter’s convinces him to try.
Here is where the film hits its stride. Kermit and his new friends track down Fozzie Bear. They find other recognizable characters, updating viewers on what they’ve been up to since the end of “The Muppet Show.” Gonzo has become a rich plumbing magnate (the reason that he can’t supply the $10 million isn’t worth spoiling), and Miss Piggy is now a plus-size editor for Vogue.
The segments are entertaining and well thought-out, but are over far too quickly, as the rest of the gang are recovered in a musical montage.
The finale of the film is predictable. The Muppets face obstacles while renovating their theater and reviving their act, and overcome them with perfunctory ease. A few of the bits will be a welcome sight to those who are nostalgic for early incarnations of the Muppets, but many fall flat. Walter becomes one of the gang, and is finally out of Mary’s way in keeping Gary all to herself. Roll Credits.
“The Muppets” boasts an impressive array of small celebrity roles and cameos, but these range from the pointless (Sarah Silverman, Whoopi Goldberg), to the dull (Rashida Jones, Emily Blunt), to the outright unpleasant (Jack Black, as the telethon’s kidnapped celebrity host). They add no texture or interest to the proceedings whatsoever. The songs, too, feel uninspired. It’s obvious that the cast earnestly loves these characters, and their hearts are in the right place, but there just doesn’t seem to be much point to this revival.
“The Muppets” is inoffensive–if unimpressive–entertainment. It’s suitable for kids, but has very few jokes that only grown-ups will get, let alone find funny. Only those who grew up loving the Muppets, and just have to see them on the big screen one more time, will find “The Muppets” to be a worthwhile venture.
By Mark Ziobro