The Muppets (2011)

Review by Boniface

When I went to see the new muppet film with my daughter on our date night, I was really just taking her for her enjoyment. I had no intention of getting into the movie myself. That is why I found myself pleasantly surprised when I actually found myself engaged and chuckling throughout The Muppets.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the Muppet Show as a kid, and even now I am occasionally guilty of watching old muppet clips on YouTube. But as someone who grew up on the Jim Henson muppets with a first-hand experience of the phenomenal humor and creativity of the original series, I was soured on the franchise by such debacles as The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), Muppets From Space (1999) and The Muppet's Wizard of Oz (2005). With Henson gone and the creative power of the muppet franchise apparently spent, I was ready for the characters to be put out of their misery.

Then along came The Muppets. A nice, simple title, signifying a new beginning, not unlike what happened when the Batman franchise, after the abomination that was Batman Forever, decided to "start over" with Batman Begins in 2005. They must have done something right, because The Muppets has grossed a whopping $42.3 million in its first week.

The film is about Gary (Jason Segel), long-time girl friend Mary (Amy Adams), and Walter, Gary's brother, who also happens to be a muppet (this is the first and fundamental comedic element - a human man with a muppet brother with no explanation as to how this is possible). Walter is the world's biggest muppet fan, but his love of the muppets is taken to a new height when he accidentally stumbles upon a plot to tear down the original Muppet Studios in Los Angeles in order to make room for an evil oil magnate (Chris Cooper) to drill. Walter, assisted by Gary and Mary, go on a cross continental adventure to dig up the old muppet crew and bring them back together to put on a telethon in order to raise money to save the studio.

But don't judge the film by it's plot - it's actually quite good. There is a lot of breaking down the fourth wall type of humor, and constant cameos from Jack Black to Mickey Rooney keep the movie surprising. The humor is of a decidedly muppet-type; not so much jokes and physical comedy (though the movie has some of that), but just muppets behaving silly. There is a running gag with Animal and the drums that is quite amusing.

One surprise about the film was the music; this movie is a musical, and the score was quite good. Some, like Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet? are extremely comedic; others, like a nostalgic ballad sung by Kermit, are kind of sad, but all of the music is great, as far as musicals go.

From a Catholic viewpoint, this film has a great message. As the muppets struggle to get their telethon together, they face a lot of hostility from individuals in the television industry who tell them that the world has become too cynical for their sort of "happy" humor; they are told again and again that the world has left them behind and that the modern world longs for darker, edgier material. Kermit and Walter refuse to accept this, believing against hope that the world still has a place for wholesome, optimistic entertainment. They are proven right, of course, and everything turns out happy in the end. It's ultimately a story about conflicting worldviews, coupled with a running theme of coming of age/self-discovery as Walter, the muppet with a human family, tries to find his place in the world.

There is absolutely nothing objectionable in this film (well, there is a very brief scene with some "can-can" dancing girls, but it's only momentary). The film is extremely nostalgic, which was great for me, but I think that people who did not grow up in the 80's might miss some of the humor. For example, Kermit has a robot call "Eighties Robot" that comes in serving Tab Cola and New Coke, something that was totally lost on my daughter but which I chuckled at.

Finally, yes, all of the great stuff you remember from the original Muppet Show is here: the whole cast of characters, Professor Bunson and Beaker, the two old guys up in the balcony, that big blue eagle that reports the news, Animal and the band, and even the "manamanah" creatures - and the original Muppet theme song is sung as well.

If you loved the muppets, this is a film for you. It's very nostalgic and has a great message; even kids who were never familiar with the original show can still get into it. My daughter missed a lot of the jokes, but she had no problem following the film. I give it two point five tiaras: it was an all around solid, good movie, the kind you feel good about watching, but it was not great. There were a lot of chuckles, but no huge, gut-bursting laughs. Plot was quite good, but acting was somewhat corny in parts, though I think this might have been intentional. It is a good one to take the kids to and maybe buy for the personal collection.