THE MUPPETS

 

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: James Bobin

Stars: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Peter Linz, Jack Black, Alan Arkin, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Neil Patrick Harris, Mickey Rooney, Jim Parsons, Emily Blunt, Zach Galifianakis.

The Muppets last graced the big screen in 1999, with the disappointing Muppets From Space. In the decade or so since then, have they become irrelevant, as ruthless oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) says, or are they still capable of entertaining today’s audiences who like every thing faster, louder and superficial? The answer is certainly a positive, if this new Muppet movie is anything to go by.

The script has been written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, who are best known for the raunchy sex comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but it is done with such obvious affection for the iconic characters and their legacy that it becomes irresistible. The pair are fans of the original show, and it shows as The Muppets captures much of the tone of the series. The film delivers some positive moral messages as it explores themes of being with the most important person in your world and believing in yourself. However, there is still a strong irreverent streak running through the material.

The Muppets introduces us to a new character in the small orange puppet Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), who has been raised as part of a normal family in Smalltown, USA. His sweet natured big brother Gary (played by Segel) has been protective of him all his life. To the film’s credit it doesn’t even try to explain how Walter became part of an otherwise normal human family. Walter has always felt that something was missing from his life, until he discovered the Muppets on television and his life suddenly found meaning. Walter was obsessed with all things Muppet.

Twenty years later, Gary and his long time and very patient girl friend, the perky Mary (a game Amy Adams), are heading off to Los Angeles for a holiday. They take Walter with them. Their first stop is the Muppet Studios, which have unfortunately fallen into disrepair. Walter learns that the ruthless Richman plans to buy the studios and demolish them so that he can tap into the reserves of oil that lie beneath. The only way to stop him is to find Kermit and raise $10 million before the deadline expires.

Gary, Mary and Walter help Kermit round up the old gang through a clever and effective montage sequence. Fozzie Bear is working with a tribute band known as the Moopets in Reno, Gonzo runs a high class plumbing business, while Animal is in therapy to overcome his anger. And Miss Piggy is the editor of Paris Vogue, but is initially reluctant to become part of the act because of unresolved issues with Kermit. And many fans of the show will be moved when Kermit sings The Rainbow Connection, and the romance between he and Miss Piggy is rekindled.

One of the amazing strengths of the original television series was the roster of big name guest hosts, everyone from Bob Hope to President Clinton. That is acknowledged here as Kermit desperately works through his Rolodex to find a big name star to host the Muppet telethon. The film is packed with big name stars such as Jack Black, Oscar winner Alan Arkin, Whoopi Goldberg, Disney girl Selena Gomez, Neil Patrick Harris, Mickey Rooney, The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons, and Zach Galifianakis, many of whom appear in little more than glorified cameos. And Emily Blunt’s brief role as Miss Piggy’s officious secretary even references her role in the recent The Devil Wears Prada. Segel and Adams bring a delightful innocence to their characters which balances out the comical shenanigans of the Muppet creatures.

There are a few moments that misfire as well. Chris Cooper’s rapping is even worse than Pierce Brosnan’s warbling in Mamma Mia!

Audiences who grew up watching the Muppets on television, or even the adults who enjoyed it with their kids, will appreciate that this film is full of the cheesy songs, corny vaudeville routines, 80’s in-jokes, and slapstick humour of the original. Director James Bobin is better known for his work on Ali G and Flight Of The Conchords, but he brings plenty of energy to the film and seems to revel in this material. Conchords’ Bret McKenzie serves as musical supervisor, and has penned a number of memorable songs.

And even though neither the late Jim Henson nor Frank Oz was involved in the production, this new incarnation of their delightful creation is a superbly enjoyable film that will appeal to all audiences of ages. Given the success of this reboot, can a sequel be too far away?

★★★

 

 

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