Don't write off "The Muppets" as a children's movie.
There hasn't been a Muppets movie in 12 years, so today's children may not have even heard of the Muppets.
That's a sad thought, isn't it?
In many ways, "The Muppets" film is intended for children of the '80s, as evidenced by the nostalgic soundtrack. A barbershop quartet covers Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Gary Numan's "Cars," AC/DC's "Back in Black" and Starship's "We Built This City (on Rock 'n' Roll)" play as the Muppet gang goes on a road trip. It's your parental duty to take your kids to this movie, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself while you're there.
Walter is the world's biggest Muppet fan. He lives in Smalltown, USA, with his brother Gary (Jason Segel), who is dating Mary (Amy Adams). They go on a Hollywood vacation to see the sights, the most important of which is the Muppet Studios. Upon arrival, they're disappointed to find an abandoned lot covered in cobwebs.
They discover that oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) wants to buy the Muppet Studios under the guise of turning it into a museum. In reality, he wants to demolish the property and drill for oil. There is a loophole: If the Muppets can raise $10 million to save the studio, the property rights revert back to them.
That's easier said than done because many years have passed, and the Muppet gang hasn't stayed in touch. Miss Piggy is the plus-size fashion editor for Vogue magazine in Paris. Fozzie Bear is playing with a tribute band, The Moopets, in Reno. Gonzo is a busy plumbing entrepreneur (he sells toilets). Animal is in anger management rehab with Jack Black. Scooter is working at Google. Rowlf is … napping. Walter, Gary and Mary set out with Kermit to reunite the Muppets so that they can hold a telethon to raise the money to buy back the studio.
The movie doesn't shy away from the 800-pound gorilla in the room: The Muppets are relics of the past, and the current entertainment landscape is all about CGI effects and 3-D. It manages to tackle the issue head-on, with humor and a sense of acceptance. TV network executive Veronica (Rashida Jones) tells the Muppet gang, "You guys aren't famous anymore." The chauffer for their road trip is '80s Robot, who accesses the Internet on a 28.8 modem to get the name of their next destination, one letter at a time. Selena Gomez works the phone bank at the telethon, professing, "I don't know why I'm here, but my agent told me to show up." At the beginning of the telethon, the only person in the audience is Hobo Joe, who has brought along his space heater/trash can. Rico Rodriguez asks Kermit, "Are you one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?"
Luckily for the Muppets, their charm and appeal shine through, so the movie doesn't need to use special effects or 3-D gimmicks as a crutch. There are plenty of funny asides that capture the Muppets' signature humor. When Kermit initially declines to look up the gang, Mary remarks, "This is going to be a short movie." After a building blows up, Fozzie muses, "That was such an expensive-looking explosion! I can't believe we had that in the budget." It's worth the price of admission alone to see Segel as a Muppet and to witness the normally reserved Cooper letting loose with an over-the-top rap.
I read up on the film before the screening, and more than a few articles mentioned that while watching the Muppets, you tend to forget that puppeteers are at work. I smugly thought that I would remain cognizant of this. At about the one-hour mark, during a scene that featured two Muppets and no human actors, I had to remind myself that the Muppets are fictional. Not so smug after all.
Admittedly, the beginning of the movie is a tad slow because it needs to provide the backstory and explain the Muppets' dilemma. Once that's out of the way, the movie takes off and the magic begins. By the time the Muppet gang sings "Rainbow Connection" at the end of the movie, you find yourself wistfully remembering a simpler time, when you believed that Kermit and Miss Piggy could get married, buy a house and raise baby tadpoles.
Disney purchased the Muppet franchise a few years ago, and the biggest concern was that the acquisition would somehow alter the Muppets. An amusing "Toy Story Toons" short, titled "Small Fy," precedes the Muppet film, but that is about the only sign that Disney-Pixar had a hand in the production. This movie proves that the Muppets have retained their Muppet-ness and heart.
In true Muppet tradition, the movie boasts a bunch of celebrity cameos. Among them are: Alan Arkin, Emily Blunt, Zach Galifianakis, Whoopi Goldberg, Dave Grohl, Neil Patrick Harris, Judd Hirsch, John Krasinski, Jim Parsons, Mickey Rooney and Sarah Silverman. A few more cameos were filmed but left on the cutting room floor. It sounds like good bonus material for the DVD release.
"The Muppets" is much more than a children's movie. It's a way for 30- and 40-somethings to spend some time with dear childhood friends. If children are part of the equation, share the cinematic experience with them. The movie is a little slow to start, and it won't have any of the bells and whistles that are expected in modern movies, but "The Muppets" has a lot of heart, and that goes a long way.
"The Muppets" is rated PG and has a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes. It is showing in 2-D.
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