The Muppets is a joy of a film, as it is wonderful to have the gang back, and the sheer positivity of the characters paired with the excitement of seeing them on the screen again makes it easy to forgive a few shortcomings as you grin ear to ear over almost the entirety of the runtime.
The film’s narrative acknowledges the pre-existence of the Muppets’ role in our world, from the movies to The Muppet Show, and is quite meta in that the Muppets have been irrelevant (to most) in culture for some time now. But when a pair of brothers (Gary a human and Walter a muppet) live out their childhood dream and visit the Muppet studios, they discover there is a dastardly plot to wipe out the last remnants of the Muppets by the evil Tex Richman. Walter decides to round up the Muppets in an attempt to raise the ten million dollars needed to save the studio and, with the enlistment of Kermit, they set off on the road in search for the group.
The film is written by star Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller and the two certainly know what they are doing. The pair captures the spirit of the characters well and applies a sensibility to the Muppets that makes their transition to modern days come easily; while still making them feel timeless.
The film is entirely self aware and they have a lot of fun making fun of the Muppets’ personas against the modern entertainment landscape. They also do a wonderful job, director James Bobin included, recreating the feel and vibe of The Muppet Show for the film’s third act, and as a fan of the series I couldn’t help but be transported back in time to when I watched the show as a kid. The film had me grinning ear to ear from nearly start to finish and firmly feels like a piece of the Muppet canon.
The film isn’t without a few shortcomings and there is room for improvement in the (crosses fingers) eventual sequel. First, the human characters are a little short changed for as much of a prominence they have in the film’s story. Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) aren’t fleshed out enough for us to get all that invested in their outcome and it is a rushed arc for the two. The script relies on the tropes it fully embraces to move their plot along and, thankfully, they have some fun with the said limits of being the two humans in a Muppet movie; well, besides Richman. Richman is similarly marginalized and played as a straight forward villain, but this is far more acceptable as the villain just needs to be bad in the context of a Muppet movie; which Richman is. There is also just not enough time to get a whole lot of screen time for everyone’s favorite Muppet and fans of secondary characters will surely wish their favorite got a couple more scenes. They crammed a lot of Muppets in here though, so you can’t fault them for that.
The film’s music is also a bit of a mixed bag as a lot of the choices seem a bit off. From covering Nirvana and Cee Lo Green (possibly a human muppet) to using a lot of classic rock music never seems like a 100% fit and they could have easily made more interesting and inspired choices in a lot of places. Bret McKenzie creates most of the original songs for the picture and he is far more successful, but “Party of One” did fall a bit flat for me.
The film gets a pretty easy pass from me on most of its shortcomings as I am just happy to have a new Muppet story to enjoy. Even when the film drags a bit in the middle I was still grinning like a little kid on Christmas and was in awe of seeing our fuzzy friends back on the screen. The puppet work and effects are done almost entirely practically and the lo-fi nature is a welcome change of pace, especially when done so affectively.
In the end, The Muppets is a wonderful throwback to the time of, well, the Muppets and any fan of the group will likely fall in love with the film. Sure there could have been a few improvements here and there, but none of the film’s shortcomings are worth getting all that worked up about. Full of fun and happiness, The Muppets is a success, and for anyone that has loved the Muppets before seeing the film, it will take you back in time so it feels like they had never left.
The Muppets is a B+