IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 103 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
When he is a young boy, Gary gains a younger brother called Walter, who is a muppet. Increasingly finding himself an outsider, Walter finds solace in The Muppet Show on TV. As adults, Gary plans a vacation to Los Angeles with his girlfriend Mary to celebrate their tenth anniversary, and he invites Walter along so he can tour the Muppet Theatre, though Mary feels that Gary’s devotion to Walter detracts from their relationship. In Los Angeles, the three visit the Muppet Theater to find it derelict, and worse than that, Walter sneaks off and overhears the theatre being sold to oil magnate Tex Richman, who, once he attains the theatre, really wants to destroy it and drill for oil underneath.A lawyer explains that to Gary, Walter and Mary that if they can raise $10 million they can repurchase the theatre, an undertaking that involves bringing all the original Muppets back together………
Right at the beginning of this review, I am going to admit something. I have never seen a Muppet movie, nor was I a fan of the TV series when I was younger. Although I do remember checking it out a couple of times it just wasn’t my thing and bored me; as a child of that age it was things like Monkey, Buck Rogers and late night Dracula and Frankenstein movies [that I used to sneak downstairs late at night to watch] that rocked my boat. Sometimes though I think it’s good to go into something without much experience or knowledge of IT, and so it was for me with The Muppets, which of course is only the latest in a line of Muppet films dating back to 1979 [though can you believe it the first Muppets were unveiled by creator Jim Henson in 1954!]. The last two movies were made for TV affairs and I think it’s fair to say that the Muppets were losing some of their lustre and interest.
Which is of course what this latest production is all about, and one of the reasons it has been such a success artistically and commercially. Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed The Muppets; it’s a wonderfully innocent, goofy endeavour that proves that decent live action [though of course that term could be pushing it somewhat] films can be made for children and adults to enjoy together that don’t involve sexual references, violence [actually, come to think of it, there is some violence of the slapstick nature, but I’m sure you get the idea], or constant attempts to be ‘cool’. The Muppets successfully manages to have its cake and eat it; it knowingly presents the Muppets as possibly outdated ‘has-beens’, right down to a sequence where they are turned down by almost every producer in town, but ends up celebrating them and their inoffensive, happy humour. I would imagine that if you were one of those many kids who did grow up loving them on TV, then you would find this film a wonderful and even bittersweet nostalgia blast, more perhaps than some of the various adventures the characters have been on in the interim; rather than having them in space or in Oz, this movie is located firmly in ‘our’ world. Pleasingly though, the many children in the screen I saw the film in also seemed to thoroughly enjoy it, despite it being comparatively genial and even slow paced in comparison with your average children’s movie these days.
The plot really is old-hat, its ‘saving the theatre’ idea has already been done to death, and no doubt you will know how things will progress. You’ll get the threat to close the theatre. You’ll get the few moments of sadness and then “hang on”! You’ll get lots of searching for and finding old performers, all of whom will be found to be doing different things. You’ll get early rehearsals which don’t work. You’ll get a relationship upon which the success of the show ends up hinging on. You’ll get the final victorious performance – come on, you don’t need me to warn you of spoilers, because you can probably write the story yourself. Quite often though, it’s not the story that really matters though, it’s the way it’s told, and The Muppets tells its unoriginal story deftly and even intelligently; yes, none of the humour is of the sophisticated sort, but the script by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller is really quite clever in its attitude to its strange, ugly [come on, they are ugly!] but endearing puppets and their place.
The comedy mostly involves pratfalls, stupid lines and even some surreal ‘breaking the fourth wall’, so I was certainly kept quite busy laughing. There’s also an almost constant knowingness throughout, this is a good example;
Statler: If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were reciting some sort of important plot point.
Waldorf: I hope so. Otherwise I would’ve bored half the audience half to death.
Statler: You mean half the audience is still alive?
What I really loved was the surreal nature of some of the film, such as a very ‘touching-in-an-odd-way’ bit where, in separate locales, Gary and Walter both sing a mournful song about being a man or a muppet, and we see Gary with a muppet version of himself and Walter with a human version! I really didn’t expect to see such an odd scene in a film like this. The music throughout works very well. Original songs such as the opening and closing Life’s A Happy Song, which gets away with being outrageously sweet and sugary, are superbly judged, parodic but revelling in the fact too, while I liked the twists on [some of would say murdering of] existing songs such as Cee Lo Green’s Forget You done by squawking chickens which I think is preferable to the original track. And don’t forget sneering villain Chris Cooper breaking into a bizarre impromptu rap!
The human side of the film isn’t entirely successful; I couldn’t understand why Mary was still with Gary after ten years of inability to express his feelings and even neglect. To me Jason Segal lacks charisma [and can’t dance either], but luckily Amy Adams, almost doing a variation on her Enchanted role, is sweet and adorable. There are cameos, mainly from TV folk, but you may also notice Mickey Rooney, Alan Arkin [very funny], Emily Blunt and an extended one from Jack Black. No absolute ‘mega-stars’ maybe, though there are rumours of certain people being cut out, I don’t want to say who! I didn’t really know what to expect from The Muppets, but I had a goofy smile on my face from the first scene to after I had exited the cinema. Sometimes that’s all you want from a film, to forget your troubles and be happy, and The Muppets certainly let me do that. I may even check out some of the other films [“Dr Lenera sneaks off before the other members of Horror Cult Films read this”].