I love the Muppets. No, I mean, I really love the Muppets. I have seen the original Muppet Movie more times than I care to count. The Muppet Christmas Carol is probably my favorite holiday film. My children constantly demand to watch all three seasons of the Muppet Show on DVD, despite Sandy Duncan hosting. So when I say I was greatly anticipating Jason Segel’s take on The Muppets, that is possibly the biggest understatement I could make.
Entering the theatre, I could not wait to see Kermit leading the gang into another show. I wanted to laugh, be touched and enjoy my time in the theatre. I couldn’t wait for Jason Segel (whom I love on How I Met Your Mother) and his co-writer, Jason Stoller, to prove everyone wrong and show how the Muppets are still relevant in today’s society. After watching the movie, I felt like I was set up for something I didn’t get, and that makes it hard to judge the film.
Judging by past Muppet films, the ads for this film and the massive marketing campaign that Disney engaged in, I was expecting a happy-go-lucky romp where the Muppets have a wacky time getting together and proving to the world that they are back on top. What I got was a deeply thoughtful film about the changes in media culture during the Muppets’ years in entertainment with a veneer of quite silly comedy.
To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about the film. The story is extremely well crafted, with Segel’s character Gary and his puppet brother, Walter, serving as the impetus for the quest to revive the Muppets. Walter and Gary, along with Gary’s girlfriend Mary, played by Amy Adams, tour the Muppet Studios on their trip to Los Angeles. In the process, Walter overhears evil oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) scheming to destroy the studio and the Muppet Theatre. From there, just like always, it’s a mad dash for the Muppets to raise the money to save the theatre by putting on a show. Everything about that says it’s a good movie.
No doubt, the comedy is certainly there. From celebrity cameos that are a staple of Muppet films, to the hilarious off-center gags like the kidnapping of Jack Black, the Muppet sensibilities were captured perfectly. Segel and Stoller have an obvious affection for the Muppets, as you can see in the in-jokes throughout the film. If you’ve never seen the original Muppet Show or the Muppet Movie, you’re going to miss some of the humor.
My biggest issue is that there is an air of melancholy hanging over the entire film. When Walter, Gary and Mary meet Kermit, he is definitely sad about what’s happening to the old theatre, but he’s resigned to it. It takes singing portraits and a big speech to get him moving again, but even when Kermit hits the road to find the old gang, it’s hard for him to get them onboard. Kermit is more depressed in this movie than in the middle section of Muppets Take Manhattan, and that’s saying something.
Despite that, I did enjoy myself in the film. The cameos are used to great effect for humor, the songs are quite good, and the Muppets are fantastic. They are used perfectly in the film. It’s just that I wanted more fun from the Muppets, and less jokes about how less relevant they are these days. With the constant drumbeat throughout the movie about how the world has passed the Muppets by, I felt there needed to be a better resolution to the main story. However, I think everyone who feels that the Muppets deserve a bright future should go see this movie and show Disney that they ARE relevant. It may be our last chance to get the Muppets back.