Review written by Miller
runtime 98 minutes
Directed by James Bobin
So, one day you are sitting around checking your e-mail, watching Maury Povich, maybe making a sandwhich. Then you get a call from a billion dollar entertainment super corporation. One of their executives saw a little movie that you made involving puppets and full frontal man-nudity and they have decided to hand you creative control to an almost universally beloved franchise that has been around for 40 years but hasn’t produced anything worth watching for nearly 25. What do you do when they ask you to take responsibility for the collective nostalgia of nearly every living, breathing human being between the ages of 40 and whatever age one would have to have been to actually enjoy “Muppets in Space.”
If you’re Jason Segal, the co-writer and human co-star of “The Muppets,” you man the @#$% up like a boss and you get to work writing one of the funniest movies of the year. One may never fully appreciate what Mr. Segal was up against when he said yes to whoever came up with the idea that the man who flashed his weiner in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” should put words in the mouth of Kermit the Frog, but let’s just say that if someone ever comes to you and asks you to write the sequel to “The Goonies,” the safe answer would be NO.
The Muppets (the characters, not the movie) are absurd. They are plush toys come to life who sing, dance, and tell jokes that are quite often directed at the sense of humor of children. A large chunk of the humor in this film and everything else that the Muppets have ever appeared in, is simply the fact that they exist at all. The silliness textures every frame as the frogs, and pigs, and bears do the old soft shoe.
“The Muppets” takes full advantage of this absurdity from the very opening sequence where the new character Walter montages his way through the real world as a puppet, playing baseball and watching TV with his real brother Gary (Segal). The audience meets Gary’s girlfriend Mary through a great new song, written by Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords) and featuring a couple of lines sung by Feist and the legendary Mickey Rooney. Mr. Rooney has now appeared on the big screen at least once in each decade for ten decades in a row.
The characters of Gary and Mary quite often feel a little bit out of place in this movie, and not just because they don’t have a human arm inside of them. Segal’s mugging borders on twee at times, but Amy Adams, although sometimes superfluous, has the kind of charisma that keeps a viewer fascinated. She may be the most capable actress of her age group and she makes Mary a little more interesting than Juliana Donald who played Jenny, the human counterpart in 1984’s “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” which was the last Muppets movie as well crafted as this one.
Walter, Gary, and Mary travel to Hollywood to tour the Muppets studio where Walter overhears the diabolical plan of an oil company executive named Tex Richman (the consistently great Chris Cooper) who wants to buy the Muppets studio and tear it down to drill for oil under it. Recently a Fox News pundit criticized this film for portraying an oil executive as the bad guy and actually used the word “communism.” If any concerned parents out there are worried about their children falling victim to absurd puppets filling their heads with political propoganda, maybe they shouldn’t let their children watch Fox News.
Of course (SPOILERS ALERT) the Muppets foil the diabolical plan of the evil oil executive, and of course they do it by putting on a show. There is not a lot of mystery in the plotline of this movie, but there is plenty of charm. There are plenty of laughs, and a few great songs.
One of the signs that Segal took this responsibility seriously is that even thought the movie is filled with cameos, they are done in a similar fashion to the classic Muppet films of the past. I still remember realizing in my early twenties how badass it was that Kermit the Frog met Richard Pryor in 1979’s “The Muppet Movie,” or John Cleese in 1981’s “The Great Muppet Caper.” Back then I was impressed that the Muppets were able to feature subversive and groundbreaking comedians, but I now realize that the creators and writers of the Muppets were subversive and groundbreaking in their own right. They were the contemporaries of Richard Pryor and the Monty Python gang so it only made sense that those comedians would appear in their movies.
Sadly though, “The Muppets” is not a perfect movie. The sugar high sweetness becomes a little bit tiresome for adults. Segal missed a few opportunities to break the feel good tension. Using “The Rainbow Connection” might not have been the best choice either. It could have easily been replaced by another great Bret McKenzie creation. Including that song in this movie didn’t add anything, although it really didn’t detract either.
It has also recently come to my attention that the Muppets have kinda always lacked good female characters. Sure, it is just a bunch of silly stuffed animals running around blowing stuff up, but it would be nice to have at least one girl Muppet that isn’t a vain, obese diva (please forgive me Piggy). They could use one character that little girls could relate to. However, those criticisms have little impact on how enjoyable this movie really is.
The makers of this movie were playing with fire. Hollywood has wrung every dollar out of the collective nostalgia of children of the 70’s and 80’s. Just look at what those bastards did to Transformers, G.I. Joe, and even Indiana Jones. Jason Segal should be praised for keeping Shia Lebeouf away from this movie. He should also be praised for taking a well known comedic franchise and doing it justice. “The Muppets” is one of the funniest movies of 2011 and it is one of the funniest Muppets movies around.
Miller is suppose to be preparing a holiday dinner for a family of 12, but instead wasted his precious time writing this review. We hope you enjoyed it.