as with most pop culture franchises, the muppets have been through the showbiz ups and downs. like jason, they’ve taken manhattan and been in space, and like leprechaun, they’ve had their share of direct-to-video sequels during the leaner years. like freddy, jason, titans, apes, predator, wolverine, incredible hulk, superman, and spiderman, a reboot seems inevitable. though i hope no one tries to reboot the leprechaun series.
unlike the typical series rebootations, the muppets smartly doesn’t go the origin route and demand you to forget the past. in fact, it celebrates its own history. oh yeah, it helps that it’s a good movie too.
written by jason segel (forgetting sarah marshall, i love you man, tv’s how i met your mother) and nicholas stoller (forgetting sarah marshall, get him to the greek) and directed by james bobin (tv’s da ali g show, tv’s flight of the concords), the muppets tells the story of segel as the human gary, whose brother walter is a muppet, a fact known to everyone except the characters. gary, gary’s fiancee played by amy adams (enchanted, julie & julia, marky mark IS the fighter), and walter take a trip to l.a. and while on a tour at the former muppets studio, walter discovers chris cooper’s (adaptation, american beauty) evil plan to drill for oil under the muppets theatre instead of turning it into a museum like he said. he is also perfectly named tex richman. with the set up in place, it’s time to get the whole gang back together and put on a show.
unlike the teasers and trailers i won’t go further with the details to spoil your fun. even though expertise in muppetology is not required to enjoy the film, it may help that you are tolerable regarding jason segel. though we’ve seen the kind of meta self-referential jokes before, i would say that 98% of the jokes are still funny. they are able to update them to serve the story instead of merely using them as a way to make themselves seem smart. it feels in tune with the old muppets movies and tv shows instead of cold, cynical franchise-starting calculation. despite how it reads on paper, it dances on but never crosses the line of being annoying. there’s just the right amount of nostalgia involved without being self-aggrandizing.
and i don’t know if it’s because i’m in the right age group to remember the original muppets and the easy going charm of segel and company, but they didn’t really have to work to hard, and it didn’t seem like they did, to tug my heartstring. i’m sure i’m not the only one being able to emotionally connect with the friendship through time aspect, or the sincere form of entertainment in a dumb down a.d.d. visceral transformers age (analog puppets in a digital world). it’s no coincidence that the muppets were on their way down at a time when the soulless ninja turtles (which is referenced in the film), power rangers, and pokemon were on the rise. kermit may look the same as he did in the 80s but he has certainly aged. outside of pixar movies and babe, i can’t remember the last time i get emotional during a (kids) movie. it’s not easy being me.
there were worries that the movie brings in human characters and a new muppet and they are right to an extent. though the movie gets them out of the way quickly and mostly focus on the muppets, the new characters are never quite as engaging as when the original muppets are on screen. it may not come as a surprise to flight of the concords audience, it’s a bit distracting to me during the musical numbers that don’t involve the muppets.
one disappointment i have is in the cameo department. supposedly the original script amounts to a three hour running time. some of the scenes from the script were filmed but the current length is 98 minutes. a lot of the cameos were cut and the third act seems rushed and the pacing seems out of place. i like the cameos we get in the movie but it would be nice to have a surprise element when it comes to cameos, instead of simply staying within the network prime time sitcom arena. there’s no need for a three hour muppet movie but 15-20 minutes longer would have been great. instead we get a merely passable toy story short.
in a way it kind of works like soderbergh’s ocean’s eleven to a greater degree. you root for the team because of their easy going charm even though there’s a predictability in terms of plot. i don’t know if young kids who’ve never heard of them before would enjoy it (would they get the nirvana, devil wears prada references?) but it certainly works for me. like the best kids movies like babe and pixar, i don’t feel like i have to lower myself to enjoy it. considering the trailers i had to sit through before the movie, fuck the kids, they have enough products catered and pandered to them. it’s not quite up there with wall-e but it’s just on about the same level as up and leagues better than the overrated toy story movies.
this is how a reboot should be done, being entertaining by itself and makes you yearn for the next entry, without seeming like a franchise building career opportunity.
p.s. the worst trailer was for chipmunks 3. i just don’t get how chipmunks doing renditions of top 40 shit is supposed to be entertaining. at least the muppets are clever enough to pick better songs.