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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Muppets - Something Better Just Came Along (Movie Review)

It happened 12 years ago.  Just like that, I knew it was over.  A part of my youth I had clung to had come to an end.  The Muppets were dead.  Muppets From Space was so far disconnected from the Muppet spirit that I could not help but think, barring a miracle, the true Muppets were no longer.  Well, finally, after a string of lackluster television movies the miracle occurred...Jason Segal (How I Met Your Mother/ naked in Forgetting Sarah Marshall).

Not the miracle worker one would would be expecting.

But Segal's love for The Muppets has single-handedly breathed life into a franchise that had lost its way and nearly died from mismanagement.  The story in short is Segal, a life-long fan of Kermit and company; had noticed the lack of direction for The Muppets. They lost the charm and innocence which had allowed the band of felt puppets to resonate in the hearts and minds of children, even as they were raising children of their own. (I said short story.  I need to work on that.)  He decided to approach the studio with an idea of his own to not only put another Muppets movie on the big screen, but also to return them to their original form.  The studio took the bait and ran with it.  When I heard the news I was ecstatic.  Not only would The Muppets return to the big screen, but someone who loved them was bringing them there - NOT someone that was simply looking to sell stuffed animals and DVDs.

Now, several years after the news broke, the film has hit the big screen and I can honestly say all is well at the Muppet Theater.  The film shadows the real life condition of the Muppets - they have been forgotten (a fact I would have found hard to believe had I not tried to buy a Kermit the Frog doll 3 years ago, only to find they were no longer in production and, in turn, had to go to eBay to buy it).  The Muppets have disbanded, started their own lives and their studio is about to be taken over by an evil oil tycoon (the only kind out there.)  When the news reaches Kermit the Frog, via the newest Muppet, Walter, it is up to them to get the old gang together and raise enough money to save the theater from demolition.  Classic storyline.

Segal not only wrote the film, he also stars in it.  He plays Gary, a resident of the perfect little town of Smalltown, USA. that heads out on a trip with his brother Walter (the puppet) and girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams) to Los Angeles.  Mary and Gary are taking the trip to grow closer to one other and Walter wants to visit The Muppets studio since they are the only creatures he feels like he fits in with (remember, he is a puppet.) 

Overall the film is a great success. It restores the Muppet magic that has been missing for over a decade and also creates a film that will ingrain The Muppets into the hearts of a whole new generation while simultaneously reviving the interest of previous generations that have lost that loving feeling.  This is accomplished by revisiting the foundation of The Muppets- all the original characters are back, the old TV theme song is performed, even the Muppet theater is restored to its state from the glory days (there's more, but I will not spoil it for you.)   Besides the visit to the land of nostalgia, some of the newer elements also refresh the old formula - new songs/dance routines, a new character (Walter), cameos from old and new stars and even a rendition of a Nirvana song.  Expect numerous cameos; some newer stars, some ooooolder and one of the cooler cameos I have seen in a long while.

The new songs which (cool fact here) are composed by Bret MacKenzie of "Flight of the Conchords" fame are quite good.  Although nothing will match the songs of the original film, the new ones are catchy, even if you may not be humming them on the way home.  Which brings me to my two complaints about the film: 1) Too many popular, well-known songs. When you include Starship's "We Built This City" you can use some editing - 10 minutes cut would have been sufficient, 2) Where the heck was Rizzo the Rat?  Being a Muppets purist, I was originally turned off by his ever growing presence in the franchise, yet soon grew to love and accept him.  But even if you are not a fan - he didn’t even get one line!  A shame.  A few of his one-liners would have added some needed adult laughs.  Maybe we will see him on DVD.... please.

I can go on and on about this great film - there is a lot to like.  It is fun, funny and a much needed return to form for a group of puppets I have loved for decades.  Thank you, Jason Segal. Part of my youth did not die; it was just waiting for you to treat it correctly.

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