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The Muppets is the first movie to feature the once popular Jim Henson creations in 12 years. It’s quickly apparent that the movie’s main focus is to win back the popularity they had decades ago and try to re-establish their place in modern culture. Jason Segel has been a life-long devotee of the muppets and always aspired to make a movie for them. Well his dream has come to fruition. He wrote the movie and cast himself as the lead human character.
He plays a guy named Gary who just happens to have a muppet as a brother. The brother’s name is Walter. Since Walter grows up around nothing but human beings, he’s absolutely mesmerized when he discovers The Muppet Show on television. Of course he identifies with them and becomes obsessed with everything muppet. Unfortunately, this buildup of a plot causes the viewer to go about 20 minutes before the well-known muppet characters are even on screen, and they’re the reason we’ve come to see this movie isn’t it? It’s like watching The Simpsons and not actually seeing any of the Simpson family until the end of the episode.
We finally see the muppets when Gary plans a trip to Los Angeles with his girlfriend and invites Walter so he can see the Muppet Theater (which they discover is in ruins due to lack of interest in recent years). When they arrive, Walter overhears an oil tycoon who is buying the theatre and plans to tear down Muppet Studios altogether so he can drill for oil. So Gary and Walter find Kermit and the gang to warn them of the bad news. After getting them all together, the movie concludes with the typical “we gotta put on a big show to save ourselves from being out of business!” ending. Wait a minute, isn’t that kind of like the ending to The Muppets Take Manhattan? That was a much better movie by the way.
What’s worse is that it feels like barely any screen time is given to the individual muppets. It feels like we barely hear from Fozzie, Gonzo, or even Miss Piggy through most of the movie. That’s because the film focuses more on Walter and the relationship between Gary and his girlfriend. There’s really nothing fun or interesting about Walter either. He has no unique or muppet-like qualities about him (I suppose since he was raised by regular people). And when he’s given the spotlight as the final act for the big show, what does he do… he whistles. The big finale is that he shows off his whistling skills. Pretty lame. There’s also a running joke about Animal being put in a mental institution due to his addiction to drumming. That’s kind of funny but when he gets his big chance to finally play drums at the end, he plays them to the very slow “Rainbow Connection” from the original muppet movie. That’s not exactly a song to rock out to. Again, pretty lame. In fact, that’s the biggest problem with the movie. It’s so concerned with revitalizing the muppets and making them relative again, but it does the exact opposite by having them do the same old song and dance they’ve done before.
With the big show, they could have modernized things a little so that a new generation could learn to love them. Even when they decide to kidnap celebrities to appear in their show, you think they’re going to get all these cameos from cool actors. But they only find one actor who already appeared earlier in the film! And cameos by the likes of Alan Arkin and Judd Hirsch aren’t exactly going to win over today’s youth. Completely unnecessary scenes like seeing 60 year-old Chris Cooper rapping just seem plain weird as well.
The film may please some older viewers who grew up with the characters, but it doesn’t accomplish its goal of invigorating the franchise or connecting with today’s youth. Luckily, the movie does have some smart, witty jokes throughout the film. A lot of them are kind of done with a subliminal wink to the audience. But once again, these are jokes that will resonate with adults and not children. People won’t be talking much about the muppets in a year from now. And that’s too bad, because they used to be pretty fun to watch.
Recommendations: The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Se7en , 25th Hour
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