As always, before I get into the meat of this review, I feel the need to state my biases right from the start. In this case, I should state that I am an incredibly HUGE fan of the Muppets. In fact, I would go as far as saying that, while Robert Fulghum may have learned everything he really needed to know in kindergarten, I learned everything I really needed to know from the Muppets. Between “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show”, I learned that it’s OK to: recycle, question things that don’t make sense, accept those who many be different on the outside (because we’re all the same on the inside), count aloud, not judge two men who live together, accept your friends as your family, eat cookies, believe in yourself, chase your dreams and a whole host of other things that I still, amazingly, dig out from the deep depths of my memory when the situation requires. In other words, it is fair to say that I am a true acolyte of the world and teachings of Jim Henson.
So, you can imagine the feelings of extreme dread and apprehension (read: fear and loathing) that I experienced when I found out that Jason Segel was writing the new Muppet movie. Yes, yes, I just about had a conniption when I heard. The same guy who was full-frontal-naked for the first 20 minutes of Forgetting Sarah Marshall was being hired to write the new Muppet movie? Despite the fact that I had previously read that Segal was also a huge fan of the Muppets, my fears were not allayed; quite the opposite. I purposely avoided seeing all Muppet movie trailers and reading any articles about Segal and the new movie that he would, almost assuredly make a mockery of. (I pictured an X-rated Kermit/Miss Piggy love scene as well as a gross drunken vomiting scene involving Rowlf, Beaker, and Swedish Chef. Well, I didn’t picture that exactly, but I wouldn’t have put it past Segel.) I just couldn’t bear the thought of my beloved Muppets sinking into further degradation (“Muppets from Space” or “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz”, anyone?) by being associated with a six-foot-plus boozer, a goofy monstrosity of a Judd Apatow sidekick.
OK, OK, and now here’s the part where I eat crow about Mr. Jason Segel (who is now officially back on my “good” list in a BIG way) because “The Muppets” was a truly excellent movie. Its brilliance starts with Walter (a Muppet) and his (human) brother Gary (played by Segel) and their life in Smalltown; a life that Walter doesn’t quite fit into. The night that Walter discovers “The Muppet Show” is seminal; he realizes that not only is it OK to be different but that there are other people out there in the world (talented people!) just like him. (Jason Segel, somewhere Jim Henson is waiting to “high-five” you for emphasizing this very important Muppet Life Lesson.) Years go by as Walter idolizes the Muppets, mythologizing them, until Gary and his childhood sweetheart Mary (sweetly played by Amy Adams) decide to go on a big Los Angeles vacation to celebrate their (10 year?!) anniversary. Gary invites Walter along on the lovebirds’ vacation (not without a bit of consternation from Mary) so that Walter can finally meet the Muppets in person. Excitement turns to dismay as the trio encounters the present day Muppet Theater and Studios and find that they are broken down, abandoned and all but forgotten. Even worse, Walter discovers that wealthy oilman, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to raze the Muppets’ land and drill for the precious oil that he knows lies beneath. The Muppets’ only chance to save their land is to buy out Richman, to the tune of $10 million, which would be easy except for the fact that the Muppets have long since broken up, scattered to the four winds, and are, according to current pop culture, no longer relevant. What to do, then? Why, find them all and convince them to put on a show, of course! (Jason Segel, somewhere Jim Henson, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney are also waiting to “high-five” you for highlighting Important Muppet Life Lesson #2. Of course, Rooney, who makes a cameo appearance in the movie, probably “high-fived” Segel on set. Andy Hardy’s legacy lives on!)
If you haven’t figured it out yet, there are a lot of Muppet Life Lessons weaved throughout the movie and (bonus!) a lot of original songs belted out by Segel and team. My favorite number is a tie between the Chris Cooper number (I won’t spoil the hilarity be describing it to you because it’s worth the price of admission just to see Cooper “sing”.) and the Jason Segel soon-to-be-classic, “Man Or Muppet”. Additionally, there are a few Muppet takes on more popular ditties as well as (another Muppet essential) tons of cameos, albeit for my money, not enough big, Muppet-worthy stars. (Jack Black and Selena Gomez just aren’t good enough for me, sorry.) Which leads me to the few problems I had with this movie: 1) Not enough STAR cameos; yeah, I get that the movie is about the Muppets’ lapsing relevancy but couldn’t this movie have rated some movie star appearances? Where were Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Tom Cruise? The Muppets of the 70s had the biggest names in show biz involved, and they weren’t always playing themselves! I don’t expect Steve Martin to be trotted out (he probably wouldn’t admit that he was ever on “The Muppet Show” to begin with) but ONE REAL movie star would have been great, 2) There were some lags/holes in the plot; surprisingly, the Gary/Mary relationship subplot and its resolution was pretty boring and 3) The VOICES; any true fan of the Muppets is used to the Jim Henson/Frank Oz era voices (Dave Goelz and Steve Whitmire, from the original Muppet days are back), so there will be moments where you cock your head and know that you are not hearing the Kermit (or Piggy, Fozzie, Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, etc., etc.) of your youth but I don’t think that ruins the overall idealism, magic, positivity, and engaging tone of the movie and taken as a whole, I’m willing to forgive the few flaws.
Once again, kudos to Segel and his writing partner, Nicholas Stoller, for doing Jim Henson proud and hitting the Muppet Philosophy right on the mark.
Bottom Line: SEE THIS MOVIE NOW. The kids will definitely love it but I’m willing to bet that anyone who remembers The Muppets will be overjoyed (like I am) that Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo and the gang are FINALLY back! And any movie with a Dave Grohl cameo automatically rates 5 bags in my book…..