Disney’s The Muppets has been described as the Happiest Film of 2011, and having finally watched this family-orientated comedy musical (the first theatrically released Muppets movie in 12 years), I can confirm it’s one of the best feel-good releases of recent times. This said, for maximum pleasure you do really have to know and love the Muppets already. A lot of the goodwill that is generated by the film depends on the audience’s nostalgic feelings towards the colourful puppets, who go completely without character introductions for newbies in the audience.
Plot-wise, The Muppets is nothing special – as expected, the story is pretty much just a hanger on which to drape the various set-pieces and shenanigans. Basically though, Muppet Walter (performed by Peter Linz) has grown up in idealistic, stuck-in-the-50s Smalltown with his human brother, Gary (Jason Segel). Gary and his sweet, school teacher girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams) are heading to Los Angeles to celebrate their 10 year anniversary, but much to Mary’s frustration, Gary invites his brother along, transforming the trip into a Muppets Studio pilgrimage, and reducing Mary to a third wheel.
Personal issues take a backseat however when Walter discovers ruthless oil magnate Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) has plans to buy and bulldoze the dilapidated Muppet Theatre so he can drill for oil beneath it. The only way to save the property is to raise $10 million and that means reuniting crestfallen Kermit the Frog and all the other Muppets for a telethon variety show.
Cue goofy musical numbers that veer between the heartfelt and hilarious, assorted gags that break the Fourth Wall and plenty of celerity cameos. In terms of the latter, notable appearances include Emily Blunt, reprising her role from The Devil Wears Prada (no guessing who’s in Meryl Streep’s demanding shoes), Zach “The Hangover” Galifianakis, Jack Black and even Sheldon himself, Jim Parsons, who has probably the most apt role of all.
Musicals aren’t for everyone – and it’s especially debatable how much stamina young children have for them these days – but the songs in The Muppets are one of the film’s greatest strengths. The Muppets soundtrack is a squirming bucket of earworms. Familiar tracks like The Muppet Show Theme, The Rainbow Connection and Mahna Mahna are there to please long-time fans, but the film also includes a handful of original songs written by Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords. These tracks are loads of fun and include this year’s Academy Award-winning Best Song, Man or Muppet. For the record, Enchanted already proved that Amy Adams can sing beautifully, but Segel is a huge surprise, demonstrating some real vocal ability along with a serious chunk of charm. Oh, and he co-wrote the film’s script as well.
The Muppets does have some failings of course. Given the number of puppet characters that have to be accommodated in the film, some fan favourites have been short-changed in terms of screen time. Personally I would have liked more focus on Gonzo, those cynical, heckling curmudgeons Statler and Waldorf, and, well, you can never have too much of Miss Piggy in full-blown diva mode.
The Muppets’ narrative also ends a bit limply and too conveniently. However, there’s no denying that by the time the credits roll you will have a smile on your face, having quickly warmed to the exuberant and innocent wackiness on-screen. You’re also likely, by the time the credits roll, to have been pleasantly surprised by the film’s nuanced examination of long-term relationships. Who knew that hand puppets would produce a more honest, emotionally affecting performance than most flesh and blood actors?
Last Updated: March 6, 2012