If you don’t love the Muppets, you don’t have a soul.
It has been a painfully long time since the Muppets have been on a movie screen. Their last proper cinematic foray was back in 1999, with the criminally underrated Muppets from Space. That’s a gap of over a decade where movie theaters were empty, hate-filled, painful places to be.
But fear no more! Apatow associate Jason Segel has revived our felt friends in the most beautiful way imaginable. Segel first came out of the Muppet-loving closet big time at the conclusion of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where his massive puppet opera gave more than a few nods to Jim Henson’s iconic crew. Naturally that got a fire started, and Segel spent a few years writing the very best Muppet movie he possibly could.
And oh, did he.
Simply titled The Muppets, the film stars Segel as Gary, a manchild who happens to have a Muppet (Walter) for a brother. Walter has loved and related to the Muppets since he was a child, so he accompanies Gary on his trip to Los Angeles for his tenth anniversary with the love of his life, Mary, adorably played by Amy Adams, to check out the old Muppet Theater. Once there, a plan is revealed that a tycoon is buying the old Muppet Theater to drill for oil, because that’s basically the most evil thing anyone can do to our beloved Mups. Walter makes his hero Kermit the Frog privy to the whole thing, prompting the amphibian to travel the world to get the gang back together and raise the $10 million needed to keep the theater alive.
The plot is classic Muppets – simple and to the point. Naturally, the plot is just a vehicle for a series of hilarious moments, sketches, and musical numbers featuring every Muppet you can fit in your heart, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Segel wrote this movie because he gets the Muppets, and every line of dialog and every single character detail prove that gorgeously. When Kermit is hunting down his old friends, every place the characters end up makes perfect sense, be it completely fitting or hilariously ironic. Personally, I died laughing when I saw where Sam the Eagle and Rolf ended up, but every little scene would make you smile and nod with approval.
The Muppets is honestly just an incredibly well-written comedy. The Muppets have always been intended for adults, so while there’s plenty here for the kids to love, the humor is just a bit too smart and clever for most of the wee ones. Subtle parodies and references are everywhere, the fourth wall is regularly bulldozed down, and jokes are so Meta that audiences are bound to have an existential crisis. This is family-friendly comedy writing at its absolute finest. Segel totally gets the Muppets, and the humor feels right at home with their work from the 1970s and 80s. When you see an angry, crotchety old tycoon sitting at a desk looking confused and annoyed, and immediately cut to the opposite side of his desk where a room full of Muppets are staring back at him, you know you’ve struck classic comedy gold.
The story flows a bit strangely, as there’s a lot of time getting the gang back together and a lot of time showcasing the final telethon to raise the money, but little time is spent on them actually working on the show. As a result, we don’t get to hang out with the ancillary Muppets as much as we’d all want to. Fan favorites like Animal, Rizzo the Rat, and Pepe the King Prawn all have only the briefest of appearances, and guys like Clifford are absent entirely. Granted, it just makes me want another Muppet movie immediately, but it would have been nice if the pace slowed down just a tad so we could hang out with this wacky cast of characters a bit more.
The performances are all top notch here, with one large exception that I’ll get to in a moment. All the Muppet performers brought their A-game, with the weird Muppet voices that plagued the 90s seemingly eradicated entirely. While Frank Oz might not be on board to voice characters like Miss Piggy and Fozzie (he was actually grossly offended by the original script), the current cast of Muppet performers still bring honor to the characters we all know and love. The newest Muppet, Walter, is unfortunately just a brown thing and not a funny take on an animal, but he’s got more than enough character to let him fit right in. He is a joy.
The humans are equally stellar. I was only familiar with Amy Adams playing Boston trash in The Fighter, so I was surprised to see just how sweet and charming she was playing Jason Segel’s girlfriend who wants nothing but her man’s attention. Chris Cooper plays Tex Richman, the evil oil tycoon, to over-the-top comedic perfection. Unfortunately, Jason Segel’s performance was the only one I was put back by. A human interacting with Muppets is often one of the most endearing things an audience can ever see, but Segel takes it a step too far. His manchild character borders on creepy, with him being way too excited and hamming it up far more than anyone has any right to. I understand that’s how people are supposed to act in Muppet films, but he takes it a step too far and kind of makes me want to punch him. Had he not done such a great job writing the movie, I might be hunting him down for a punch right now.
And of course there’s the music. The Muppets was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song for Man or Muppet. While I do wonder where the Best Actor nomination is for Kermit the Frog, seeing a Muppet movie technically being an Oscar nominated (but probably not winning) movie brings a tear of joy to my eye. I will say, however, that while Man or Muppet is a lovely tune and one that can be very touching within the context of the film, Life’s A Happy Song is infinitely catchier, and Pictures in My Head is a thousand times sadder and more emotional, to the point that I had to yell at myself for almost tearing up during a Muppet movie while Kermit sang the sad ditty. Basically I am saying that the music is REALLY GOOD. I wouldn’t consider this a musical just because of how short and infrequent the musical numbers are, but there are still a lot of tunes in the film and there isn’t a single one that is bad or out of place. More than one of them will live in your head long after you’ve left the theater.
If there’s anything negative to say about The Muppets, it’s that your love for these beautiful creatures and their legacy is directly proportionate to how much you enjoy the film. I am a huge Muppet fan, so naturally I was in heaven from start to finish. Did I mention they do a Muppet Man?! They totally do a Muppet Man. However, if you’re lukewarm on the Muppets (don’t ever talk to me ever) or just unfamiliar, the charms of this film might not hit you. It’s certainly a tough way to introduce your young one to these lovable characters, because it’s so damn referential. Having them go through the entire series of the Muppet Show and all the movies might be a bit of an undertaking, but naturally it’s worth it, because there is a lot to be appreciated here.
At its core, though, this movie is both a massive love letter to Jim Henson’s ragtag group of misfits as well as a brilliant new entry into the series. I truly hope this is the start of a Muppet revolution, because if we get a few more Muppet talkies like this one down the line, we might not get so angry when a new Vin Diesel or Tyler Perry movie hits theaters.
See this movie immediately. If you don’t smile at least 70% of the time, go get a soul.