Monday, 20 February 2012

The Muppets Review - The Most Sensational, Inspirational, Celebrational, Muppetational Return Possible

For those of you in the States, this is a very belated review, but, as we long ago came to terms with, Disney clearly hates all of us here in Europe, and we often have a ridiculously large delay between the US release and the UK (or European) release of Disney, or Disney owned, films - last year we had to wait until January for Tangled which came out in November in the US, The Muppets is our 2012 equivalent. Fortunately though, much like Tangled was, The Muppets was definitely worth the wait.

The first Muppets theatrical release in over a decade, Jim Henson's beloved creations return on great form in this eponymous instillation, written by How I Met Your Mother star, Jason Segel (who also stars) and Nicholas Stoller, and directed by James Bobin. What The Muppets deserves most praise for (as, believe me, there's going to be a lot of praise in this review) is that it revitalises an old, much-loved franchise, injecting it with a new look and feel, for a new generation, whilst remaining 100% loyal to the original creations. The Muppets is the titular felt friends at their self-parodying, witty, satirical, cameo-filled best, it never stoops, nor does it try to change them, it celebrates their history and introduces them to a new audience, providing them with the chance we all had, to grow up with The Muppets.

The story is a little formulaic: Walter, the world's biggest Muppet fan, from Smalltown, USA (you get exactly what it says on the tin), and his inexplicably human brother, Gary (Segel), set off, accompanied by Gary's longtime girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), to LA to visit the Muppet Theater. On their visit, Walter overhears an evil oil baron (Chris Cooper) plotting to destroy the Theater and drill for oil, unless The Muppets can raise $10 million to save it. So from here, Walter and the gang must reunite the long disbanded Muppets, to put on one more show to raise the money, save the studio, and live happily ever after. Hardly groundbreaking. The film's antagonist is called Tex Richman, possibly the most clichéd name in the history of cinema. It's very cheesy and it's not really all too new, but it's pulled off better than I recall seeing it before.
The script is smart, clever, sarcastic and contains all the ingredients that has ingratiated The Muppets to us over the years; The Muppets are amongst the finest and smartest characters ever created in how clever and satirical they are for, what are often thought of as just, children's puppets. They are utterly timeless, and this is one of the most nostalgic films I've ever watched (maybe tied with Toy Story 3), and it could've easily copped out on that alone and brought nothing new to the table. However, Jason Segel and co. have too much respect for The Muppets, so, whilst they didn't tamper, they reminded us, and informed a new audience, of why The Muppets are as great as they are.

In terms of the characters, co-writer Jason Segel and Amy Adams turn in good enough performances as Gary and Mary. Likewise, Rashida Jones and Chris Cooper provide somewhat memorable renditions of TV-exec, Veronica, and evil oil baron, Tex Richhman. There's nothing to write home about, but all 4 do good and humorous jobs in their roles. However, there is a reason for the uninspired supporting cast, in that the foucus lies fully, as it should, on the Muppets. It shows a great respect and adulation for the characters that the productive team didn't focus too heavily on the human characters - as the Muppets have more than enough human qualities and morality to them to ground the film in a deep, nostalgic emotion. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo et al haven't missed a step, they're as funny, clever, daft and wonderful (in equal measures) as they ever have been; Kermit in particular shines here, with a strong, emotional performance (yes, I know he's a felt frog) that makes the film so much more powerful. In terms of the newest addition to the Muppety ranks, Walter (whilst also not stealing focus from our fondly remembered Muppet pals) is an optimistic, eager and endearing addition to the group. Another key component of any Muppets movie is the cameos, and The Muppets is jam packed with dozens of famous faces, ranging from Modern Family's Rico Rodriguez to Zach Galifianakis to Mickey Rooney; with my personal favourites being the inclusions of Neil Patrick Harris, Jim Parsons (of The Big Bang Theory fame) and the slightly more central role of Jack Black. Once again, they never detracted from the Muppet stars, but they provided some more comedy and helped put into context the immense popularity and public affection for our felt friends.

Another area that must be addressed, not least because of the genre of the film, but also because of the brilliance of them, are the songs. The Muppets is a musical, and of the best I've seen - it really is a crying shame that it didn't even get a nomination for Best Picture-Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes this year. The Muppets has a tradition of brilliant songs, Rainbow Connection and any one of the songs from The Muppet Christmas Carol are testament to this, and the songs in The Muppets are some of their best yet. With music supervised by Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, all of the songs here are memorable and toe-tapping. Life's a Happy Song, Pictures in My Head and Man or Muppet would all have been equally deserving of the nomination for Best Original Song (which went to Man or Muppet) and will have you humming and singing them for weeks; Kermit's reprisal of The Rainbow Connection is also incredibly moving and nostalgic for any Muppets fans. To emphasise how much I loved the music from The Muppets: after seeing The Social Network, Toy Story, Inception, Cars 2 and more, I listened to the music online lots, was enthralled by it and contemplated buying the soundtrack, but ultimately didn't; The Muppets is only the second film in the past 10 or so years (the first being Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) whose soundtrack I've bought; I'd whole heartedly recommend it.

To round off, The Muppets is a film of very few faults: it's fun, funny, engaging, emotional, nostalgic and utterly fantastic. You can criticise it for being too happy, too optimistic, or whatever, but if you expected anything else from a Muppet movie, you're a bit daft - they connote and represent childhood happiness and nostalgia, for that to be gritty or morose would just be wrong. Plus, would anyone really be interested if the Muppets had gone underground in some Orwellian dystopia instead? Possibly, as the Muppets make anything fun; the hyperbole you've read is justified, The Muppets is fantastic.


Want to find out for yourself? You can order The Muppets on DVD by clicking above (UK link).


The Muppets was preceded by the second Toy Story Toon, Short Fry (the first, Hawaiian Vacation, accompanied Cars 2 in theatres), extending Pixar's beloved Toy Story franchise further. The short, directed by BURN-E helmer, Angus MacLane, sees Buzz left in a fast food restaurant and inadvertently replaced by a mini, kid's meal version of him (voiced by Day and Night director, Teddy Newton). Buzz then finds himself at a support group for discarded and unplayed-with toys, led by Neptuna, (Jane Lynch) a mermaid toy. From here, it's the same kind of trek back to the house that we've seen in the Toy Story films, so it's nothing groundbreaking - but it's fun. Like Hawaiian Vacation, Short Fry is funny, entertaining and keeps the beloved toy troupe in our cinemas; so it's a good thing. Not to mention the very clever credits at the end - in the style of fast food menus. Short Fry, which I'd give a 9/10, is definitely worth seeing, but it doesn't come close to eclipsing the brilliance of the film it accompanies.

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