' ' Cinema Romantico: The Muppets

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Muppets

"Why can't you be in a good mood? How hard is it to decide to be in a good mood?" - Lloyd Dobler

When I was living in Phoenix there was an evening, well after midnight, when my friend and roommate Laila and I were mindlessly watching TV and an extended commercial championing some sort of box set of the old "Muppet Show" appeared. It would be impossible to describe the amount of glorious nostalgia that overcame us and in no time Laila was on the phone and placing an order. This is to say that we were very much of The Muppet Generation and that Jason Segel, the star, co-writer and driving force behind the brand new "Muppets" movie, out in theaters now, was very much of The Muppet Generation too. And this is crucial because his film is very much told from the perspective of a person who fell in love with Jim Henson's creations at a young age and has since wondered what happened to them and why they fell out of the limelight. The film directly and entertainingly addresses these questions without losing sight of the fact that above all else The Muppets are optimists of the highest order.

Segel is Gary, an unabashed earnest resident of Small Town, USA, where he lives with his brother Walter who doubles as a Muppet, which is precisely why he long felt so out of place until he came across The Muppet Show itself and fell for the characters which gave him a reason to feel he belonged in this world. Thus, Walter is ecstatic to learn he will be joining Gary and Gary's longtime girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) on their trip to Los Angeles to celebrate their 10th Anniversary. First stop: The Muppet Theater. Unfortunately, a tragic scene awaits. The Theater is in ruins and a fiendish Texas tycoon (Chris Cooper, dastardly quotient dialed up) is set to buy the theater so he can tear it down and have at the precious oil resting underneath. The only chance to save the old place is to round up the gang and put on a show.

This won't be so easy. Gary, Mary and Walter track down Kermit the Frog only to learn he hasn't talked to his famed pals in years. But with a little prodding they take to the road and one by one bring them all back into the fold (who else loves the idea of Fozzie the Bear pandering in Reno?), finally resorting to a montage to speed up the process - one of many bits in which the movie slyly references itself without, kind of improbably, ever becoming overly self aware.

"The Muppets" is packed wall to wall with fantastic, lively tunes ("Me Party" is ripe for a Lady Gaga remake) and celebrity cameos, topped by an all-too-brief face/off between Sweet (Amy Adams) and Dry (Sarah Silverman) and the uberly-striking Emily Blunt as Miss Piggy's Receptionist (which I confess I'm solely mentioning because I'm a guy and I'm a guy who has a thing for sassy English women). Being honest, the movie is a bit of a mess. The narrative at times comes across over-stuffed and under-cooked, a little too much going on to allow for all the storylines to converge properly at the end, but then this a rare film where in many ways the story itself takes a backseat to the tone, to its insistent enthusiasm.

"A hard, cynical world." These are the words of the dastardly oil tycoon and this is the reason the film suggests its main characters have gone un-embraced by newer generations. What good is a Muppet in a CGI World? What good is a positive attitude in a world besieged by unemployment and a flailing economy? It's funny, The Muppets are from a different time and their new movie is not really a movie of, as they say, our times. But it is a movie for our times.

The world can be such a sad place. Yet life can be such a happy song. "The Muppets" have re-arrived to remind us to sing along.


Anonymous said...

Longtime Muppet fans will undoubtedly have more fun than young ones, but for the most part, it's a witty, delightful romp, that shows you that you can still be funny, without ever being mean still in 2011. Good review.

Nick Prigge said...

At the screening I attended it was equally divided between people my age and much younger kids, and so it was interesting to see the different places that got different laughs.

Not only my favorite line in the movie but one of my favorite lines of the whole year was when Rashida Jones said "I'll rerun 'Benson' if I have to." That killed me. Needless to say, certain people didn't know what she was talking about.

Castor said...

Loved this. You are right, the world can be so cynical even in movies so this is a huge breath of fresh air in how positive and sweet it essentially is. I think I'm going to check it out a second time later this week!

Nick Prigge said...

Wow! A second viewing at the theater! That speaks to the film's quality for sure.