Courtesy of Disney
Somehow a franchise that’s been around for 50 years has managed to feel like a breath of fresh air.
That’s what “The Muppets,” a wondrous, welcome change-up to the morose cynicism and grittiness that’s dominated contemporary cinema, has done.
“The Muppets,” the seventh feature-length Muppets film and first in 12 years, follows the journey of Walter (Peter Linz), a puppet, his human brother Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary’s girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams). The trio stumbles upon a plot by businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to tear down the old Muppet Theater to drill for oil, and the disconnected Muppet crew must attempt to reunite and raise money via telethon to try to save it.
“The Muppets” has that classic Muppets feel that’s been vacant since creator Jim Henson died in 1990. It’s got plenty of silly, zany humor to go around, but even when it’s at its silliest, it’s never so juvenile that it’s a put-off. It’s trademark Muppet inanity at its finest.
Part of the reason “The Muppets” is set apart from weaker Muppet films like 1999’s “Muppets in Space” could very well be director James Bobin’s apt attempt at capturing the Henson magic others have failed to recreate. Part of it could also be the rampant, smile-inducing nostalgia. It’s heart, though, that makes “The Muppets” such a wonderful watch. There are a lot of sweet and sappy moments — it is a Disney movie, after all — and a lot of those do, in fact, play off of nostalgia.
That’s not to say that the emotional moments in the film are cheap or derivative. They aren’t. There are plenty of cute moments, and it’s raised to whole new levels during the show’s musical pieces, new and old alike.
Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie’s musical pieces are pure, toe-tapping bliss. From “Life’s a Happy Song,” a wonderful celebration of life and love that will likely win an Oscar, to “Pictures In My Head,” which is sure to pull on some heart strings, and Cooper’s overtly silly rap, “Let’s Talk About Me,” the film builds up to a rousing performance of the “Muppet Show Theme” and other Muppet classics such as “Mahna Mahna.”
If I had any concern going into “The Muppets,” it would have been its human element. Mixing humans and, well, non-humans, is a tricky job, and many films walk a fine line trying to do it without making it nauseatingly hokey. Segel and Adams, however, are never really the film’s focal point, and instead of becoming distracting, they supplement the Muppets in a perfectly complementary way which never seems forced. Same goes the revolving door of A-list cameos, which includes Selena Gomez, Neil Patrick Harris, Zach Galifianakis and Dave Grohl, among many, many more.
The film does start off as almost a self-congratulatory pat-on-the-back to the Muppets, so to speak. However, considering that the film is a labor of love from co-writer Segel, who has vocally professed his adoration with the franchise, it can be forgotten and forgiven.
Instead, the biggest disappointment with “The Muppets” was the short preceding it. “Toy Story Toon: Small Fry” is one of Pixar’s weakest shorts to date, lacking the emotional punch of its others and instead feeling like a cold, condensed rehash of “Toy Story 3.”
Still, Bobin — with the aid of Segel, who played a major role in getting the project off the ground — did a wondrous job in serving up an opportunity to introduce the Muppets to a new generation. He’s resurrected the faction of fuzz from a pit of creative plunder and presented a wonderful affair that appeals to all ages. In fact, it’s got the heart, fun and charm to make it not only the ideal film to enjoy with the family Thanksgiving weekend, but it’s also the best film of the year thus far and a legitimate candidate for a Best Picture nod at next year’s Academy Awards.