Film review: The Muppets

24 January 2012

Written by: Matthew Smith

It was right around the time that the dancing chickens hit the chorus of their rendition of Ceelo Green’s Forget You that I realised I had tears in my eyes from laughing. The scene had been drawn out to a ridiculous length at that point, and the result was hilarious.

I’m relieved to say that this was a typical occurrence while watching The Muppets.

It’s easy for me to get nostalgic about a bunch of characters like the Muppets, who were such a big part of my childhood. Like many others I’ve grown up with them, and have missed them in recent years.

The Muppets stars Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and a huge supporting cast of chickens, penguins, and whatevers as they try to save the old Muppet theatre from an evil oil tycoon, by putting on one last show to raise the needed ten million dollars.

It was getting the whole gang back together (a plot device salvaged from both their first cinematic outing The Muppet Movie, and The Blues Brothers) that provided some of the movie’s greatest highlights.

Kermit was living alone in a dusty mansion, Miss Piggy running a fashion magazine in France, Fozzie Bear was part of a sad, faded Muppet tribute band called ‘The Moopets’, and Animal was in anger management therapy.

Mixed in between that is the sweet, but at times unneeded tale of Gary (Jason Segel), Mary (Amy Adams), and their new Muppet friend who is trying to find his place in life, Walter.

Amy Adams seemed particularly unnecessary, and a token song she sang in the middle of the film was better left on the cutting room floor (and only vaguely salvaged by Miss Piggy).

There were slabs of this subplot that took us away from the Muppet tale, but Jason Segel was having so much fun just being in the movie that I could hardly fault him for it. Given the chance, I would have done exactly the same thing. His attention to detail, and determination to include almost every Muppet, is pretty admirable.

Putting all this in the hands of debut feature film director James Bobin was a ballsy move, but the Flight of the Conchords co-creator has proved to bring a powerful vision, and I imagine there’s a fair amount of challenge involved with directing both humans and Muppets in elabourate dance numbers.

The songs are on par with classic Muppet movies, and manage to combine enough of a nostalgic theme with songs of more recent appeal.

While the chicken-powered Ceelo Green number was a highlight, the Muppet barbershop quartet singing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit was memorable, as was a heartfelt identity crisis song from the middle of the film, Man or Muppet (a problem I could identify with at this point of the film. I’m definitely a Muppet of a man), which will probably be remembered long after the movie.

It’s refreshing and a relief to see that the Muppets had been bought back to the big screen relatively unscathed. They were still as clever, wholesome, entertaining, and fun as they had always been. unlike a plethora of re-imagined 3D smurfs and chipmunks in the past year, The Muppets show that there’s still something salvageable from 80s television, if treated the right way.

Let’s just hope the success of this film will mean Kermit and his friends will be on our screens for years to come.

Matt Smith is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University, and is upstart’s co-editor. You can follow him on Twitter: @nightlightguy.