Movie Review - The Muppets (2011)

Walter the Muppet and Jason Segel
in "The Muppets" (2011)
The theatrical release has a short film attached before the movie starts. It's called Small Fry and it's a cartoon involving the characters of Pixar's Toy Story but done almost in the vein of Muppet Babies. It plays off the same comedic premise that they all do as well as one major theme, this idea of obsolescence.

In Toy Story 3, we understand how the obsolescence comes about. The Muppets doesn't provide us the same understanding. We're simply supposed to accept that the Muppets fell out of favor and like a rock band split up and each Muppet went his or her separate way. The truth is that through Sesame Street or various other TV appearances and specials as well as a handful of feature films starting with The Muppet Movie (1979), the Muppets have been working steadily for over 30 years.

We simply are supposed to suspend disbelief that Muppet Studios is a place that seemingly hasn't been used at all in those 30 years. I suppose it doesn't help that writers Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller don't provide a reason at all to suspend that disbelief. If the Muppets broke up, why did they? What really caused the rift or the obsolescence, which is at the core of the problem?

As odd a comparison as it may be, I immediately thought of Scream 4, which was released earlier in the year. Scream 4 was very much built on nostalgia. It was about bringing back a group of people who had disbanded to go through a lot of the same motions and acts that they went through before. The Muppets is very much like that. Scream 4 was a movie in which its characters were very much aware that they were in a movie. The Muppets is very much the same, only the characters wink at the camera a lot more, or at least a lot more obviously. Both films are also what they would call meta.

Scream 4 keeps referring back to Scream, and The Muppets keeps referring back to The Muppet Movie. Even though Scream 4 wanted to be a horror film, I felt it was more of a parody of itself. The Muppets, however, achieves to be what it sets out to be. It's a musical comedy. From the way that it's written and even directed, it could almost be transferred right to the Broadway stage without much revision. Unlike The Muppet Movie, its scope is somewhat narrow.

When Kermit sang "The Rainbow Connection," in the original film, it was after the camera swooped in from the heavens. When Kermit and the gang sing it in this new version, it doesn't hit with the same emotional or even visual impact. The road trip between Kermit and Fozzie in the original felt like a road trip with fun car sequences. The road trip in this new version is reduced to one joke.

Not to say that it was a bad joke! All the jokes here work and are sure to make you laugh or at least smile, even the ones for most little children might no be evident. There is a skit at the end where a group of chickens perform to Cee Lo Green's song "Forget You" to which they're not singing but clucking. If you know the original title of that Cee Lo song, you'll get why substituting "Forget You" with "Cluck You" is pretty clever, even if it only happened in my mind. Also, having Emily Blunt basically reprise her role from The Devil Wears Prada with Miss Piggy playing the role of Anna Wintour was also quite clever. Surely, it will go over the head of most young people who go to see this, but so what?

Yes, there are plenty of visual gags and puns that will keep people laughing, both in and out of the various musical numbers. The pratfalls of the characters are also well done. The movie is funny. I'm just saying that not much distinguishes it from an episode of The Muppets Show as opposed to a fully-fleshed out film. Even the villain here just doesn't feel like enough of a movie villain.

On a fundamental level, the movie challenges the culture and entertainment we're currently getting on most television stations or movie studios, the hard and cynical stuff, with the culture and entertainment that Jim Henson used to offer and that his company in truth still offers. It may not be mainstream any more or sell as largely as it used to do, but there still is a market for it.

I remember watching the original movie and being impressed with the puppetry work like seeing Kermit ride a bicycle in a full body shot. I'm not sure how much CGI was implemented here, but the puppetry of the characters in certain moments were quite standout.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for some mild rude humor.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.


Popular Posts