Over 12 years since their last cinematic release, and over 30 years since The Muppet Show finished on the small screen, the Muppets have split up, their studios have fallen into disrepair and Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) wants to buy the land to drill for oil. Enter Walter (a puppet/Muppet?) and Gary (Jason Segel), a pair of brothers determined to help reunite the Muppets and raise the $10 million they need to save their studio. Given two hours of primetime TV to hold a telethon by a desperate studio exec (Rashida Jones), the gang have just days to put together a revival of The Muppet Show.
Amy Adams is also in the cast as Gary’s fiancée in a wholly redundant sub-plot about nothing much at all, but I’ll mostly be ignoring that part of the film. Other criticisms (let’s get them out of the way) include the fact that the premise of a telethon allows for a few too many brief celebrity cameos, and that some jokes are better in the set-up than the execution – the Muppet collecting montage is a prime example. The Muppets is also guilty of overusing green screen to get the Muppets in a variety of locations and doing things impossible for a puppet to do. I understand this can save time and money but it also takes away from the rustic charm of the Muppets.
At its heart The Muppets is one great big love letter to the Muppets. The film is a celebration of our favourite felt-based friends and acknowledges the TV and film heritage they have created. This is most evident in this instalment’s connections to 1979’s The Muppet Movie, not only is one song from this film reprised on-stage but the Standard Rich and Famous Contract, which the Muppets receive at the end of The Muppet Movie, serves as the Maguffin in The Muppets. This is roughly as intellectual as I can get.
Present but never overused is the standard Muppet meta-humour, the characters are aware that this is a film, and after the disappointment of Muppets from Space, the songs are back. And what amazing songs! Man or Muppet truly deserves to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. It is clear that Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords wrote the songs as they have that distinct Conchordian sound, and are all the better for it. My acid test for a musical is whether or not the songs are in my head the next day, and Man or Muppet was ringing loud and clear in my brain for the rest of the week. Job done.
There is so much to love about this film that the few flaws are easily forgiven and The Muppets ends up being a superior production to the early Muppet films it is paying tribute to. I left the cinema with a massive grin on my face, a song in my heart and a skip in my step. There was also a book in my bag, but this is unrelated.
The Muppets is a joy, made for the fans but surely just as enjoyable for the uninitiated.
Only one question remains about The Muppets, where the hell was Rizzo!?
Muppet Movie Ranking:
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol
2. Muppet Treasure Island
3. The Muppets
4. The Muppets Take Manhattan
5. The Great Muppet Caper
6. The Muppet Movie
7. Muppets from Space