The Muppets – BlogalongaMuppets 7

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.

Griping over.

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

Muppets from Space – BlogalongaMuppets 6

We’re nearly at the end of our BlogalongaMuppets journey and our penultimate stop is with Muppets from Space. This time round the literary adaptations have been abandoned, the Muppets are all living together and Gonzo is having an identity crisis. Just as Gonzo is wondering what he is, and where he came from, he starts to receive mysterious messages in his cereal and through his dreams suggesting an extraterrestrial connection. Naturally the government tries to kidnap Gonzo and he must escape in time to meet his relatives from beyond the stars.

This entire review could simply be a .gif of me slowly shaking my head in disgust. Muppets from Space does not feel like a Muppet movie and for the most part doesn’t even feel like a proper movie. The quality of film here is more on par with their TV-only fare like It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and is a far cry from The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island. The plot is weak, most Muppets are underused and there aren’t even any proper songs. No songs in a Muppet movie, the cheek of it!

While it is nice to have Jeffrey Tambor playing the token bad guy, and his bear sidekick was a good source of humour, this does not excuse the bizarre cameo from half the cast of Dawson’s Creek (in character but without Dawson himself) and the general lack of wit or intelligence. You can have as many clever movie references as you like but these cannot save the worst Muppet outing so far.

My final complaint is just how perverted the Muppets seem to have become. Every other Muppet made a sexual advance on one human or another and I’m sure at one point it was implied that Animal had sex with Kathy Griffin’s security guard, an image none of us want planted into our mind’s eye. Can’t we be satisfied with keeping the parents amused with a clever homage to Independence Day and not reduce the Muppets to sex pests?

Muppets from Space was a real disappointment, made all the worse for following the two strongest Muppet instalments. Watching it simply wasn’t fun, and fun is what the Muppets are all about. Thankfully Rizzo and his fellow rats were there to provide me with the occasional moment of comic relief. I love those little guys so much.

I think before you answer that question you’d better be real clear on the final destination of that finger.

Only one question remains, who is taking me to see The Muppets?

Muppet Movie Ranking:
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol
2. Muppet Treasure Island
3. The Muppets Take Manhattan
4. The Great Muppet Caper
5. The Muppet Movie
6. Muppets from Space

Out Now – 10th February 2012

The Muppets
All I can think is that it is the final month of BlogalongaMuppets and still need to watch Muppets in Space before I can skip along to the cinema to see this latest instalment in the Muppet franchise, written by and starring Jason Segel with music from half of Flight of the Conchords. I can’t even begin to think about the plot, involving the Muppets reuniting to save their old theatre from an oil tycoon.

The Vow
Valentine’s day is next week and so Hollywood has vomited up a good of fashioned romance for us all to avoid as we try to convince ourselves that being single is best, honest. Rachel McAdams is a woman suffering severe memory loss after waking from a coma and Channing Tatum is the husband who has to win her heart all over again. I feel sick.

Big Miracle
In Alaska a town unites to try to save grey whales trapped by rapidly forming ice. [Insert joke about Sarah Palin or global warming, or a weak pun about Wales]

The Woman in Black
Danny Radcliffe (let’s see if that catches on) in his first post-Potter lead role. Pretty classic horror territory as a young lawyer discovers a vengeful ghost is terrorising villagers. Plenty of wandering dark houses waiting for things to jump out. The play nearly made me wet myself so this film has a lot to live up to.

A Dangerous Method (London only until 17th February)*
Sexy drama about the birth of psychoanalysis from proud parents Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender in his third film of the year. Third! I barely knew who he was last year.) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo “Aragorn” Mortensen). Keira Knightley is on hand to do a bit of an accent and get spanked, it’s enough to make me blush.

Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (limited release)
Hindi comedy in which “a few drinks too many leads an uptight architect and quick-witted hairstylist to marry in Las Vegas. Can a mistake lead to friendship and love?” Yes, probably.

Girl Model (limited release)
A “thriller” documentary following “a complex supply chain between Siberia, Japan, and the U.S. within the modeling industry. The story is told through the eyes of the scouts, agencies and a 13 year-old model.” It all sounds a little creepy to me.

Casablanca (limited release)
For its 70th anniversary this classic film (you feel you should have seen so bought on DVD last week from HMV but now kind of want to see on the big screen if you can find anyone to go with you)** is back in selected cinemas.

American Evil (limited release)
Released in America way back in March 2008 we finally get to see Bradley Cooper in an odd-looking drama about a sinister priest and dodgy activities in a Native American boarding school. What a poster!

*Confession: It is late on Thursday and I’ve only just realised that A Dangerous Method actually only comes out in London for the first week. By this point I am too lazy to Photoshop Kermit’s mug into another film still, so let’s all pretend that the film is out today. It’s what Fassbender would want.
**Just me?

Muppet Treasure Island – BlogalongaMuppets 5

I am relishing this section of BlogalongaMuppets as we are in the period of the Muppets which overlapped with my childhood. How can you not love a Muppet film if you first saw it at the age of eight?

Following on from The Muppet Christmas Carol Disney have tried to replicate that winning formula by adapting another classic novel in the unique Muppet way. This time we have a young Jim Hawkins (Kevin Bishop) and his best friends Rizzo the Rat and The Great Gonzo, who are given a treasure map and set sail on the big blue wet thing, looking for adventure. Captaining their ship is a certain green frog and taking the role of lead famous human actor is the always entertaining Tim Curry as Long John Silver. Tim Curry plays the treacherous pirate with such relish it is a joy to watch.

All of my praise for this film is pretty much the same as that which I heaped on The Muppet Christmas Carol. The film has a tight plot, is funny throughout and is filled with catchy songs. The humour never becomes too meta and there are no cameos for cameos sake; Jennifer Saunders and Billy Connolly both give great performances at the start of the film and both have something to do beyond being a recognisable face.

The winning formula for a great Muppet film is for our felt covered friends to adapt a classic novel, have a respected British actor in the lead human role and have decent songs. Christmas Carol and Treasure Island also share the trait of not being afraid of being dark in places, the opening song in Muppet Treasure Island ends with a whole pirate crew being shot. As Rizzo said, “He died? And this is supposed to be a kids’ movie!”.

As usual I want to give a quick nod to the various Muppet rats who throughout the pirate adventure have their own sub-plot as Rizzo has a side business running a rat cruise on-board the pirate boat. There’s something about rats behaving like humans on holiday that tickles me beyond explanation. Look at their teeny clothes!

You wanna knock it off with the booze? It’s peeling the paint off of the shuffleboard court.

In short, Muppet Treasure Island is amazing and I will never tire of it. Sadly The Muppet Christmas Carol just pips it to the top spot (so far) by virtue of being a Christmas film and therefore automatically being slightly better.

Muppet Movie Ranking:
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol
2. Muppet Treasure Island
3. The Muppets Take Manhattan
4. The Great Muppet Caper
5. The Muppet Movie

The Best is Yet to Come: 2012

As much as we are obliged to look back over the year just gone, we are obliged to look ahead at the year just beginning. It’s always exciting to look at the next twelve months and all the exciting treats that are coming to our screens. Below are my personal picks of the films worth seeing in 2012, and I’m hoping there will be many more besides, a few gems I haven’t even heard of yet. Continue reading

The Muppet Christmas Carol – BlogalongaMuppets 4

Considering the fact that I was 4 when I first saw The Muppet Christmas Carol in the cinema, it isn’t hard to see why this particular Muppet film fills me with nostalgic joy every time I see it (and I’ve seen it two and a half times in the past two weeks). Taking a departure from the three preceding films, Christmas Carol does not tell a story about the Muppets themselves, instead retelling Dickens classic tale with Michael Caine as Scrooge and Muppets taking on the majority of other roles. This is the Muppets with a proper plot at last.

Holding the whole film together are The Great Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat as Dickens and his sidekick, acting as narrators and, in a real change for the Muppet franchise, are the only two characters to break the fourth wall and reference the fact that the film is in fact a film. Taking things far too seriously for a moment, separating the story from the endless meta jokes makes the jokes all the funnier and the story more engrossing. It can be hard to care about a character who acknowledges that what is happening to them is not really happening. Rizzo and Gonzo are a great comedic pair and the film wouldn’t work without them.

With celebrity cameos out the window, at last, instead we have an admirable performance from Michael Caine. Possibly not his finest work but he certainly isn’t slacking off in the acting department. From a horrible old man to a truly sad figure, Caine gives it his all. Shame about that dance though…

I may mock the dance, but I will happily perform it whenever anyone asks me too… or if the film happens to be on.

Another thing Christmas Carol has going for it, beyond the humour and the emotion, is that it is pretty scary at times. I’ve had more than one nightmare about Scrooge’s door knocker turning into a screaming face, and the Ghost of Christmas Past is pretty freaky too, something to do with her tiny hands. With most of the other Muppet films everything is so light and fluffy the peril is rarely perilous, here there is plenty to get behind the sofa for.

What really makes Christmas Carol the best of the franchise so far is the songs. For once the songs are fun, catchy and live on beyond the film. “One More Sleep Till Christmas” and “It Feels Like Christmas” will always be accompanied by me warbling along and forgetting most of the words. You may get the sense that watching this film with me is hell as I sing and dance along while chuckling at the childish jokes… You’re probably right but I do it all out of love for the film.

I will finish this ramble with this deleted song, a song which should appear during Scrooge’s trip to Christmas past but which Disney decided wasn’t appealing to young children. “When Love is Gone” is beautiful and its removal makes for a slightly jarring moment in the film. Silly Disney!

The Muppet Christmas Carol is amazing and I can’t imagine Christmas without it.

Light the lamp, not the rat, light the lamp, not the rat! Put me out, put me out, put me out!

Muppet Movie Ranking:
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol
2. The Muppets Take Manhattan
3. The Great Muppet Caper
4. The Muppet Movie

The Muppets Take Manhattan – BlogalongaMuppets 3

Similar to The Muppet Movie this instalment is about the Muppets themselves as an entertainment group seeking fame. This time they are just finishing college and want to take their final year musical, Manhattan Melodies, to Broadway. After initial failure to find a producer they disband and Kermit is left alone (or so he thinks) to try to get the show off the ground.

I’m finding it harder than expected to write about these early Muppet films, somehow I don’t find them distinctive enough from one another to comment effectively. Similar to the two previous films I found the songs forgettable and the plot a little lacking. With the Muppets spending the majority of the film disbanded a chunk of the film feels like a series of sketches rather than a coherent whole.

More continuing themes include the meta in-jokes, much less heavy-handed this time round, and the occasional celebrity cameos. Joan Collins makes an appearance with a face so different to that which she has now, I could barely recognise her. Again they include a bit of impressive bike riding, and again the appearance of Rizzo and his fellow rats provide by far the best moments.

One highlight, so this doesn’t get too heavy, is a wonderful song (yes, I liked a song!) in which Miss Piggy sings about what life would be like if she had known Kermit all her life. Cue adorable baby Muppets and the inspiration for Muppet Babies.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Kermit in this film. With success not coming easily the majority of the Muppets leave him behind, their faith in his vision apparently not strong enough to keep them in Manhattan. Apart from Miss Piggy of course, her love for Kermit leaves her keeping an eye on the green fella, never leaving him unloved.

Kermit, as ever, is the rock holding this film together, he is the true stalwart trying to make The Muppets happen, and realise the promise of the “standard rich and famous contract”. It’s not so much The Muppets Take Manhattan as it is Kermit Slowly Works Hard to Get a Musical Off The Ground While The Muppets Try to Get On With Their Lives. Obviously that is much less catchy.

Still, this is a Muppet film so I’m probably being too harsh. Thanks to Rizzo and the Muppet babies, it’s my favourite so far.

I’m staying! You hear that, New York? THE FROG IS STAYING!

Muppet Movie Ranking:
1. The Muppets Take Manhattan
2. The Great Muppet Caper
3. The Muppet Movie

The Great Muppet Caper – BlogalongaMuppets 2

With October almost over there is just time for the second film in BlogalongaMuppets, The Great Muppet Caper. This is more of the type of Muppet film I am accustomed to, one in which the Muppets play roles in a story not simply focussing on The Muppets being The Muppets. Instead Kermit and Fozzie play newspaper reporters who travel to Britain (yay London) to investigate a jewel theft. Along the way they meet a lot of remarkably American muppets at the Happiness Hotel and Miss Piggy who is working as assistant to the fashion designer whose jewels were stolen.

This was a vast improvement on the first film; there’s much more energy and we get a proper plot to try to follow. Shame the songs still aren’t up to much, whenever I try to remember a single song from this film I get Movin’ Right Along stuck in my head instead.

While both John Cleese and Peter Falk provide memorable appearances, on the whole there are much fewer gimmicky cameos from celebrities I can’t remember. Falk in particular was a lot of fun as a tramp rambling on about an alternative back story for Kermit. In the end Kermit has to interrupt him as they are “trying to do a movie here.” Yes, it’s just as meta as before and the jokes about the film being a film are quite sophisticated. Kudos to the four writers.

Jim Henson was clearly trying to push the boundaries of puppetry again as not only is there more cycling but Miss Piggy gets an underwater dance sequence. I’d like to see Sooty do that. There’s not much more to say beyond the fact that I am at my happiest with The Muppets when the group of rats are on-screen.

The Great Muppet Caper was a lot of fun and the best of the films so far, but I know there’s better to come.

I hate to be rude, but we’re trying to do a movie here.

Muppet Movie Ranking:
1. The Great Muppet Caper
2. The Muppet Movie

The Muppet Movie – BlogalongaMuppets 1

Like so many things I claim to love my experience of The Muppets is narrower than I realised, particularly when it comes to their earlier work. More familiar with their films of the nineties, when they moved onto film parodies/pastiches, I had never seen The Muppet Movie before I sat down to watch it for BlogalongaMuppets.

What a disappointment.

What little plot The Muppet Movie has revolves around Kermit travelling from his swamp to Hollywood, picking up Muppets along the way and evading capture from an ad man who wants the dancing frog to star in his TV commercial. There’s not a whole lot to grab hold of here, just a few disjointed and underwhelming scenes ties together with lacklustre songs about rainbows and “moving right along”.

The film is at a risk of being a little too meta, with one character forced to catch up on the plot by reading the screenplay. It’s as if we’re supposed to accept the meagre plotting because no one onscreen is pretending that this is a reality.

For a film relying so heavily on an existing knowledge of (and unconditional love for) the Muppets, The Muppet Movie lacks the energy and excitement we fell in love with in the first place. The film isn’t terrible, just not what I had been expecting. It probably doesn’t help that most of the cameos completely passed me by, at 23 am I too young to appreciate The Muppet Movie?

Most damning of all is that Kermit’s journey to Hollywood seemed to change him. Setting off from his swamp the plucky frog just wanted to make people happy, but by the time he reached Hollywood he simply asked to be rich and famous. Maybe this is a deeper film than I first thought, one about how fame and fortune corrupts? Oh Kermit, you should have stayed at the swamp.

BlogalongaMuppets

The Muppets are a beloved institution, known for their energy, humour and heart. Across the years they have starred in numerous TV series, released albums, made the transition to the big screen and more recently starred in TV movies. Hard to believe their last theatrically released film was way back in 1999. This will of course change when Jason Segel’s The Muppets is released in February 2012.

That is five months away and with six existing films, watching one a month until then is just about feasible. This is why The Movie Evangelist has introduced BlogalongaMuppets. The rules are simple, watch one Muppet film a month, starting in September, until February when it is time to finish off with Muppets in Space and then see The Muppets in the cinema.

Luckily for me this fits in nicely with my plans for Body of Work and I bought the first three Muppet films a few weeks ago, already owning two of the later films. Below is the schedule, wish me luck!

SeptemberThe Muppet Movie
OctoberThe Great Muppet Caper
NovemberThe Muppets Take Manhattan
DecemberThe Muppet Christmas Carol
JanuaryMuppet Treasure Island
FebruaryMuppets from Space
Also FebruaryThe Muppets