Whether you’re a newcomer to the Muppets or you’ve loved them since early childhood, the franchise revival “The Muppets” is guaranteed to make you feel like a giddy, carefree kid in the company of your favorite group of fuzzy characters all over again. So genuine and innocent are its intentions that you’ll forget the cynicism of the real world (and of the weighty awards pictures too, for that matter) as you become wrapped up in its unconventional wit, catchy musical numbers and overwhelming enthusiasm.
Over 35 years of Muppet shows and films, from classics like “The Muppet Movie” to “The Muppet Christmas Carol” have nearly always delivered great entertainment that’s enjoyable for the entire family–yet this installment accomplishes an even greater feat. Not only is it a respectful tribute and spot-on continuation of the series, but it also addresses the waning cultural relevance of the Muppets. It’s able to reignite the love many fans had for them while they were younger and makes Muppets popular again, providing an extremely clever and surprisingly heartwarming adventure that’s one of the year’s best comedies.
It begins with the introduction of two lively brothers growing up together as devoted fans of “The Muppet Show”: Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), who’s a Muppet himself. When invited to join Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) on a trip to Los Angeles for their 10-year anniversary, Walter becomes ecstatic to tour the old “Muppet Show” theater there. Upon arrival, however, they discover the theater totally dilapidated and learn that ruthless oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to excavate the site for oil once the title deed expires in several days.
Unwilling to stand by and let this happen, Walter, Gary and Mary locate Kermit the Frog and convince him to get the old crew back together, all the Muppets proving as happy to reunite with each other as viewers are to see them return to the big screen. After assembling everyone (there are just enough Muppets to satisfy all viewers without losing focus on the notable characters), they all join efforts to put on one final show, hoping to raise the $10 million needed to buy back their theater before time runs out.
Muppet movies are known for their endearingly silly, tongue-in-cheek style of humor, and like the previous films, this one is quite a refreshing change of pace from the vulgarity and unoriginality of typical comedies. Its self-aware nature and the sincerity with which it embraces its own ridiculousness offer flourishes of audacious comic genius rarely seen in blockbusters anymore.
The menacing Chris Cooper even breaks into a rap at one point, with sing-a-long lyrics at the bottom of the screen. This wry sense of humor permeates the musical numbers too, from the huge dance group collapsing in exhaustion after finishing the big opener, to songs like “Man or Muppet,” which involves Segel belting out about an unusual identity crisis of his.
An avid fan of the Muppets himself, Segel is actually the one responsible for convincing Disney to resurrect the franchise, and he co-wrote the film with Nicholas Stoller. His kind, clueless demeanor is charming as always here, though more exaggerated and simplified than usual to keep with the innocent tone. Similarly, Amy Adams is a total sweetheart, like a more subdued version of her vivacious character in “Enchanted.” Chris Cooper is the real treat among the humans however, exuding villainy with cool wickedness and a slightly corny side. Anytime his evil plan is coming together, he just says “maniacal laugh” repeatedly, and it’s hilarious.
But this is a Muppet film after all, so naturally they’re the main source of humor and the ones we really care about. Wise leader Kermit, cheesy Fozzie Bear, over-the-top Gonzo, wild drummer Animal, sassy Miss Piggy and new addition Walter give the film its true heart, struggling with unexpectedly deep themes for a family movie.
Sure, Walter’s search for where he belongs in the world is simple enough for the kids to understand, but Kermit and Piggy’s faded love for each other feels quite adult. Even more complex is how the Muppets have drifted apart as friends and have been virtually forgotten by the rest of the world, but reconnect as they try to save their legacy and fulfill their passions to entertain people one last time. With such sympathetic, detailed characterization, as well as sublime manipulation of each Muppet, these characters easily transcend their inanimate confines and seem more like living, breathing creatures.
Safe to say, they accomplish their goal to delight viewers, and with resounding success. It’s clear the Muppets haven’t been forgotten by Hollywood, evidenced by more cameos than you can keep track of–from Jack Black to Neil Patrick Harris, Mickey Rooney to Selena Gomez. All the famous actors that show up to support these lovable oddballs stand as a testament to the special place the Muppets hold in many people’s hearts, showing that this franchise of nostalgic, unadulterated fun is alive and well.