Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Muppets

Get out your chickens and bears and frogs and pigs because by golly we're reviewing The Muppets!

Let me preface this by saying that I've seen the movies and I used to watch the show from time to time, but I don't remember the Muppets as fondly as others, and it didn't exactly hit the right nostalgic button for me. That said, please, please, PLEASE bring your kids to see this instead of the new Chipmunks movie coming out this week. And hey, it's got more stars than all of New Year's Eve combined!

Gary (Jason Segal) and Walter are brothers who love the Muppets more than anyone(mostly because Walter IS one). When Gary, his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) and Walter take a tour to L.A. to see the Muppet Theater, they find out it's in shambles and about to be sold to the evil Tex Richman (Chris Cooper)! It's up to Gary, Walter and Kermit to bring the Muppets back together and put on a show that will save their theater!

There are some movies out there that are created when a studio takes an artifact from the collective childhood that they think will play to a certain demographic and just try to cash in on it as much as possible. They throw top-named actor on top of top-named actor and fill it with pop culture references and catchy pop songs, in order to reach the widest audience and make the most money back as possible.

This is not, by any means, one of those movies. 

If there was a movie filled with more love and sincerity this year, I haven't seen it. You can't watch this movie and not think that everyone involved wanted to make it because they love the Muppets. This is never more prevalent than in Jason Segal's performance. He never hams it up or mocks it, or tries to make fun of it. It feels like he's on an episode of Sesame Street, giving it his all, or on the original Muppet Show, or like he's even Steve from Blue's Clues. And that's an important factor, because if this was made for anyone, it was made for kids. 

I kept thinking bits were corny or not as laugh-out-loud humorous as I'd have liked them to be, but they are PERFECT for kids. And that is the big difference between this movie and something like The Smurfs or Alvin and The Chipmunks. There are no instances of your beloved childhood heroes making lewd, grown-up jokes or trying to be sexy (the only pop song is Cee Lo's "Forget You", performed amazingly by Camilla the chicken, which you'd know the second you heard it). This was not made to keep adults in the theater with jokes only they'd get, with the most basic care taken for kids; this was made for kids and for adults who are secretly kids themselves. There's just so much love in this thing that it perfectly captures the original spirit of the Muppets.

I can't say it was amazing. It's a great movie, don't get me wrong, but the first half takes a bit to get started, partly because of the corny kid humor that I couldn't get and partly because it was almost too meta (which is strange for me because I love meta).  It's just that they do it so much, pointing out this joke and that joke, that it just takes me out of the experience. That's the problem with meta: when you use it too much, you lose the drama and suspense, because you are basically revealing to the audience there is no drama or suspense; i.e., "Don't worry folks, it's only a movie." Some of the bits are fun, but it's a little too much. Luckily, it picks back up in the second half.

Another problem I had with the first half is that it's all about Walter. Sure, he's kind of cute, and it's amazing how he's Gary's brother with no explanation at all, but from a character design standpoint, he's the blandest Muppet in the movie. I think they did this to create a "blank slate" character that is just trying to find himself. But look at all the other Muppets, ALL of them, and you see how unique each of them are. They barely have any moving parts in their face (heck they don't even blink!), yet they each embody a certain emotion or feeling. Look at Beaker! He's tiny and scared out of his wits! Look at Sam! He's uptight! Look at Animal! He's crazy and frustrated. 

Speaking of which, I think Animal has the best story arc of the movie. Though, I was disappointed there wasn't more of Gonzo. For me, the movie only picks up once they start giving screen time to the real Muppets. I almost wish the movie had been twice as long so they could give a proper amount of screen time to all of them. And that's another thing. This movie, along with having ALL the Muppets, also has ALL the actors!  

There were so many actors in this movie. I'm pretty sure it was every other actor who's not in New Year's Eve (probably along with some that are), and considering how small and barely noticeable their parts were, you know they just did it out of love for the Muppets. I don't want to spoil it, but it's amazing to see who's in this movie. I have to believe that some of those actors told their agents, "Listen, I don't care if I have to do it for free and my only part is to open a door! I HAVE to be in this movie!", because for some of them, that's really all they did.

The soundtrack is amazing and easily the best part about the movie. Every single song is great. It's not just the Muppets, Segal and Adams really sing their gosh darn souls out. My favorites are Segal's "Man or Muppet" and Adams's "Me Party".  But really, all you're coming for are this and this.

Well, here's hoping this leads to a new Muppet explosion with an all new Muppet show, filled with the same kind of love and enthusiasm that was put into this movie!

THE GOOD: It's the Muppets! Filled with love, includes every actor ever and has an amazing soundtrack.

THE BAD: Kind of slow the first half, a little too meta, more for kids than adults.

OVERALL: Go see it, bring your kids to see it, then go home and nostalgize about the good old days of puppeted entertainment.

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Two words: RAINBOW CONNECTION. Look, even I didn't remember this song, but it's the best one and it'll have the most impact. This is the perfect song your kids should be screaming at the top of their lungs, not some Rihanna or Lady Gaga song sung by penguins, but a heartfelt song about love and dreams.

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