The latest Muppet movie has just been released on DVD, and it is a more than welcome treat to the young and young at heart. Though perhaps in the case of the Muppet gang, the movie “escaped” onto DVD. I have been a fan of Jim Henson’s loveable furry felt creatures since I was three years old and my mom showed me the original Muppet Movie. As I grew older they still remained a part of my life, in fact I found the original movie able to speak to me in regards to the idea of pursuing a dream.
Now, after a decade long absence from theaters they have finally made a comeback in the latest movie, simply called The Muppets. It’s not that the Muppets have been in a complete dry spell. It’s just that something has been lacking since The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island were released in the1990s.
1999’s Muppets from space lacked the right Muppet humor and the show stopping song and dance numbers that were part and parcel for the films. The TV special A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie featured a story that was too dark and cynical. Muppets Wizard of Oz couldn’t decide if it wanted to be true to the MGM Musical that starred Judy Garland or L. Frank Baum’s novel. Muppet Christmas Letters to Santa felt like an episode of Sesame Street. Most noticeably with the exception of Very Merry Muppet Christmas, Kermit was relegated to the background, or if he was the focus he was depressed.
Not so here. While the film does focus on the story of humans Gary and Mary and Gary’s brother Walter, when it comes to the Muppet gang, Kermit is front and center. Jason Segal who starred, wrote and directed the film said that Kermit was an everyman, and compared him to Tom Hanks and Jimmy Stewart. As such that means he is the glue that holds the gang together and he is very much that in this film. He gets a bit down once, as he did in the Muppet movie, but he keeps going, even telling the gang that at least they tried and that they can walk out with their heads held high.
The story is pretty simple. The Muppets disbanded some years ago and an Oil tycoon named Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is trying to take over the Muppet Theater and the Muppet name. It is up to Kermit, with the help of his new pals Gary (Jason Segal), Mary (Amy Adams) and Walter to bring the gang back together. Meanwhile Walter tries to figure out where he belongs while Gary and Mary struggle in their relationship. It is nothing very complex as it is a Muppet movie.
The rest of the gang is pitch perfect. Fozzie tells bad jokes, Piggy is her usual Diva, Gonzo is trying some ridiculous stunt, Statler and Waldorf are at their heckling best, and the Electric Mayhem is still rocking. Also classic characters like Rolf the Dog and Scooter are featured much more prominently then they had been in more recent films. Only Animal is on a leash, but once he gets off it is a huge pay off to the fans.
New comer Walter is a welcome addition to the cast. In many ways he is like every fan who really loves the Muppets. The story is engaging and the songs are catchy and memorable. The opening number “ Life’s a Happy Song” feels like the perfect song to sing on a nice day, while the Academy Award Winning “Man or a Muppet” poses some humorous philosophical questions concerning what is a human and what is a Muppet. The Muppets break out into song in original songs, and a couple covers including Starship’s “We Built This City”, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (in Barbershop Quartet) and chickens performing CeeLo Green’s “Forget You.”
Also present is the classic Muppet Fourth Wall disintegrating humor. The Muppets are more then aware that they are in a movie and they don’t let you forget. I have not laughed this hard or this genuine at a movie since 2005’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There are plenty of references to the original Muppet movies, but they don’t drag the story down.
There were also some very tender moments in the movie, chief among them being when Kermit and the gang sing “Rainbow Connection”, as song that has become as synonymous with the Muppets as “When You Wish Upon a Star” is with Disney. On most albums that are released by the Muppets they tend to feature the original version as sung by Jim Henson. Now at last, his successor Steve Whitmire gets his chance to sing the Muppet’s signature song. It is a wonderful tribute to these characters and a key belief that all the Muppet performers had, that being, that the characters were more than just the work of one voice actor. They are characters that have transcended their original performers and must go on, and sure enough they do.
However this is balanced with a few vintage sound bites from the original Muppet Show and a picture of Jim Henson displayed rather prominently. It communicates to long time fans that yes, Jim Henson is gone, but he will never be forgotten. If anything it is a love letter to the magic, mirth and mayhem of Henson’s colorful characters.
It took a while for a new Muppet movie, and this movie was worth the wait. Welcome back, Kermit and company. Let’s hope you’ll keep giving us that Third Greatest Gift…laughter.
This blog post is not endorsed, approved, prepared or affiliated with the Walt Disney Company, The Jim Henson company, The Muppets to any other persons or parties involved with the creation or ownership of the Muppets.
2011 Walt Disney Pictures/ Muppet Studios.