Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jason Segel Meets "The Muppets"

The Muppets are back, and Jason Segel’s got them. The gang’s last appearance on screen was in 1999’s Muppets From Space. Enter Muppet fan Segel & co-writer Nicholas Stoller, who went to Disney in 2008 with an idea for a new Muppet film. Segel wanted to do justice to the characters, and make an old school Muppet movie; well, he got his wish. The Muppets (2011) is lighthearted fun in the classic Muppet tradition, with laughs, songs, star cameos, and of course, the Muppet characters we all know & love.

Gary (Segel) lives in Smalltown, USA with his brother Walter (the newest Muppet, created especially for the movie). They’ve grown up loving The Muppets, and are big fans of their shows & movies. When Gary decides to take his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) on a trip to California, Walter wants to go along, so he can see The Muppet Studios. But when they arrive, the studio is in dilapidated condition, and the Muppets are no longer together. During the tour, Walter overhears Statler & Waldorf (the hecklers from the TV series) talking with oil magnate Tex Richman, who wants to acquire the land where the studio is located. Unless The Muppets can come up with the 10 million dollars needed to save the studio, the land will go to Richman, who has plans of his own for the property.

In the best “let’s put on a show” tradition, it’s up to Walter, Gary & Mary to help the gang get back together, and put on a telethon to raise the money to save the theater. Along the way, we get re-acquainted with Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear & the whole gang. The slightly off kilter humor that appealed to both adults & kids during the The Muppet Show’s original run from 1976-81 is in evidence here, as are some clever songs & parodies (you’ll never think of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” the same way again). Bret McKenzie of the musical comedy duo Flight of The Conchords wrote the original songs for the film. Segel, Adams and The Muppets enthusiastically perform them, along with a reprise of the classic “The Rainbow Connection.” Oh, and The Muppet chickens get to sing Cee-Lo's "Forget You."

Of course, there are also the cameos, from the likes of Alan Arkin, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman, and many others (look fast for Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters). And it wouldn’t be a Muppet movie without some zany humor & bad jokes, a few tugs at the heartstrings, and some lessons learned by all. Jason Segel & Amy Adams look like they’re having the time of their lives, and Chris Cooper is appropriately nasty as Tex Richman, the villainous oilman. In this age of fast paced & video game based movies, The Muppets is a refreshingly retro film, well directed by James Bobin with a sense of joy & sheer delight that is infectious.

The Muppets really is one of the best films of the year. It succeeds at being exactly what you want: an engaging, funny, heartfelt Muppet story that can be enjoyed by children of all ages. It’s a movie made with love by people who really care about & appreciate these classic characters. They’ve really done right by them, and I think the late Jim Henson would be proud. One final note; make sure to get to the theatre on time, as the film is preceded by a new Toy Story short from Pixar, that pokes sly fun at the “fast food toy” trend. It’s a really great night at the movies.

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