The Muppets

The Muppet Show was a British television program, syndicated in the US, that originally ran for 5 seasons from September 5, 1976 — March 15, 1981. What made the production such a watershed in Jim Henson’s career was the capacity for both young and old to enjoy it, as opposed to his creations for Sesame Street which were strictly aimed at toddlers. Indeed The Muppet Show was born out of American puppeteer Jim Henson‘s concern over being labeled a children’s entertainer. The Muppets were highly successful and their popularity reached a zenith of sorts with The Muppet Movie in 1979 becoming one of the top 10 box office hits of that year. Since then the Muppets have released six theatrical features of varying quality with the original cast, but nothing has ever quite captured the lightening in a bottle of that original picture. That is until now.

The Muppets plot is ingeniously clever in it’s simplicity. Walter, a puppet, discovers that evil oil magnate Tex Richman has purchased the historic Muppet Theater. Tex maintains he plans to turn it into a Muppet museum, but Walter overhears Tex’s real intention to raze the hallowed site so that he can drill for oil. Apparently the sale may still be halted if $10 million can be raised to buy the theater back. The Muppets and Walter, along with his human brother Gary and his girlfriend Mary, all band together to put on a telethon to raise the money. The narrative is perfect because it allows the action to reunite all of our favorite characters by first portraying what they have been doing. Then it inspires them to put on a song-and-dance variety performance, much in the same way that The Muppet Show used to do every week. In other words, they get to be themselves, something 90s efforts like The Muppet Christmas Carol or Muppet Treasure Island didn’t permit them to do. The story often brilliantly straddles the line between naiveté and cynicism. The self aware script even addresses The Muppets waning place in pop culture but without ever being disrespectful. The Muppets offers everything a longtime follower could desire as a fan and everything a newcomer would need to become a fan.

Music has always been a big part of the Muppet universe and this soundtrack is flawless. It reproduces those song parodies that made original series so great with updated material. Just try and detect the virtually unrecognizable “Smells Like Teen Spirit” re-imagined as barbershop quartet. Later, Camilla and the chickens cluck out the entire “Forget You” song for a seemingly unending 2 ½ minutes. It’s sidesplitting how long they carry the joke. Even the classic “Rainbow Connection” from the original film makes an appearance. But I think the most memorable musical interludes are the new songs from music supervisor Bret McKenzie of the New Zealand-based comedy duo Flight of the Conchords. They encompass all the superlative sounds of the 70s, from Amy Adams and Miss Piggy’s disco ditty “Me Party” to the soft rock of Jason Segel and Walter’s “Man or Muppet”. It’s the greatest song Paul Williams never wrote. When Kermit sings “Pictures In My Head” it actually brought tears to my eyes. I’m not lying when I say I adore the Muppets.

The Muppets is sarcastic, hilarious, self knowing, adult and nostalgic but also warm, tender, sweet, childlike and modern. The dialogue zings with a love of life rarely seen in modern cinema. It’s almost as if the film was created in a simpler, more innocent time. It’s surprisingly touching at times. I wouldn’t have thought that writer/star Jason Segel and screenwriter Nicholas Stoller (who wrote and directed the raunchy Get Him to the Greek) could have duplicated the 70s ethos of the Muppets so accurately in their script, but they do. They were clearly inspired by the benevolent spirit of Jim Henson. He most definitely would be proud of this unadulterated celebration of his beloved creation. Without question, the best Muppet movie yet.

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9 Responses to “The Muppets”

  1. I was surprised with the review you gave this! In fact, I might take this film under my re-consideration, if it’s that good. I agree with your statement that The Muppets is for kids and grown-ups alike, and I find it ironic that a documentary on the Elmo puppeteer was released only a few weeks before this. Nice review!

  2. Nice review, Mark! I’m dying to see this movie but they dubbed it in Spanish and opened it that way in every theater in the city! Ugh.

    • I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on a plane once and it was dubbed in English. It was awful (the dubbing, not the film obliviously) Subtitles are always my preference too.

  3. The Muppets are back! I loved it! The songs and the simple story all worked. I laughed a lot and even teared up a little. Fun for all ages.

  4. An adult group of us saw the movie, including long-time fans and one newbie. We all had a great time. You didn’t mention Jack Black’s performance–he was the perfect human foil to the Muppet Show insanity. See the movie, folks!

  5. I just got this out of the library, and now I’m dying to watch it more than ever before. Also got Anonymous, Letters from Iwo Jima, Anchorman (the so-called “Unrated, Uncut & Uncalled For!” edition), Driving Miss Daisy, and Good Will Hunting.

  6. I just finished watching this, and I must say, I’m glad I took your recommendation. But I probably should’ve seen it right away. 🙂 Such a joyous film. My review should be up in about an hour or two.

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