Monday, April 2, 2012

The Muppets

Amy Adams, Jason Segal, and a lot of Muppets in that car in 2011's The Muppets
*** out of ****

I love Muppets. I was constantly in sync with this movie's love for them, while at the same time I felt I could never be fully satisfied with a revival one of my great childhood obsessions in the absence of Jim Henson. The lack of his unique voice and spirit will always deprive The Muppets of an asset that no one can really mimic. Since his death, there have been many Muppet comebacks and none of them come close to how good this one is. Still, for me, 1979's The Muppet Movie will never be topped. 

Jason Segal, Nick Stoller, and James Bobin had a lot of courage for how they approached this material. The movie is very much about how The Muppets are forgotten. It also gets so very right, what was great about them. There was also the risky idea of making the main characters a small group of Muppet fans and having the famous Muppets being the supporting characters. Another thing this movie does that the recent Star Trek movie did as well, is pay more homage than any movie in it's franchise, to the original TV series that started it all.

Here's the Fresh Air interview with Segal and Nick Stoller

There's kind of a mixed feeling I have towards the self-conscious revivalist approach. There's some credit being given to the audience for knowing that this material is old and washed up. At the same time, you wonder how the revival will stand the test of time.

The great thing this movie did, was it gave adults a real strong motivation to take their kids to see a children's movie. The nostalgia is strong. The musical numbers by Bret McKenzie are tongue-in-cheek goofy melodies. I think it's cool he scored an Oscar with this movie for the power ballod, Man or Muppet. Still, I think the Oscars, as usual, nominated the wrong song. The real gem in this movie is the first number, Life's a Happy Song, which is filled with so much laughable over-the-top psychotic joy. It put me right in that old familiar Muppet frame of mind.

Here's a radio interview with McKenzie on Fresh Air

Supposedly there was a struggle to get this movie ready in the writing process. I was shocked to find out that Frank Oz wasn't involved and that Fozzie, Miss Piggy and his regular characters were uncannily performed by another voice. According to the movie's trivia section on IMDB, Oz was not happy with a draft of the script given to him and wouldn't be involved. I wonder if it was the same draft that the guy who voices Kermit demanded changes for or he would have his name removed from the credits.

Dopey-looking Jason Segal and bright-eyed Amy Adams fit right into the silly innocence of this flick. I'm not sure how I feel about the naturalistic Chris Cooper as the evil billionaire Tex Richman. He does the best he can with the material but somehow, knowing Alan Rickman was offered the role frustrates me. I think this characters villainy would have been enhanced by someone a little more theatrical. I can imagine Rickman saying every line Cooper has in this movie and it being way funnier.

The celebrity cameos are all inspired choices. The writing is full of good-spirited gags. As a tradition to Muppet movies, the characters are constantly breaking the fourth wall and defying logic by taking advantage of movie cliches. My favorite is that if you need to get to somewhere on the other side of the world fast, just "travel by map".   

I'm really happy this movie got made and that it was in the right hands. It's a little cluttered at times but that's what happens when the filmmakers feel like no amount of excess is enough to express their love for the material. That's also what happens when you get that many Muppets in a room.

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