Plastic eyes stuck onto colourful felt shouldn’t be as much fun as The Muppets.
Jim Henson knew what he was doing when he created The Muppets. These weren’t just your run of the mill puppets with a good hand up their backside. Thanks to Henson, and his team, The Muppets gave life to a group of characters who have etched their way into child and adult memories across the globe. They are part of growing up, like reading a Roald Dahl book or losing your first tooth, The Muppets are something no child should grow up not knowing and no adult will ever forget. But in recent years The Muppets began to wane, languishing in straight to DVD efforts it seemed that they had become nothing more than a product, a cash-cow to milk with the love and affection that made them so popular drained from existence.
For things to change it would take heart, a lot of it, to bring the world’s best loved puppets back to life, back to the big screen and into the public consciousness where they belong. Enter Jason Segal, the star of TVs hit showHow I Met Your Mother and films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall. With his character in Sarah Marshall Segal had shown that he had a penchant for all things Muppet thanks to his Dracula musical-comedy. In 2007 Segal approached Disney asking them if he could pen a Muppet movie, worried by his recent full frontal nudity in Sarah Marshall the Mouse House was unsure of where Segal was going. It turns out though he is a fan, a big one, who wanted to put The Muppets back in the big time.
Gary (Jason Segal) and his adopted Muppet brother Walter are life long fans of The Muppet Show. They watch it all the time. But as they grow up Gary starts to have new interests, mostly in the shapely form of his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams). But when Walter and Gary visit a now rundown Muppet theatre theylearn of an evil plan by oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to buy the theatre and knock it down. The only thing that will stop him is if the Muppets put on a show and raise $10 Million to save their spiritual home. Together Gary, Mary and Walter set out to put the band back together. But the Muppets have moved on; Kermit has become something of a recluse, Gonzo has gone into plumbing and Miss Piggy is the Editor of Vogue Paris (complete with Emily Blunt, in full Devil Wears Prada form, as her assistant.) It’s going to take all the gang to pull together to pull off this rescue act.
The great thing about this latest Muppet incarnation is it’s about The Muppets. There’s no Treasure Island, Lost In Space, Wizard Of Oz think going on. The Muppets have always had the ability to be both pre-school moral storytellers while playing to a wry adult sense of humour. This film packs all that in and more. Watching Kermit lose his head as all around do their crazy thing, seeing Miss Piggy throw hissy fits at Kermit, Gonzo repeatedly blowing himself up and Fozzie Bear telling so-bad-they’re-good style jokes is a delight. It’s like meeting up with a childhood friend you haven’t seen in years and feeling like no time has passed since you last enjoyed each other’s company.
But it’s more than just that. Segal and co-writer director Nicholas Stoller have injected something fresh to the franchise. The Muppets now have a self-referential sense of fun, as if they’ve watched Scream and Cabin In The Woods and seen how to send up a genre completely unique to them. There are endless in jokes, moments of brilliant slapstick fun and all the while Segal and Stoller never losing sight of the fact that for most, as Rashida Jones’ TV Executive states, “you aren’t famous anymore”. So to re-invest in them, find that affection buried deep beneath all the cynicism of modern reality TV show culture the Muppets have adapted. You want endless cameos from famous people? You got it, everyone’s here from Zach Galifianakis as a hobo, to Selena Gomez, from the brilliant Neil Patrick Harris through to Jack Black who is in anger management with Animal. And then there’s the songs. The kind of hum along tunes that will stick in your head in the best way possible, that ‘Man Or A Muppet’ won an Oscar is fully deserved but ‘Life’s A Happy Song’ could just have easily taken the little gold statue.
The endless reams of enjoyment to be had from The Muppets could take up eight reviews. It is pure, unadulterated fun. It is to the now departed and much loved Jim Henson’s credit that he was able to create characters with so much life and love in them. Stoller and Segal have reignited the flame for our felt-furry friends and with any luck The Muppets are here to stay.