Today: July 23, 2024
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The Muppets

If you were a kid growing up in the mid-to-late ‘70s, it was a very different world from the one we know today.

If you were
a kid growing up in the
mid-to-late
‘70s, it was a very different world from the one we know today.
Doctor
Who
was actually still scary enough to make you hide behind the sofa,
Texans took longer to chew, porn grew in hedges and Big Daddy and Giant
Haystacks were athletes.

Saturday nights were special. You’d leap from your bath, hair still wet, jump into your
bunny suit (Remember bunny suits?
Bunny suits were snuggly!) and
be sat in front of the goggle box, sometimes pressed against the screen in
anticipation, just in time for the opening bars of The Greatest TV Show Ever
Made™, The Muppet Show. That’s right, the
Muppets! Screw you, Wire fans! The Muppet Show
is the best show that’s ever been on telly!

Watched at its height by an estimated audience of 235
million people in over 100 countries and spawning nine movies, The Muppet Show was wild, crazy,
frenetic fun for the whole family, a surrealistic variety show full of
acid-trip sketches and Andy Hardy-style “Hey kids, let’s put on a show,”
pluck. Every week, despite Kermit
the Frog’s best efforts, the programme would degenerate into chaos, the motley
cast of felt animals, monsters and humans spreading anarchy. The biggest stars in the world
clamoured to be guest stars. Johnny Cash sang Jackson with Miss Piggy, Elton John sang Crocodile Rock with puppet crocodiles…Debbie Harry sang The Rainbow
Connection with Kermit! It gave us a porcine diva, singing
chickens, mad scientists, an unintelligible Swedish chef, a homicidal drummer, Mah Nà Mah Na (Ok, it was in an Italian soft porn movie
first but where did you hear it?) and Piiiiiigs…iiiin…Spaaaaaaace!

It’s been 12 long
years though since the last theatrical Muppet movie, the dire Muppets From Space. Sure, in the years since, there’ve been
TV movies and specials starring minor R’n’B stars, the deputy from the Scream movies and Whoopi Goldberg but let’s face it; who, other than my girlfriend,
ever deliberately watched The Muppets’
Wizard Of Oz
? Well, guess what
folks? It’s time to play the music…It’s time to light the lights…

Growing up in
Smalltown USA with his human brother Gary (played by human Muppet, Jason Segal), Muppet Walter dreams of
meeting his heroes from the Muppet Show.
When Gary and girlfriend Mary (Amy
Adams
) head off on vacation to Los Angeles to celebrate their tenth
anniversary, Walter tags along.
Visiting the now derelict Muppet Studios, he uncovers a plot by evil
Texas oil baron Tex Richman (Chris
Cooper
) to tear down the studios and drill for oil beneath the Muppet
Theatre. But there’s a clause in
the contract; if the Muppets can raise $10million, they can buy back the
studios and thwart Richman’s evil plan.
With the help of Gary and Mary, it’s up to Walter to track down and
reunite the Muppets for one last show…

Eschewing the
adaptations of the last few Muppet movies (The
Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island
), and written by lifelong
Muppet fans and Frat Packers Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, this
reboot sticks pretty close to the classic Muppet formula of cheerful anarchy,
slapstick, sentimentalism and gags.
Fast-paced and frenetic, with celeb cameos from Mickey Rooney through to Jack
Black
(my favourite being Foo Fighter Dave
Grohl
as an Animal impersonator), The Muppets takes itself just seriously
enough and manages to be knowing and post-modern without being cynical. The plot, such as it is, has Walter,
Gary and Mary inspiring a reclusive Kermit to get the Muppets back together for
a fundraising telethon; a task that isn’t as easy as it sounds. The Great Gonzo has now married Camilla
the chicken and gone into the plumbing supplies business, selling toilets,
Animal is in court-ordered anger management, forbidden from playing the drums,
Fozzie is a down-and-out lounge act in Reno and Miss Piggy is now the editor of
French Vogue (Emily Blunt reprising
her icy assistant role from The Devil
Wears Prada
). The acts are
still as shambolic and self-deluded as ever, Waldorf and Statler are still
heckling from their box, fourth walls are smashed and gleeful mayhem
ensues.

But are the Muppets still relevant today? Whether they ever were might have been a better
question. Blagging themselves a
meeting with a TV studio executive (Rashida
Jones
) they want to pitch their idea for a telethon to, there’s a moment
that neatly encapsulates the streak of wistful melancholy that runs through The Muppets when she tells our heroes,
“I remember you guys from when I was a kid. I’m gonna shoot straight: you guys aren’t famous anymore,”
prompting the wise-cracking Fozzie Bear to remark: “I wish she’d shot a little
more curvy.”

The appeal of the Muppets has always been that they’re out of step
with reality. They always were a
throwback to a bygone era of music hall variety, a collision between surrealism
and vaudeville, their values and morality just that little bit better than
ours. Showing them an episode of
the latest hit kids TV show, an exercise in happy slapping titled Punch Teacher
where kids…punch teachers, Kermit comments “I think kids are better and smarter
than this,” and that’s always been the
point of the Muppets. The Muppet
Show, for all its anarchic mentalness was always a show made by a bunch of
idealistic hippies who hadn’t yet lost faith in the future and Segal and Stoller
have pinned their hearts to their sleeves and given us a smart, funny film
aimed squarely at lovers, dreamers and you. It’s the Muppet movie we’ve all been waiting for and honours
the memory of Jim Henson.

And I guarantee,
this time next week, you’ll still be clucking Camilla the chicken’s version of
Cee Lo Green’s F**k You!

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com

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