It’s been more than a decade since The Muppets last appeared on the big-screen. Enough time that they’re not at the forefront of people’s minds but not too long that people have completely forgotten about them.
The brilliant set-up for the new movie, co-written by and starring Jason Segel, is that The Muppets aren’t actually together anymore and the world has moved on from their old, wholesome family entertainment style that once saw them globally popular. With the help of Walter, a huge fan of them, his “brother” Gary (Segel), and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), they attempt to reunite the whole gang in order to save their old iconic theatre from destruction by an oil tycoon (Chris Cooper).
The Muppets does a couple of things quite brilliantly. First off, it does a great job of appealing to those people who (fondly) remember them from years past, infusing every scene with plenty of love and most importantly nostalgia for the characters and the overall happy vibe they give off. But at the same time it is fully aware that there will be people out there who either don’t heavy any idea who The Muppets are or barely remember them (whether it was before their time or they just weren’t exposed to them etc.). In the same way as J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot, it keeps the original fans in mind while still making it appealing to a fresh audience. No mean feat but they pull it off with admirable aplomb.
The other thing this modern-day Muppets tale does is it appeals to audiences of all ages. Several generations of one family could all go and all laugh at the same scene. It has the silly slapstick stuff, the toilet humour and, of course, the funny-looking main characters themselves that will appeal to kids (and adults, for that matter!) but there’s also plenty of knowing and self-reflective humour that the adults can appreciate too. So whether it’s Fozzie Bear wearing “fart shoes” or Jason Segel making a knowing comment about travelling to another location “by map,” there’s something in there for everyone to laugh at.
A special mention must go to the music. Overseen by Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords, there is a plethora of hilarious, catchy, and often flat-out genius songs that expands on that mix of joyfulness and astute humour found elsewhere in the film. While you’re bobbing your head and tapping your toes to the songs – from “Life’s a Happy Song” to “Man or Muppet” – if you listen specifically to the lyrics there’s some very clever stuff going on. Often the music is done in a similar style to Flight of the Conchords, where it would almost seem made up on the spot by the characters at hand if it weren’t so polished.
Judging The Muppets as an overall film narrative it may not hang together as well as it should, and there’s never really any unpredictability to be found as far as the actual plot goes. But when there’s such a feeling of love, happiness and pure joy oozing from every seam it’s hard to care about any of the cracks. Charming and genuinely funny, with well cast human characters (including a wealth of surprise cameos), and many-an-awesome song, The Muppets is an utter delight to sit through. You’d have to be pretty hard-hearted not to fall for it.