by James Bobin
The Muppets is an incredible nostalgia trip. It is fascinating
in that it isn’t aimed at gaining a new audience for the decades-old
Muppet characters; it is aimed squarely at people who grew up watching
them but are now adults. Like me. As such, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The movie cleverly places a protagonist in the same situation of people
in my age bracket. Walter (a puppet) grew up watching the Muppets, and
now wonders what has become of them. He is the impetus that drives the
plot, and the plot involves the Muppets themselves recreating their
former glory. As such, anybody who is at all nostalgic for the Muppets
is almost sure to be delighted.
Structurally, the movie is very straightforward: In Act 1 a problem
is discovered by Walter that needs the Muppets to be reunited to solve.
In Act 2 the Muppets are reuinited in a series of very funny episodes
(my favorite being Rowlf’s, obviously), then try to figure out
how to solve the problem. In Act 3, they try to enact their solution.
But a surprising plot is not something you really look for in a Muppet
movie. What you look for are the character interactions, the jokes,
and the winking wall-breaking that are the Muppet trademarks. And they’re
all here en masse.
Wisely the filmmakers decided to include the entire sweep of history
of these characters. They all have baggage now. Some of their relationships
have shifted over time, and they’re all in one way or another
estranged. There are wonderful moments of honesty awkwardness as these
old friends try to rediscover their friendships and get past the strain
of the years. Can they really be just like they used to be? The central
relationships between Kermit & Piggy, and Kermit & Fozzy, are
genuinely touching. You get the feeling that they all wish they could
have said more how much they cared for each other before the estrangement.
Maybe then things would have been different. Kermit has a very lovely
and moving song (“Pictures in My Head”) with a repeated
refrain of, “Is there more I could have said?” Is it too
late now? Especially for Kermit & Piggy?
Speaking of music, The Muppets has a series of incredibly catchy songs,
including the Oscar-winning “Man or Muppet,” which serves
as an important plot point for the two main characters. Considering
that the music supervisor was on half of Flight of the Concords, I suppose
it isn’t that much of a surprise that the music is catchy and
memorable (except for the villain’s rap, which was purposefully
bad, so it’s forgivable even if it isn’t enjoyable).
Because the movie is so focused on the three trios of main characters
(Walter, Mary, and Gary on one side and Kermit, Piggy, and Fozzy on
the other, and Richman, Bobo, and Uncle Deadly as the villains), many
of the other Muppet characters do not get as much screen time, which
is sure to disappoint anyone who is a big fan of any particular character.
I, for instance, would have loved to have seen more Rowlf (though he
does get one of the best jokes of the movie) and more Honeydew/Beaker
(though they do get an excellent deleted scene in the upcoming special
features). Rizzo, for instance, who was such a mainstay throughout all
of the 1990s, doesn’t get a single line.
There are some nice, funny, wall-breaking jokes in this movie that
I really appreciated and that I thought were definitely in the spirit
of the Muppets: 80s Robot, traveling by map, time for a montage, and
fart shoes all come instantly to mind.
Like the original Muppet Movie, this one is full of celebrity
cameos, some as characters and some playing themselves... or caricatures
of themselves at least. And apparently there were about a dozen more
celebrity cameos that ended up being cut for time. It is used for great
effect in one scene in which two of the newest generations of celebrities
(Selena Gomez and that Rico Rodriguez kid from the Disney Channel) seem
to have no idea who Kermit is and vice-versa, and in another scene where
Kermit goes through an old rolodex of former Muppet Show hosts.
In a way, though, the entire premise of this movie is a bit false.
Sure, there hasn’t been a Muppet movie or TV show in over a decade.
But in the last few years they’ve owned YouTube with funny videos
like their “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The Muppets may have been
out of mainstream media, but they never really disappeared the way it’s
portrayed in this movie. That said, the disconnect between the Muppets
and the world in this movie tugs powerfully at the hearstrings and the
nostalgia strings. The Muppets is a movie with genuinely moving
moments, and if you ever liked the Muppets, it will be extremely hard
It is my favorite movie of 2011. But considering the number of 2011
movies that I actually saw wouldn’t even fill up a top-ten list,
well, it might not be saying that much. Still, it is the only movie
I saw twice in the theaters. So there’s that. And this: I absolutely