Movie Review: The Muppets- A Clever and Delightful Return of the Muppets That is a Success in the Hands of Director James Bobin and Writers Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller

There is always an initial sense of dread when Hollywood takes to revamping a beloved series such as The Muppets considering they might be the same people who brought us Muppets in Space and the Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, which were far from the standard we demand for our Muppet movies. When it was announced that actor Jason Segal would take lead on writing the new script for the Muppets, along with Nicholas Stoller who has written such garbage as Yes Man and Gulliver’s Travels, it didn’t exactly invoke confidence that this new movie would be anything more than a disrespectful knockoff resembling a Muppets movie. However, that fear can be tossed away after witnessing such a refreshing, funny, and dedicated script that has a free spirited delivery full of delightful music, a plethora of fun, and deep fan-based nostalgia. Whoever thought that you could get emotional from a singing frog as he reminisces over the good times? There is a parody like quality to the presentation of the new film and it shows that Segal, his co-writer, and director James Bobin (“Flight of the Conchords”) are all fans of the Jim Henson created creatures giving the film an atmosphere and tone that is as close to the original Muppets as we could hope to get. Perhaps the success is a combination of Bobin’s inventive musical number finesse, due to his practice on “Flight of the Conchords” (Bret Mackenzie was a musical supervisor), and Segal’s adoration for The Muppets as they were. Filled with cameos (some appropriate, others not), self-referencing jokes such as breaking the fourth wall, and tongue in cheek musical segments The Muppets is a welcome addition to the Muppets series and a far better family experience than most of the overly produced cinema junk you normally find in the theaters.

To bring about a successful return of the Muppets there needed to be a suitable story to give us a valid reason to see our beloved Muppets re-united. Segal and Stoller’s script follows the close relationship between two brothers, one an actual human named Gary and the other a muppet named Walter (voiced by Peter Linz). Walter doesn’t feel as though he belongs and finds comfort in “The Muppet Show,” where he forms a borderline obsession with the characters and their talents. Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) invite Walter to join them on a trip to Los Angeles where Walter can visit the famous Muppet Studios. But instead of seeing a tour of his dreams Walter sees a rundown studio where there are no more Muppet antics and is set to be purchased by a Rich oil man named Richman (Chris Cooper) believing there to be oil under the land. In order to save the studio, Walter finds Kermit the Frog and together they find the rest of the group in first Muppet movie fashion for the sake of putting on a telethon show to raise the money they need to keep the studio. There are a few cliché elements in the story structure but the particulars that can be quibbled about aren’t necessarily detriments to the movie as a whole and to focus on them would just make us our own Statler and Waldorfs. Truth is The Muppets is at once a direct and whimsical homage to the original Muppet Movie while also being modern and refreshing in its parody and self-deprecating humor in relation to the musical numbers and the plot’s launching points. The characters throughout the film continuously break the fourth wall by directly recognizing how tiring a dance number might be, that a montage might be quicker to pass the time, or traveling by map instead of actual distance, making a truly clever play on familiar cinema conventions. But even putting aside the writing and technical cleverness, the presentation of the Muppets is done in such a familiar and classic way that it is truly delightful to experience. This tone and environment can mostly be attributed to the tradition of cameos (Mickey Rooney, Alan Arkin, Jack Black, Dave Grohl, and Zach Galifinakis to name a few), a comically timed cast, and sticking with the tried and true personalities of our favorite Muppet characters.

Looking around the cinemas there is truly a lack of quality family films and certainly a lack of films that take risks on presentation, technical precision, or script manipulation. Mostly we get kids films that are hyper, overproduced, and lack any sort of message to take away. It’s truly a wonder that one of the only quality family movies this year would be a Muppets movie considering the doubts surrounding the film’s completion. You never would have expected the writer and director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall to bring us not only a quality family movie but also a quality Muppets movie, which has a higher standard for success to devout fans. The Muppets certainly isn’t the best of the Muppets movies but it is far from the worst due to the director’s familiarity with humorous musical numbers and the writer’s dedication to the consistent comedic tone of previous Muppets favorites. And while there can be an appreciation for the technical achievements, the self-aware jokes on cinema elements, and the dedication to the previous Muppets films structure, The Muppets by itself is just a whimsical, all around good time for the family that is rare these years. Anyone looking to erase their worries this Holiday season and be reminded that believing in oneself is the most important quality one can possess then The Muppets is your guaranteed ticket to achieve that.

Grade: A-

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