2011, alan arkin, Amy Adams, Animal, animated, Beaker, Bret McKenzie, Buzz Lightyear, children's films, Chris Cooper, comedy, Dave Grohl, Disney, Flight of the Conchords, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Fozzie Bear, James Bobin, Jason Segel, Kermit the Frog, Leslie Feist, McDonald's, Mickey Rooney, Miss Piggy, Muppets From Space, musical, Nicholas Stoller, Peter Linz, Pixar, puppet, Selena Gomez, short film, Small Fry, the Muppets, The Swedish Chef, Toy Story
Written by: Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller
Directed by: James Bobin
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Peter Linz
In this on-going glut of remakes, recuts, reboots, retellings, updates and adaptations, it is nice to see one that is at least made out of undeniable love for its source material which The Muppets certainly is. Written by Jason Segel and Forgetting Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller, The Muppets contains the sort of attention and detail that can only come from a lifetime spent watching, re-watching and chattering endlessly about all things Muppets. All of Jim Henson’s beloved creations are in this film, and the film’s self-awareness prevents it from the major pitfalls inherent in this sort of nostalgia trip. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a fun movie and at times it’s a tender movie and that’s enough to do the trick.
Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) is a puppet born into a human family in the small town of Smalltown, where he grew up with his human brother Gary (Jason Segel) who protected him from the bullying of the human children at school (it’s weird having to say “human children” but this movie sort of requires the distinction to be made). As boys, Walter and Gary were inseparable and spent many hours watching The Muppet Show, a show which provided a certain amount of comfort for Walter. As adults Walter and Gary still live together in Smalltown and Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) invite Walter to come with them on their anniversary trip to Los Angeles. They are going to take Walter on a tour of the Muppet Studios, his lifelong dream. When they arrive, they discover that the Muppet Studios have fallen into disrepair, and Walter overhears the evil Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) as he discusses his plans to purchase the Muppet Studios and drill for oil beneath them. The film then follows Walter, Gary and a somewhat less-enthusiastic Mary as they attempt to gather up all the Muppets to put off a new Muppet Show in order to raise the ten million dollars required to save the Muppet Studios from Tex Richman.
It’s broad, yes, and corny for certain, but gleefully so. Segel, Stoller and director James Bobin clearly recognize that a straight Muppets movie would never work, so instead they create a happily dumb plot which they then fill with all the love and great gags they can manage, and it works perfectly. The musical numbers were supervised by Bret McKenzie and his influence is strong; each piece is full of Flight of the Conchords-style awkwardness, silliness, genre-twisting playfulness and lyrical gags.Writing for each muppet is perfect, and the film finds space for all the muppet favorites without ever resorting gratuitous appearances. A montage-y scene in which all the muppets are located and gathered is rich with wonderful jokes, including one scene where Fozzie Bear is discovered in Reno, working with a group called “The Moopets” which include grimy, scumbag Muppet rip-offs such as Kermoot the Frog, Animool (Dave Grohl), and the shank-wielding Miss Poogy.
There’s not a lot to be said about The Muppets, which isn’t to say it isn’t a really good film, because it is. It’s just that it is a Muppets movie, one that is much better than the last couple of Muppets movies (Muppets From Space, anybody?) and one that is really light and entertaining. There are about a thousand celebrity cameos, everyone from Leslie Feist and Selena Gomez to Alan Arkin and Mickey Rooney, all of which are very cute indeed. The spirit in the creation of this movie feels genuine and born of love, not greed; it revitalizes a franchise that deserves the best and it does so respectfully. The Muppets is sweet, and I enjoyed it and you probably will too.
What I loved much more than The Muppets was Small Fry, the Pixar short that precedes the film. It is one of the funniest of Pixar shorts in a while and it is among Presto and Day & Night as one of the best-crafted short films that Pixar have produced. Small Fry is a Toy Story short and it tells of a Happy Meal toy-like version of Buzz Lightyear who sneakily replaces the real Buzz in the hopes of avoiding a fate of never being played with. Back in the fast food joint, Buzz is trapped as spends his night with a support group for kids toys that never got sold with a meal. There is a great running gag in the short that deals with the types of reject toys that often feature in McDonald’s Happy Meals including the Tae-Kwan Doe, Ghost Burger and the Beef Stewardess. Small Fry features the most incredible animation from Pixar yet, with textures so astonishingly realistic, it seems the animation crew went out of their way to show off a little; one scene in which Buzz Lightyear’s glow-in-the-dark parts move in and out of shadows is amazing.