Campy, Quirky, and Oh-So-Well-Crafted
“It’s time to play the music; it’s time to light the lights!”
The legacy of Jim Henson lives on with great vigor in The Muppets, which turns out to be not just the expected excellence from the Muppet creative team and Disney, but also the greatest mass-appeal Christmas gift that could be imagined for these times.
In their latest outing, the Muppets have all scattered and gone their separate ways. The glitter days of The Muppet Show and movies are in the past and the studio and theater are run down and empty. Enter the three biggest Muppet fans of all time, especially Walter (a new Muppet creation) who worships the lily pads Kermit sits upon. Walter and Gary (Jason Segel) are basically stuck in the rut of life, having failed to launch beyond living, working, and sharing their social lives as dearly devoted brothers. Walter feels he has no important purpose in life and Gary has been dating Mary (Amy Adams) for ten years but can’t bring himself to break away from Walter.
For their tenth anniversary Gary surprises Mary with a trip to Los Angeles and convinces her to allow Walter to come along so that he can see the studio of his idol. The villain is Tex Richman (yes, even the names are obvious) played deliciously by Chris Cooper (American Beauty; The Bourne Identity) and Jack Black does a masterful job playing an unwilling participant in all the Muppet mayhem. What ensues could be written by anyone who has seen enough movies or read enough books. In order not to spoil a movie so worth seeing, simply put: how will the Muppets be reunited and the theater saved?
The Muppets has a universal appeal that entertains any age. It is truly family safe and an outing that is worth spending money on and will not disappoint. The gift of this movie comes at a time in our country and the world when there is great tension and confusion about the future and concern about security. While it would be truly simplistic and ridiculous to say that a movie can make all these troubles go away, what becomes obvious is that Jason Segel (also the writer) and everyone else involved in this production are sending a message: Laughter heals. (Okay, maybe fart shoes, pratfalls, massive plays on words, and sight gags aren’t what get you up in the morning, but judging from the audience’s constant laughter, they hit all of us, no matter what age, in the funny bone.)
There are still many good things about life. Look for the rainbows. The reality is that life cannot be taken so seriously that it over-focuses on self. Connect with people. Love each other. We are all on this ship called Earth together and we all have purpose. As Kermit says in the movie, “We failed, but we failed together and to me, that isn’t failure. We tried. We still have each other.” Simple yet profound wisdom from a green, ping pong ball-eyed frog!
Now to the art aspects. The musical soundtrack is genius. The songs sung by the characters are endearing and simply worded—just what a Muppet should sing. Music taken from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s delights the ears and makes the audience dance in their seats. There is nothing like good, traditional, original rock and roll like “We Built This City,” “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” and “Mahna Mahna.” There is nothing so delightful as seeing middle-aged white guy Chris Cooper rapping.
The human characters are Muppets in flesh so as not to draw attention away from the Muppets who are the true stars. Director James Bobin has done a wonderful job of showcasing the Muppets but without making the human actors seem only like set dressing. He has masterfully captured facial expressions that bring the silliness and campiness into a new definition of entertainment that keeps the movie remaining hilarious throughout, not just spiraling into an eye-rolling groaner.
Finally, The Muppets extends its own universal metaphor by trooping as many unexpected actors and actresses through as possible. They pop up unexpectedly everywhere—Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Arkin, Mickey Rooney, Neil Patrick Harris, Selena Gomez, Rachael Ray to name a few—and keep the audience alert to spot the next one. This creates another element of true interaction between the audience and the screen. But stars aren’t the focus and that is why they are cameos. Pay close attention to the dance and crowd scenes. The people are real, ordinary people—all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages—us!
The Muppets is a long-awaited and appetite-satisfying gift for those who grew up with families circled around television sets for that magical thirty minutes with the Muppets every Friday evening. Light the lights and start the music all over again for yourself and share it with the younger generations. Enjoy!