Segel and company have managed to produce a Muppet film that not only lives up to the franchise legacy, but for some fans, might just end up being one of their all-time favorite adventures.
When it was first reported that Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother and Forgetting Sarah Marshall) would be taking on one of the most beloved movie/TV properties of all time, The Muppets, needless to say, reactions were somewhat mixed. Then as parody trailer after creative parody trailer debuted online and in theaters, more and more moviegoers became cautiously optimistic that The Muppets would actually turn out to be not just an enjoyable trip to the theater but a worthy installment in a series that hasn’t seen a big screen release in over twelve years (the last one being Muppets from Space).
However, does Segel’s The Muppets offer a fun time at today’s movie theaters – while also serving as a worthy installment in the larger saga of Muppet movie offerings?
While the overarching storyline in The Muppets isn’t the most imaginative narrative in the series, the combination of social satire and genuinely endearing character moments succeeds in delivering one of the most sincere installments of the franchise. As mentioned, Segel sidestepped the limelight and puts Walter center stage. Walter is the world’s biggest Muppet fan – and destiny calls when he travels with his biological, yet human, brother Gary (Segel) and Gary’s girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), to Hollywood. Walter becomes the only person capable of reuniting the Muppets, who have all gone their separate ways, so that they can stop a rich oil tycoon, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), from tearing down the iconic Muppet Theater.
While certain members of the original Muppets team had been somewhat critical of Segel’s interpretation, highlighting moments in the trailers (such as Fozzie’s fart shoes) that were supposedly antithetical to Henson’s approach to the characters, the final version of The Muppets comes across as extremely grounded in the franchise spirit. In a world of gritty reboots and dark comic book characters, it’s hard to imagine any filmmaking team capturing the same success as Segel and director, James Bobin (The Flight of the Conchords) manage with their Muppet movie. While it might be hard for some fans to imagine a scenario that would have forced the Muppets apart, rebuilding the estranged friendships not only mirrors the film’s larger message, the premise also delivers some truly heartfelt character moments – not to mention entertaining comedy set pieces.
While some viewers had probably been expecting non-Muppet Segel to hog the spotlight, like other children-show-turned-modern-movies (such as Neil Patrick Harris in The Smurfs or Jason Lee in Alvin and the Chipmunks), the “humans” are all portrayed with campy tongue-in-cheek fun that serves to let the Muppets shine. Amy Adams is a bubbly and cartoonish school teacher (as well as an expert electrician) and Chris Cooper, playing the evil Tex Richman, manages to strike a good balance as a villain that audiences will love to hate – while still offering some genuinely funny laughs throughout the proceedings.
Segel and Bobins were adamant about using the same practical Muppet effects that have been a staple of the series – with basically zero CGI used in the entire film. While it won’t necessarily be surprising for fans of the series, it’s still pretty amazing to see the Muppets in action – dancing together in large scale numbers on the Muppet Theater stage – as well as presenting complicated emotions in quiet character moments through subtle body gestures and facial expressions. In a time where movie magic usually boils down to big-bugdet digital effects and 3D glasses, it’s great to see that some filmmakers can still make real-world inanimate objects come to life in 2D.
That said, despite a heartfelt message and a masterful handling of the Muppet franchise, there are a few moments where Segel and Bobin’s The Muppets falls a bit flat. A number of the film’s musical numbers are especially enjoyable – mixing fun and quirky musical stylings with some pretty interesting and entertaining onscreen imagery (“Man or Muppet” to name one) – but a few of them fall short of being either necessary to the story, or even worse, all that entertaining to watch (“Me Party”). The same can be said for some of the film’s numerous gag set-ups which, once again, connect surprisingly well in most cases – though there are definitely some drawn-out duds along the way. While the flat points aren’t nearly enough to hamper the overall experience, in a film the successfully captures so much heart, laughter, and onscreen magic, the underwhelming moments are exceptionally easy to spot – and, at times, undermine the film’s steady momentum.
There’s no doubt that much like Walter asserts early on in the film, Muppet fans have been waiting years for Henson’s characters to break through all the reality television, franchise film reboots, and cynical celebrity posturing – with a film experience that can serve up the same mix of Muppet brand social parody, musical stylings and charming character moments that adults remember and newly-introduced children are bound to love. The Muppets, helmed by filmmaker fans who were more interested in seeing the Muppets return to glory – rather than stepping into the spotlight themselves – no doubt reflects that Segel and company have managed to produce a Muppet film that not only lives up to the franchise legacy, but for some fans, might just end up being one of their all-time favorite adventures with Kermit and the gang.
If you’re still on the fence about The Muppets, check out the trailer below:
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The Muppets is now in theaters.