Sunday, March 17, 2013

"The Muppets" (2011)

Starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams and The Muppets
Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller
Directed by James Bobin
Rated PG - Mild language and peril, fart shoes
Running Time: 103 Minutes

Human Gary (Jason Segel) and Muppet Walter (Peter Linz) grew up as close as brothers can be. But Walter had a tough time growing up, since all the other kids made fun of him. So aside from his brother, his only solace came from The Muppets, those like him who had made it big and gave the world the third greatest gift ever: laughter. Now adults, Gary announces to Walter that he's taking his girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams) on a trip to Los Angeles for their 10th anniversary. And, much to Walter's surprise, Walter is invited to go with them and take a tour of the Muppet Studios.

Unfortunately, it has been years since the Muppets performed together. The studios and world-famous theatre have fallen into disrepair, attended only by an elderly, unenthused tour guide (Alan Arkin). Walter sneaks into Kermit's old office and overhears a conversation between evil oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) and his muppet cronies planning to demolish the studios to drill for oil beneath. The Muppets' only chance to stop him is to raise the $10 million necessary to purchase the land back from Richman.

Determined to save the legacy of Walter's heroes, Walter, Gary and Mary seek out Kermit the Frog and convince him to get the old gang together to put on one last show to raise the money. But the Muppets haven't performed together in over a decade, and the personal conflicts that drove them apart haven't been resolved. With only a few days, Walter, Gary, Mary, Kermit and the others will have to come together and put on the show of a lifetime to save not just the Muppets' past, but their future as well.

How do I put this? This movie is adorable. It is 103 minutes of colorful, sweet, innocent fun. From the brightly-colored, saccharine-infused opening musical number in Smalltown, to the climactic re-staging of "The Muppet Show," this new Muppets movie is a charmer, obviously written by a fan with fans in mind. The humor is geared toward the younger members of the family, but there's also so much here for fans who have grown up with the Muppets and remember them in their heyday.

Much of "The Muppets" hinges on selling that nostalgic view of "Whatever happened to the Muppets?" In fact, it's a key part of the plot, illustrated simply toward the end as the Muppets' show begins to attract a huge audience of old and new fans.  References to the old shows and movies are handled with a reverence and weight that are remarkable.

Indeed, so are the emotions of the characters. There probably hasn't been this much depth or subtlety in a performance from Kermit the Frog, well, maybe ever. Kermit is given real weight here as he must come to grips with the fact that he's allowed much of what he loved about his life to slip away, and especially deal with why his relationship with Ms Piggy crumbled.

Walter, Gary and Mary also have their own emotional arcs to deal with. Walter doesn't know what he's good for in life, Gary seems to care more about Walter than his girlfriend, and Mary notices. While the Muppets are all coming back together, these three seem to be splitting apart. But ultimately, each one of them will discover just how that may not necessarily a bad thing - that they're now splitting up, they just each have to grow and accept the changes in each others' lives. And Gary just needs to man up and ask Marry to marry him after 10 friggin' years, but, y'know...

Anyway, the film is also loaded with a ton of fun celebrity cameos, as befitting any proper Muppets production. Alan Arkin, Sarah Silverman, Jack Black and more all show up at one point or another. Black has the meatiest role among the celebrities, playing himself kidnapped and forced to host the Muppets' telethon. The way the audience assumes his pleading for them to call the cops is merely part of the show is a riot, and only gets better as the show goes on and Black is humiliated over and over by the Muppets' insanely innocent antics. And keep an eye out for Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl in blink-and-you'll-miss it background joke.

After more than a decade away, The Muppets returned to the screen in fine fashion. This is a great family film; it's funny and warm and nostalgic and it has fart shoes at probably the most perfect time possible. Wacca wacca.