The Muppets is sure to attract two audiences: adults nostalgic for the puppet clan and Jason Segel fans. Thankfully, neither will be disappointed and neither will the younger generations being introduced to Kermit and the gang for the first time.
The Muppets were once a ubiquitous source of entertainment for generations of children. With a long-running TV show, numerous films (1999’s disappointing Muppets in Space being their last) and countless celebrity cameos made them the family version of Saturday Night Live. But in the 12 years since their last theatrical release they’ve been replaced by Justin Beiber, High School Musical, and countless other fleeting obsessions.
Puppets have also been replaced by CGI that’s rendered them antiques, at least in the eyes of the nations youth. So when Jason Segel announced that he would bring Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and the crew back into public consciousness many became rightly intrigued. Not just because he was bringing back something long thought retired but because Segel was anything but a family entertainer. An integral part of the foul-mouthed Judd Apatow clan may seem like an unlikely choice to bring back The Muppets, however, Segel’s boundless energy and non-ironic love for Jim Henson’s creations are obvious and drives the best Muppets movie in decades.
Segel plays Gary who’s brother Walter is a Muppet himself. Both have grown up on The Muppets but Walter has developed an obsession for the troupe. For Gary’s 10th anniversary with his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), he’s planned a trip to Los Angeles and has invited Walter along so he can see The Muppets’ studio. Unfortunately, they soon find out it’s abandoned and falling apart and that an oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) has bought the land with the intention of tearing it down for the oil underneath. So, Walter, Gary and Mary must find Kermit and get the gang back together in order to save The Muppet Theatre.
It’s surprising how much the film actually plays like a classic Mupptets film. With Segel and Nicholas Stoller (director, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) writing the script, James Bobin (director, Flight of the Conchords) behind the camera and Brett McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords) contributing all new songs, one would think it should be the first R-rated Muppets movie. Yet, it’s purely PG and while it has some humor that’s sure to go over many children’s heads, it’s surprisingly sweet and grounded.
Segel and Stoller’s decision to have The Muppets crew broken up is clever because it not only gives them a solid story foundation but it also mirrors how they’re viewed in today’s culture — simply a thing of the past. For the uninitiated it creates the sense of a time forgotten that hardcore Muppets fans already feel and by creating Walter, a brand new Muppet, it gives both crowds the same point of view.
McKenzie’s songs are also fantastic and he retains the super catchy, but slightly weird, aesthetic he championed in Flight of the Conchords. Amy Adams outshines Segel when it comes to bringing those songs to life, even if his conviction to the part is endearing. It’s not that he doesn’t have the pipes (remember his Dracula musical that ended Forgetting Sarah Marshall?) but he does seem slightly out of his element on screen. It could also be because it’s slightly jarring to see him in a film where he doesn’t swear (or is fully clothed). If there’s anything that does fall slightly flat it’s Segel and Adams’ subplot where she wants him to choose her or Walter. It’s sweet, yes, but Segel, nor Adams, ever really feel like the stars of the film. That’s reserved for Walter and Kermit. But these are small quibbles for what is otherwise a remarkable return to form for The Muppets at the hands of a new generation of comedians usually known for their crude senses of humor. It really is a film that adults can bring their children to and both will enjoy. For those that thought The Muppets were a thing of the past, think again.