Review: ‘The Muppets’ is the best puppet movie of 2011
Roger Ebert has written that the best way to enjoy a movie is in a crowded, reactive theater. I beg to differ.
The best way to enjoy a movie is in an empty theater, where you do not have to worry about your fellow moviegoer’s reactions coloring your own.
I learned this lesson from the Muppets; perhaps my fondest movie theater experience is having an entire theater alone with just my family watching The Muppet Christmas Carol. It's probably neither the studio’s nor the theater owner’s favorite way for you to watch a movie on the big screen, but if you find yourself laughing out loud alone in the dark, you know that it is really you laughing.
Sadly for the Muppets, but happily for me, I had the theater all to myself for The Muppets. I found myself laughing in the dark once more.
The Muppets tells the story of two brothers, Walter and Gary. Gary, played by Jason Segel, is a regular guy, while Walter is a puppet. The movie does not bother to explain this (I suspect peacocks were involved). Walter and Gary are both big fans of the Muppets, though Walter is the bigger fan, for obvious reasons.
Gary is planning a romantic trip to Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Mary, played by Amy Adams, who teaches third grade auto repair. Gary plans to finally propose to Mary after ten years of dating. However, Gary and Walter are inseparable, so Walter’s coming along too, especially since the Muppet studios are in L.A.
At the studio, Walter overhears a plot by oil tycoon Tex Richman, played by Chris Cooper, to cheat the Muppets out of the studio – and even the right to the name “the Muppets” – in order to drill for oil under the studio. Walter and company rush to warn Kermit, who signed the studio over thinking it would be turned into a Muppet museum. The Muppets’ only chance is to raise $10 million dollars from a telethon in one week.
Can Kermit get the gang back together? Can he get a network to play the show? Can he find a celebrity host for the telethon, or will Miss Piggy just kidnap Jack Black? Is the world ready for the return of the Muppets? Meanwhile, can Walter find his talent as a Muppet? Will Gary and Mary have their romantic dinner and get married happily ever after? Will other subplots this review has not yet touched upon also be resolved?
The Muppets is a musical, so, spoiler alert, the characters burst into song frequently. Only one song is meant to be taken entirely seriously. Even the fairly serious “Pictures in My Head,” sung by Kermit as he remembers the good old days of the Muppets, features a line or two sung by the Swedish Chef in full gibberish.
The first number, “Life is a Happy Song,” takes the absurdity of the musical and runs with it, piling on ridiculous similes for life followed by rhyming explanations, culminating in “Life is a fresh caught fish! … Yes, it is!” Another standout is “Man or Muppet,” with lyrics like “If I’m a Muppet, I’m a very manly Muppet,” and featuring a cameo by Jim Parsons in which he basically just stands there and still manages to be a showstopper.
The one serious song features Kermit breaking out his banjo for the second to last act of the telethon to ponder about rainbows. It may not be a new song, but since the movie is as much about nostalgia as anything, it may easily bring the right audience to tears.
Even if that audience is just one guy alone in the dark.
The movie is called The Muppets, and that is exactly what you get when you watch it. For most, that should be reason enough to go see it. Everyone else is probably an oil baron.