Thursday, November 24, 2011

Quick Film Thoughts: The Muppets

So, I saw The Muppets. I wasn't planning on doing a review on it, since for the most part everything that's been said has already been said in other reviews. It is everything everyone is saying it is. Go see it. You won't be disappointed.

I still believe that, but after thinking about it for a bit, I figured I might as well give a few non-to-minimal-spoilery thoughts regarding the film.

By now, you've read or seen the basics (including on my failed Muppet Month feature here): why Jason Segel wanted to make it, how Disney's trying to ressurrect the Muppet franchise, what the basic plot of the film is, etc. So we don't need to go into that. Let's just delve right in.

Plot: the plot is incredibly basic and cliche. But it doesn't need to be anything more than that. The plot is in a way allegorical (perhaps a bit too heavy-handedly at times), but it works for what it is. At one point, our stereotypical rich oilman villain threatens to replace the Muppets with a replacement act more fit for our modern "hard and cynical world". The Muppets are the opposite of this: they live in a world all their own, aware of the culture of ours but never using it too much, equal parts self-aware, sarcastic, silly, and sentimental. They can make you laugh and cry and sing. We can see a little bit of ourselves or someone we know in their personalities. This is the message of the Muppets, as well as the message of The Muppets. There are a few misfires here and there, but once the gang gets back together, it's impossible not to end up laughing and leaving the theater with a goofy smile on your face. Basically, the plot of The Muppets is an old "Hey, let's get the gang back together and put on a show" story. It's hokey, but it's the sort of thing the Muppets do best. This is one of those films where stuff like plot and character development take a backseat to the jokes. We know what's going to happen (for the most part- this is the Muppets, after all, so there's bound to be a surprise or two). What's important is how it happens.

Gary and Mary: Our requisite humans, they don't really add much to the story. But then again, they're not supposed to. This is the Muppets's movie, and the humans are pretty much there for moral support (and because they're taller). That's not to dis Jason Segel and Amy Adams. They play their parts well. The story about how their support of the Muppets throws a monkey wrench into their relationship isn't really captivating (the same is true about the story about Kermit and Miss Piggy's relationship, which isn't really explained that much as to why it got that way), but again, it's the Muppets that matter here. For the most part, the humans play their part well and never interfere.

Walter: Walter easily could have been a Gary Stu, but he thankfully doesn't come off as such. He gets his own share of funny moments, and as far as Muppets go is quite talented. I hope he has a long career in show business ahead of him. Walter is somewhat like Kermit, both in construction and personality. He has a flexible face and can make many facial expressions like Kermit (and does it well). But he's also like Kermit in the sense that he's the Everyman. Though whereas Kermit is the glue that holds the insanity that is the Muppets together, Walter is the Everyman in the sense that he represents us, the viewer. He wants to see the Muppets succeed as much as we do. He's not expecting to be rewarded for it...though in the Hollywood version of Hollywood, one never knows what might happen.

Songs: The Muppets have always been musical, and the songs here are no exception to that legacy. Not as many as I expected, but for the most part those that are there are catchy and fun. Besides the classic Muppet numbers and Top 40 hits (including two very "unique" performances), the highlights of the original music are the sentimental "Pictures in My Head" and "Life's A Happy Song", which will most likely get stuck in your head for days and will give you a smile you can't wipe off your face, just as the lyrics state.

Cameos: There are lots of cameos in traditional Muppet style and practically every one of them is fun. Giving them away would ruin the fun. So I won't.

Muppets: As it should be, the Muppets are the true stars of the film. For the most part, all of them are being portrayed by different performers than those who originally brought them to life, but other than one line where Fozzie sounds like he's on helium, it's almost impossible to tell the difference. The Muppeteers do well. As do the Muppets. And if you're a Muppets buff (or just someone who knows a bit more than your casual Muppet fan), you'll have a lot of fun spotting a lot of obscure Muppets who make appearances.

"Small Fry": Opening the proceedings is a fun short from Pixar Canada featuring the Toy Story gang and a case of mistaken identity after a visit to the Poultry Palace. Also a lot of fun, the highlight being the roll call of rejected fast food toys (which includes an '80s Disney shout-out that will most likely go over the heads of a majority of the audience).

Other things to watch out for: It would be impossible to list them all, but among them: hoboes, Punch Teacher, a therapy session gone horribly wrong, fourth wall jokes, '80s Robot, the three greatest things in the world, visual and audio nods to the original Muppeteers, the rather familiar reintroduction of Sweetums, and did I mention those surprise celebrity cameos?

Frankly, I could just write the words "Go see The Muppets" over and over and it would have the same effect as this article did. It definitely lives up to the hype. Do we need the Muppets in today's world? This is the question the movie asks and tries to answer. Only the moviegoing public can answer. Let's hope they answer in the positive.


THE MUPPETS ©Disney. No ownership intended or implied. Photo by Patrick Wymore/Disney

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