After 10 years of being out of the spotlight, the Muppets have finally returned to the forefront of entertainment. The film was a long time in the making, with talks starting between the writing team of Jason Segel and Nick Stoller and Disney in 2008 when the movie was tentatively called The Greatest Muppet Movie of all Time!! Disney was hesitant about making it due due to Segel’s whole full-frontal nudity thing and the raunchy comedy of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but they finally decided on making it due to the heart found in the movie and that was found in the early drafts of the screenplay for the film that became the Muppets. Jason Segel wanted the film to be closer in tone and style to the first three Muppet movies (the Muppet Movie, Great Muppet Caper, and Muppets Take Manhattan) and he definitely succeeded, but ended up going a step farther.
Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter live in a small town called Smalltown (go figure) and Walter has always felt different from everyone else. Walter and Gary always watched the Muppet Show growing up and Walter, being a Muppet himself, always felt exceptionally close to the characters he was seeing on TV, much to the ridicule of others. When Gary and Mary (Amy Adams) decide to go to Los Angeles for their 10th anniversary of dating each other, Gary decides to take Walter along so he can see the Muppet Studio like he’s always dreamed of, much to Mary’s dislike. When they get there, they find that the Muppet Studio has been in a state of disrepair for years and it’s only being used for lack-luster tours. Walter runs off from the tour and enters Kermit’s old office, but stumbles upon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) and his minions, Bobo the Bear and Uncle Deadly, plotting to buy the Muppet Studio, raze it, and drill for oil.
The three decide to seek out Kermit the Frog and get his help to save the studio. Kermit decides that the only way to get the amount of money needed to save it is to find all of the Muppets and put on a telethon. They travel all over the country, stopping in Reno where Fozzie is doing a Muppet tribute show, getting Gonzo away from his immensely powerful plumbing company, Animal was in a anger management center with Jack Black as his sponsor, and the rest return through a montage, except for Ms. Piggy who is working in Paris as the editor for Vogue. The newly reformed Muppets, with the help of Gary, Mary, and Walter, rebuild the Muppet Theatre and get it ready to put on a show that TV producer Veronica Martin (Rashida Jones) agrees to put on TV if they can get a celebrity host, as the Muppets are no longer celebrities. They have to find a host and put on the best show they can in order to save the studio.
The film is all about the fact that the Muppets are no longer celebrities, and that fact is one of the reasons that the film works so well. The Muppets have not had a theatrical film since 1999′s Muppets in Space, and not have had a theatrically successful one since 1996′s Muppet Treasure Island. They have had a few TV specials here-and-there in the interim, but nothing that really set the world on fire. In fact, a number of the people that I went to see the movie with had not seen a Muppet movie before, and they are all around my age or older, so the fact that the Muppets are trying to regain their popularity is so prescient.
Like Winnie the Pooh, the Muppets is perfect because of it’s very heavy similarities to previous parts of the Muppet franchise, but unlike how Winnie the Pooh is almost exactly like the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, the Muppets is much closer to to the Muppet Show than it is to any of the other films. Actually, the Muppets is very much the closest things to a theatrical version of the Muppet Show than any of the other versions have ever been. The Muppet Telethon literally is a theatrical version of the show, with acts that could have been on the Muppet Show occurring on the stage at the Muppet Theatre (which is actually the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles, just made over to look like the sets used in London for the filming of the Muppet Show in the late 70′s and early 80′s.) Unfortunately, one of my few problems with the film is that they did not just make some of the Muppet Show skits into segments of the telethon. I would have loved to see “Pigs in Space” again, or a “Muppet News Flash” (the anchorman does make an appearance, though), or visit the Muppet Labs, or see my personal favourite Muppet, the Swedish Chef, whip up something in the kitchen. It was wonderful to see Link Hogthrob and Dr. Julius Strangepork walking around in the background, though. Some Muppets were conspicuously missing from the movie though, such as Bean Bunny and Robin the Frog (who can be seen in the background, but I’m surprised that he wasn’t involved in the story at all).
The other reason that this film works so well is that the Muppets is a genuinely hilarious movie. There are so many laugh out loud segments that just sound so right coming out of their mouth that anyone who is familiar with the characters would feel right at home with this film and those who are not will be able to grasp their character perfectly. The film also has many references to previous Muppet properties that only fans would really get, but they are still funny for those who are not well in tune to the Muppet franchise. The Muppets is easily the funniest movie I have seen all year, and there doesn’t seem to be any films coming out by the end of the year that would knock it out of it’s position.
Like the first Muppet movie, the movie is full of cameos, but unlike the Muppet Movie, there are multiple cameos in every scene. A partial list includes Neal Patrick Harris, Donald Glover, Jim Parsons, Selena Gomez, Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Arkin, Dave Grohl, Mickey Rooney, Kristen Schaal, Zach Galifinakis, and Sarah Silverman. Some of the cameos don’t even have lines within the film, with them literally just showing up and doing something in the background, such as answering phones during the telethon.
The songs were written by Bret McKenzie, one half of the 4th most popular folk band in New Zealand, the Flight of the Conchords, and the songs are absolutely wonderful. Jason Segel in an interview said that the choice of getting McKenzie to do the songs was a perfect one due to the inherent Muppet-ness of Flight of the Conchords’ music in general, so there was very little changes that needed to be made to his style to make it mesh with the Muppet franchise. None of the songs are bad in the film, but the real standout is the theme for the film, “Life’s a Happy Song”, which has been stuck in my head for over a week now. “Me Party” is a very amusing song, but the segment within the film is rather bizarre. “Let’s Talk About Me” is another weird song, but it sounds very much like a Flight of the Conchords song (I think it sounds most like “Hiphopopotamus VS Rhymenoscerous”). The other great song is the ballad between Gary and Walter “Man or Muppet?” and manages to be very emotional and deep despite the very funny nature of what happens on screen during the scene where it occurs. The film even has new versions of three classic Muppet songs (“The Muppet Show Theme, “Mahna Mahna”, and “Rainbow Connection”), the last of which left me tearing up from sheer joy.
The film even uses some classic rock to help set the mood in places. “Me and Julio Down by the School Yard” is used at the beginning of the film to set the time period and “We Built This City” is used durin
g the rebuilding of the Muppet Theatre in a rather hilarious manner. There are also two Muppet-ized versions of songs within the Muppet Telethon: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, except done via a barbershop quartet featuring Sam the Eagle (“another dirty word”), Link Hogthrob, Rowlf the Dog, and Beaker and “Forget You”, which should actually be called “Cluck You” considering the fact that it’s “sung” by Camilla and four other chickens. The versions in the movie are much shorter, but the full versions can be found on the soundtrack to the film and you should definitely check out the full version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as it’s absolutely hilarious.
If it sounds like I am showering nothing but praise on the film, that’s because there is nothing but praise to give. This film is one of the best films of the year and the best Muppet film since the Muppet Movie (I would actually say that it is better than the Muppet Movie, but there will be some people out there that disagree with me). See this movie, love this movie, and hope that this movie gets more Muppet properties like it to be made. (Hey Disney, get on making a new Muppet Show!)