The Muppets


Written by Jack Sharp
12 Sunday 12th February 2012

The film situates around Walter, a young man born, inexplicably, as a Muppet, who lives with his human brother Gary in Smalltown. As kids, the two of them fall in love with The Muppet Show, especially Walter, who is particularly taken by the puppet ensemble. As the two boys become teens, however, Walter starts to feel excluded amongst his peers. While his brother Gary continues to grow, Walter remains merely Muppet-sized. In one early scene, we see other Smalltown children picking on Walter for wearing a Kermit the Frog Halloween costume. “What is it, 1979?” says one of the kids, causing Walter’s adorable little puppet head to sink with embarrassment.

We then cut to years later. Gary and his girlfriend Mary have planned a vacation to Los Angele to celebrate their tenth anniversary. Gary invites Walter along to tour the famous Muppet Theater, but secretly Mary is somewhat disappointed. She believes that Gary’s devotion to Walter sometimes gets in the way of the couple’s own relationship. But despite this, she holds no ill feeling towards Walter. In fact, she’s very fond of him, and her disposition largely sums up the overall mood of the film. It’s one of utmost amiableness that could have easily seemed saccharine in the wrong hands.

During a tour of the Muppets Theater, Walter learns that an evil oil baron is planning to buy the Muppets Studio and mine the land for oil. It’s a bit of a tired story to tell, admittedly, and the film openly acknowledges this with good humour. “If I didn’t know any better, I would think you’re reciting a major plot point,” says one of the oil baron’s henchmen. It’s one of many fourth wall transgressions, which could have easily cheapened the film. But it works, and most importantly, it’s very funny.

Walter, Gary and Mary seek out Kermit, who they persuade to put on a show to raise the money needed to keep the studio. What follows are several scenes in which Kermit encourages his old friends to help clean up the theatre and perform for the first time in many years. Some of the Muppets agree almost immediately and some require a little persuasion, such as Ms Piggy, who now works as a fashion editor in Paris.

There’s an ongoing joke throughout the film: the upsetting realisation that The Muppets are no longer popular. They’re a forgotten relic, we’re told. It’s refreshing to see such a lucrative franchise take self-deprecating shots at itself. During a time where so much humour is set on punching down and attacking weak targets, even in children’s films, it’s refreshing to see.

Over the course of the film, we’re treated to a number of hilariously self-aware dance numbers, including 'Man or Muppet', in which Gary and Walter question themselves on the subject of their true identities. There are also many cameos, including appearances from Dave Grohl, Willie Nelson, Zach Galifianakis, Mickey Rooney and Sarah Sliverman. Tied to a chair and against his wishes, a kidnapped Jack Black fulfils the role as The Muppet Show’s guest host and also appears as Animal’s sponsor in anger management therapy.

The film does a great job of taking the Muppets into new and interesting places. The puppetry, as has always been the case with the Jim Henson creations, is particularly deserving of praise and is a pleasant reminder of why the Muppets have remained so popular over the years. Walter is absolutely adorable, and is brought to life through the subtle puppetry and excellent voice acting of puppeteer Peter Linz.

Jason Segal and Amy Adams also both put in extremely likable and funny performances, with Adams proving herself to be a unique and valuable comedic talent. She’s commendably uninhibited when it comes to the silly scenes, of which there are many. Perhaps the film's only real major flaw is its plot, which the film acknowledges as being somewhat trite through its use of meta-humour. It’s very nearly a parody of poor scriptwriting, which is risky territory to be in. But The Muppets pulls it off, just about.

I almost feel guilty for having enjoyed The Muppets quite so much, but I simply couldn't resist its undeniably cute charm.

The Muppets is in cinemas now.

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