REVIEW: The Muppets

20 03 2012

The allure of “The Muppets” is that Jason Segel and company, just as Jim Henson was several decades ago, are totally convinced that such a thing as innocent comedy exists and works.  The film opens with a blissfully catchy song-and-dance number, “Life’s a Happy Song,” basically consisting of every character expressing their exuberant love for life.  It’s totally absorbing and a fun toe-tapper.

Allow yourself to be transported by it and the rest of the movie, you’ll find that Segel’s Gary and Walter the Muppet can quickly make you forget about our crushing deficit, our crippled economy, our melting planet, our foreign entanglement, and just about anything else keeping you from thinking the world is great.  The song isn’t totally ignorant, though; it lays the groundwork for the conflict of the film, Gary’s friendship with Walter disturbing his romantic relationship with Mary (Amy Adams).

The rest of the movie proceeds on a similar trip of joy, re-introducing the Henson crew of Muppets to a generation that unfortunately doesn’t know them very well.  That’s a crying shame which Segel happily corrects here, capturing all the effervescence of the Muppets just like it was the 1970s and they were hosting Mark Hamill and Elton John on the show.  We find them all in strange places in the present day – Miss Piggy in Paris as a magazine editor, Gonzo selling toilets, Fozzie in a bad Muppets cover band – that all add to the hilarity for those that know them.

For those like me who grew up with “Muppets Tonight” on TV and “The Muppets Take Manhattan” on VHS, the new take harkens back to the golden days of my childhood – and even more to those who were around for “The Muppet Show” and “The Muppet Movie.”  While the new tunes of “The Muppets” by Bret McKenzie are hilarious gems, the movie’s best musical moment comes when all the characters gather on stage and reprise “The Rainbow Correction.”  It’s just the right amount of nostalgia, looking back to the past while also moving forward with a renewed, reinvigorated Muppets.

The movie may be lacking in ingenuity, sure, but Segel and director James Bobin’s main goal is to put a smile on your face and a song in your heart.  And with just that as their goal, they revive a franchise on life support (with plenty of self-awareness to boot) and produce the same kind of jubilant, clean comedy that the Muppets do so well.  Society hasn’t outgrown the Muppets; they just needed an advocate and a believer who could help remind people how funny they are.  Jim Henson would have proudly claimed this for his own.  B+



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