Review: The Muppets

The act of puppetry is perhaps one of the most underrated and taken for granted types of entertainment and art forms that has ever existed.  It occasionally asks much of the human imagination, but when done best, it allows us to believe that socks, pieces of stitched fabric, and even twigs can lives and souls all their own. This was the genius of Jim Henson, whose Muppets and Sesame Street have become hallmarks in American childhood over the past fifty years. It is because of people like Henson, as well as those who followed him like Kevin Clash (Elmo) and Frank Oz (Yoda, Miss Piggy) that our imaginations are richer. Though Sesame Street is still popular on public television, the Muppets have gradually faded from pop culture and were in a serious need of revival. Thanks to the efforts of Jason Segel and many collaborators, The Muppets successfully revives and celebrates the uniqueness and fun of its title characters, even if it isn’t quite as concerned about its narrative investment.

In fact, with a film as ostensibly titled as The Muppets, it actually is centered on the relationship between two brothers, Walter (a puppet who dreams of being as great as his fellow felt covered idols) and Gary (Jason Segel). After being in a relationship for ten years, Gary is ready to pop the question to his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) by taking her out to California and visiting the Muppet Studios. The surprise is that he’s decided to bring Walter along with him, which puts a slight strain on his relationship with Mary. When they arrive at the studios, Walter discovers that an oil baron, Tex Richman (a baffling Chris Cooper) is secretly planning to destroy the old studio and profit off of the oil seeping beneath it. This sets the plot in motion with Walter, Gary, and Mary set on saving the studio by getting Kermit and his entire gang back together after years of separation. Of course, complications arise between Kermit and Miss Piggy, Walter tries to determine his true destiny, and Gary and Mary’s relationship is tested. If this sounds like too many plots stuffed into a ninety minute kids movie, that would be correct. Because the film establishes so many character arcs and relationships, its difficult to get truly invested in any given arc due to the short running time. Everything is payed off, but not much is developed. I know this may be much to ask of a kids movie about puppets, but if these things are established in the narrative, one would hope for more devotion to them. I’m not asking for nuance or even much depth, simply more time to allow for everything to breathe. Of course, one of the few explorations of character is the terrific musical number in which Gary is conflicted as to whether he is a man or a muppet.

Despite its lack of attention to character development, The Muppets is nonetheless one of the most purely fun films of the year. From the wisecracks that we’ve come to expect, to the endless visual gags and self deprecation, the Muppets continue to prove that they still have entertainment worth in a world of children’s films dominated by squeaking chipmunks. They’ve been unfairly brushed aside for the past few years, and have always deserved better. Another minor gripe with the film I have is the inclusion of celebrity cameos. In previous Muppet films, the cameos have always grown organically from the narrative whereas here, they’re simply tacked on. I’m not in opposition to celebrity appearances, for they have always been a staple of the Muppets, but if they were even minimally integrated into the film, it might have made more sense. Regardless, for everything it yearns to achieve as a smart, witty, and all out enjoyable ride, The Muppets is nearly as good as one can hope for.

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~ by romancinema on December 7, 2011.

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